KLOSTERS, Switzerland — An economic reality of skiing in Switzerland is that no matter where you go, resort prices are similar, even if you happen to be at the favorite haunt of Britain's Prince Charles or a rustic mountainside village.
The resorts of Klosters and Grachen are about as different as Los Angeles and New York, one seeking anonymity, the other finding it hard to have anything else. Yet each has its own brand of charm for about the same price tag.
Arguably the loveliest region in the Alps is the Swiss canton of Grissons, with narrow valleys, lush green forests and rushing rivers all topped off by the majestic mountains. It's the home of internationally famous resorts such as St. Moritz, Davos and Arosa.
Where Privacy's a Plus
But it's also the location of Klosters, a pretty yet cosmopolitan village whose main attribute, it seems, is privacy. It's this aspect, coupled with an enormous ski area, that has kept Prince Charles returning to his "favorite resort."
"People who come here don't want publicity. And we don't promote this as an exclusive resort for wealthy people," says Klosters tourist director Martin Accola. "We will never be as exclusive as Gstaad or St. Moritz."
But it's exclusive enough to give it a reputation as the kind of place you go to if you want to be alone in the same village with European royalty such as the King and Queen of Sweden, as well as Chuck and Di.
Oddly, not many British ski here, even with the royal stamp of approval. On the other hand, 6% of Klosters' skiers are Americans.
But Prince Charles returns for another reason. The skiing is superb, from open bowls to American-style forest runs, from dead-easy beginner areas to steep and deep expert walls, all on one combined Klosters-Davos lift pass (The REGA Pass), taking in more than 100 lifts for about $102 a week.
Runs Above Tree Line
Beginner to intermediate skiers have their own mountain at the Madrisa area in the Dorf section of this long village. Most of the runs are above the tree line on wide-open, gently rolling slopes. For the more experienced, the tree runs are heavenly, one of which takes you on a long cruise back to the village. The lush green trees offset by the snow give skiers the full Alpine treatment.
Meanwhile, over at the main part of town, the Gotschnagrat cable car is carrying intermediate and advanced skiers to the start of the Klosters-Davos ski circuit and an eventual drop of 5,300 feet from the imposing windblown Weissflugipfel peak at 9,200 above sea level.
Ski one direction and you're heading toward the huge resort town of Davos and another takes you back to Klosters.
Most of the terrain is suited to intermediate skiers, but there are also some superb advanced bowls and walls here. The best begins right at the Gotschnagrat cable car station and ends 2,000 feet lower. When the snow is deep, the feeling is pure magic, but during icy conditions the steepness can transform this paradise into a simple hell.
The only apparent negative factors of skiing here are a single, often crowded, main ski trail running back to the village, and waits of up to 35 minutes in the cable car line. These, however, can be overcome by timing. Don't be first at the station in the morning or at noon.
Great Family Dining
As a village, Klosters is fairly diverse, with an assortment of restaurants, bars and hotels covering a wide price range. For example, even with the village's chic reputation, there's a large inexpensive co-op cafeteria offering nice food at cheap prices, great for tiny tots. Escape-proof highchairs are provided.
For some quaint charm, try Prince Charles' favorite dining spot, the tiny Hotel Wynegg. Its food and drinks don't have royal price tags.
The average steak dinner in town runs about $10, a bottle of beer around $1.75 and a pizza, small by American standards, $5. Budget-minded skiers should inquire about the best value places, such as the Restaurant Gotschna Stubli next to the cable car station, where you can get a nice hot lunch for under $5.
Klosters is big with families. It's routine to see horse-drawn sleighs packed with smiling kids on an outing from the child care center, which is open to the public. There is also a ski school for children. The village has managed to maintain its Old World character and family appeal despite considerable automobile traffic everywhere.
Klosters is a 2 1/2-hour train ride from Zurich Airport. Off-peak ski week specials are offered which, by most standards, are quite cheap.
For example, the two weeks before Christmas, seven nights' double occupancy in a lovely three-star hotel, with breakfast and dinner plus a weeklong total regional ski pass runs $315. Better hotels run up to $443 for the same deal. Add $38 for a single room.
The same arrangements can be made through January and parts of March and April. Simple bed-and-breakfast accommodation, including lift pass, is also available at even cheaper rates. And for about $75 a week you can add ski school.