Families and individuals from all walks of life find they can beat the winter blues by gaining a little altitude. Bryce Hubner speaks to a family business owner with a passion for the slopes, the family owners behind a famous St Moritz hotel, and surveys the world's best ski resorts
It was the promise of high country sunshine that spawned the first-ever wintertime resort in St. Moritz, Switzerland. In 1864, hotelier Johannes Badrutt convinced British tourists they'd be invigorated by the snowy, sun-kissed Alps in winter and, ever since, people have blissfully recharged their batteries on pistes around the world.
Skiing culture, especially in the St. Moritz tradition, combines serene mountain settings with incredible luxury – a sort of Hollywood indulgence that has created winter playgrounds for the world's wealthy and elite. And the descendants of Johannes Badrutt remain at the forefront of this tradition today.
Hansjürg Badrutt, great-grandson of Johannes, is the fourth generation of his family to run the Badrutt's Palace Hotel. "The hotel is a celebration of style, sports, cuisine and fashion, with discreet service and traditional elegance evoking an atmosphere of pampered luxury for all," says Badrutt. Located in one of the most challenging ski areas in the world, the hotel has catered for some of the world's most glamorous people.
"Our guests come from all walks of life," he says, "but perhaps our most memorable guests were the Hitchcock family." Alfred Hitchcock and his wife originally came for a wedding anniversary, but ended up visiting every January until his death in 1980. "He used to come to speak to us with his ideas for films and asked us what he thought," Badrutt continues. "Once it was about two people in a train who go through a tunnel and the lights go out. When they emerge from the tunnel one of them is dead. We always had to say it was a great idea, so it was wonderful when he realised these ideas which became great films."
One of the reasons such luminaries frequent Badrutt's Palace is the high level of service that the hotel is renowned for, which involves butler service in all rooms and suites. "With our team of concierges and butlers we can proudly say that we are able to cater to all our guests' wishes," says Badrutt. "From shopping to relaxing and gourmet restaurants, we cover most possibilities."
But, naturally, it is for the sports that most people come. Every outdoor activity is possible through local sport specialists and guides. At the end of January, for example, the hotel hosted the Cartier Polo World Cup on snow. Aged 77, Badrutt himself no longer skis, but he used to be very keen "until several broken bones made me stop."
Beyond the palpable appeal of spectacular settings and the exercise itself, skiing can be a lifelong journey, an activity and a social occasion that has fortified the foundations of businesses and families alike. Just ask Steve Graham.
Graham is founder and senior managing principal of Pennsylvania-based Graham Partners, a privately held investment firm, which, in concert with Graham Group – a $3 billion company started by his father – manages upwards of $2.5 billion in investment capital. "Skiing is extraordinary for many reasons," says Graham from his home in York, Pennsylvania. "There's an element of challenge and freedom that's exhilarating, and I love the fact that you're in an outdoor environment, immersed in places of incredible natural beauty."
In both professional and private capacities, Graham asserts one of skiing's best dynamics is that people of all ages and abilities enjoy the sport together. "Truly, experts get out there and have fun skiing with their five-, six- or seven-year old who is just beginning – there aren't too many sports where that's the case," he says. "I've also done a number of business trips where skiers of [wide-ranging abilities] have a blast together. Even when you're not all skiing at the same speed, you're riding the lifts together and chatting away, you're meeting for lunch, you're getting together for drinks and dining together in the evenings.
"You're also usually traveling to destination resorts," adds Graham. "So whether you're with family or on a business trip, it's nice to get away from the [familiar] world and spend quality time with one another, which has been tremendously important to my family over the years."
The family's means eventually afforded Graham opportunities to pursue skiing throughout the world and he went on to become an accomplished ski racer. And his love for the sport eventually consumed his entire family. "Skiing became and remains a big part of my family's DNA," says Graham. Along with his four younger siblings, Graham enrolled at America's first ski-racing academy in East Burke, Vermont, where his parents also bought a second home. "Now we've got another generation – my children and my siblings' children – who also ski and race. The sport continues to help us all connect and reconnect with each other and with friends."
So, what is Graham's take on the world's preeminent alpine tracts? That, he speculates, depends on what one is looking for. "I think the skiing in the [North American] west is the best in the world for snow-quality, terrain and high-speed lifts. You can't beat Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for pure terrain. I also love Vail/Beaver Creek in Colorado – there, you've got a mix of fun town, top-shelf hotels, and endless acres of good skiing. But Sun Valley, Idaho, may be the best place in the US. I was there last year for the first time since I was young, and the skiing's just amazing."
European resorts offer a different but equally compelling allure in Graham's eyes. His first wife was an Italian national skiing champion, and he maintains a strong predilection for all that lies in the South Tyrol and Dolomite regions of Italy. "In terms of ambiance, I'm a big fan of Europe, particularly northern Italy," said Graham. "The entire space between Innsbruck, Austria, and Verona – which includes places like Alta Badia, Cortina, Val Gardena – has a combination of great skiing and classic European villages. The food is spectacular, too."
What was a discovery for Badrutt's guests in the 19th century is now Graham's favourite pastime; and as long as he's physically able, Graham says his social, professional, and family lives will intersect at the world's great alpine resorts