Rub ski jackets with the rich and famous in Klosters
A week in the Swiss resort organised by the Palmer-Tomkinson family gives Siobhan Mulholland an affordable glimpse of the high life
Saturday 11 January 2014
Posh and impossibly expensive skiing: that is surely what you get when you visit the Swiss resort of Klosters on a holiday organised by the Palmer-Tomkinson clan? So you might imagine, but in fact our family holiday proved relaxed, informal and plain good-value.
The company is PT Ski, a tour operator set up and run by James Palmer-Tomkinson and his wife Sarah. James is the elder sibling of Tara, the so-called "It Girl", and novelist Santa Montefiore. Delve deeper into the family history, though, and you discover that being "It", or a writer, are mere sidelines for the family. What the Palmer-Tomkinsons excel at is skiing. James's father, grandfather and uncles were all British champions – four in one family.
The mountain village of Klosters, in the Prattigau Valley, has been the "PT" winter home since before the Second World War. Klosters is where the various generations have honed their skills. It's also where the family have been photographed over the years skiing with their prominent – and often blue-blooded – pals.
However, over the past couple of years, James and Sarah have started introducing lesser mortals to Klosters and the sport of future kings. Which is how we four ended up at the resort, a two-hour drive from Zurich airport.
The PTs and their small team oversee the organisation of every aspect of every holiday: the hotel and restaurant bookings, airport transfers, piste hosting, running kids' weeks, even spa bookings. James is a former City accountant and stockbroker, but he doesn't sit in an office directing operations – he takes clients out to introduce them to the terrain.
On our first morning, he joined us on the Gotschnagrat cable car up the mountain. I asked why anyone would pack in a well-paid City job to run a ski company, and face the stress of a half-term week that entailed looking after the needs of 80 guests? His answer was swift: "Because I love Klosters and skiing, and I love showing the mountains to other people so they can experience what I've had."
We stepped from the cable car on to the Parsenn ski area. It boasts 307km of prepared pistes and links up with Davos (known for hosting the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum and more recently for being where the Clegg family ski).
This is intermediate heaven: lots of well pisted, wonderfully wide reds, a few blues and the odd – not too taxing – black. We embarked on James's favourite run: Number 24, offering opportunities for cruising, whizzing through forests and lunching at the welcoming Alte Schwendi restaurant.
But the real beauty of Number 24 is its place in a network of pistes enabling you to ski down one of the longest runs in the world – 12km, if you so wish and are fit enough. It's a 2,000-metre drop from the top to the bottom of the mountain, through glades and meadows until you hit the road and the railway station at Kublis. From here, you can rest your weary legs during the quarter-hour train journey back to Klosters. Trains depart at precisely 11 minutes past every hour and the journey is included in the area's lift pass.
Another PT favourite is to ski from Weissfluhjoch down a windy black run to Wolfgang for lunch at Hotel Kulm. A 10-minute bus ride takes you on to the sizable town of Davos – and a funicular railway takes you back up to the slopes on the Davos side of the mountain where there are further ski areas and a fun park.
However, what is arguably the biggest attraction for skiers in Klosters is what's on offer off-piste – numerous, easily accessible slopes, many hidden from lifts. For this part of the skiing holiday we hired a local guide: Belgium-born Denis, whose recent clients included the Duke of Norfolk, the financier Nat Rothschild and now us.
Although hard on the legs, our day off-piste was an experience worth booking ahead. On every slope Denis took us down, we appeared to be the first and only skiers on perfect powder. The mountain felt like ours alone. Given it was the February half-term week, it was surprising how crowd-free the area was and how few queues for lifts there were.
And all this time we'd been skiing without children. Our two were having a great time in the PT Ski children's groups which are age- and ability-specific, where as much emphasis is put on the pastoral care as the skiing. As well as an instructor, each group has a rep accompanying them, such as Sarah, herself a mother of four.
The couple are keen to get across that Klosters is not the flashy, glitzy Swiss ski resort many anticipate. "I'm careful to say it's a village and people who come here come primarily for the skiing," says Sarah. And it's true – for a famous resort, the village is understated. None of the wooden chalets and hotels is five-star. There are some good restaurants but just one nightclub. Klosters is a cosy, discreet sort of place, which is perhaps why the younger Royals now frequent the more happening, larger, Alpine resorts.
The other preconception about Klosters – that it is prohibitively expensive – also proved wrong. By the robust standards of half-term ski prices, our week's stay at the three-star Hotel Rustico was not exorbitant: £3,675 for four, including breakfast; during the same week, some friends spent significantly more on a ski trip to Spain for the same size party.
Admittedly, the Rustico's small bedrooms and tiny bathrooms were a challenge, especially as there was no communal area to spill on to, but the hotel did have a very good dining room and delicious fondue restaurant next door. The cost of lunch and meals on and around the slopes felt in line with French ski-resort prices.
What PT Ski offers is a bespoke and intimate introduction to Klosters. It has the feel of a country-house weekend where everyone is looked after very well. When I came to fill out the feedback questionnaire at the end of our stay, I felt as if I was writing a thank-you letter to a host, not an appraisal of a holiday I'd selected from a tour operator.
PT Ski (020 7736 5557; ptski.com) offers a week-long B&B stay at the Hotel Rustico, for two adults and two children, including transfers to and from Zurich, from £3,210. Ski passes for two adults and two children costs £700. The children's all-day ski classes cost £485 each for five days, including lunches. A local ski guide costs £227 for one day.
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