St. Moritz's reputation as a playground for the world's very, very rich is well-deserved. Private jets wing in and out of the local airport like spokes on a wheel, carrying British aristocrats, Italian elite and Russian tsarinas. Few ski destinations can claim even one five-star hotel, but this sunny Swiss lakeside resort boasts five (including the new all-suites Carlton, located in Tsar Nicolai II's former vacation house). Meanwhile, dropping into Emilio Pucci, Gucci or Chanel for a new outfit (or perhaps Bucherer, Cartier or Chopard for some fresh gems), then hobnobbing at the thoroughbred races or polo matches on frozen Lake St. Moritz is at least as fashionable as skiing the sprawling mountain arena's hundreds of miles of immaculately groomed trails.
A typical ski day here involves soaring down broad, spotlessly groomed, sun-washed slopes, riding uphill on high-speed lifts (without waiting in lines) then flying down more perfectly groomed slopes bathed in sunshine - the defining quality of the weather-blessed Engadine Valley. There are G-force pitches, horizontal green runs and every kind of terrain in between. The slopes are rarely crowded, since only 42 percent of St. Moritz's winter visitors ski.
The valley features nine ski areas accessed with a single ski pass. Several of them are contiguous; the rest are connected by bus. Seven trams, three funiculars, one cable railway and 46 other lifts access acreage so immense that even the meticulous Swiss aren't sure how to measure it. This much is certain: Together, the St. Moritz ski areas deliver 217 miles of marked, controlled trails - all of them groomed every night.
The open spaces make the skiing here exhilarating, but the pace is unhurried, and the vibe on the slopes is welcoming and unpretentious. A typical day sees just as many seniors in faded ski clothes as beautiful people in Prada, and just as many kids learning their gliding wedge as helmeted 40-somethings rocketing through perfect carves. Many skiers stop here and there throughout the day to gaze at the expansive mountain vistas while relaxing on semi-reclined chaises, or to sip cappuccino or champagne at a snow bar. Most skiers dine midday on open-air decks where lunch is equally likely to be a slice of wood-fired pizza at a picnic table in the snow or a five-course white-tablecloth meal accented with fresh black truffles. Off-piste skiing here is a rarity. But it's no mystery why the world's elite come here: St. Moritz is a place where everyone, no matter their ski level or income bracket, feels great about life.
PLANNING THE PERFECT TRIP TO ST. MORITZ
Split by the lay of the land into two distinct halves, the town feels more urban than most mountain resorts. St. Moritz Dorf, where jet-set shoppers stroll the boutiques on Via Serlas's "luxury mile, climbs the hillside overlooking the lake. St. Moritz Bad, at the lake's foot, hides local gems among its shops, restaurants and hotels. Both offer lift access within a short walk of most lodgings.
St. Moritz has skiing for all levels. The nine ski areas spread the length of the Upper Engadine and are connected by buses and lifts. Corviglia is nearest to town and offers nearly half the region's terrain, but is also the busiest. Corvatsch, on a broad glacier, is less crowded. Hiring a guide isn't necessary.
Rocket in a bobsled down the original Olympic course.
Suvretta House, the most exclusive of the five-stars (from $613, suvrettahouse.ch); Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains has great kids programs (from $360, kempinski-stmoritz.com); Hotel Hauser, a three-star in central Dorf (from $234, hotelhauser.ch).
On Mountain: Mathis Food Affairs, from cafeteria-quick to sit-down formal; Hahnensee, a hidden mountain hut at Corvatsch; Kuhstall, an old cow shed turned bistro.
In Town: Post Haus for nouvelle Swiss gourmet; Veltlinerkeller for local pasta dishes.
Vinoteca; Roo Bar at Hotel Hauser; Post Haus; Diamond; Cascade
The horseracing set vanishes after mid-February, but the skiing remains great through late April.
Fly to Zurich and take the four-hour train or ride the Glacier Express from Zermatt (rail.ch). No need for a car.