A green-style concept-destination hotel for free-skiers and chill-bunnies smack dab next to the Laax base station.
I had forgotten how smug I can feel relaxing and sipping bubbly Franciacorta in an Eames chair looking out of a huge window where deer are nibbling greenery on a snowy slope. This is the back lounge area of Riders Hotel. Previously the grooviest hostel in the skiing world, Riders has now transformed into a radically simple and practical freestyle ski hotel.
It prides itself on sustainability. The founders are not typical hoteliers, but creatives from LAAX who along with a leading environmentalist from the region strive to make LAAX the first self-sufficient ski-resort using principles of reduce, re-use and recycle.
The whole idea of Riders was redeveloped by former snow-park manager Roger Heid. He took over the former hostel Riders Palace and shaped it into this streamlined service beast for freestyle skiers — a concept which a lot of other hotels should adopt. It’s low on waste, high on function and aesthetics.
The main draw for Riders is Laax’ superpipe, the largest halfpipe in the world. It is 6.90 metres high, 200 metres long and 22 metres wide and has been reigning attraction for four years now located at LAAX’s Crap Sogn Gion. The superpipe never shuts during the whole season and is open to everyone.
Laax also has 224 kilometres of slopes and four snow parks so there’s a ton of stuff for everyone, including beginners. I’ve never seen such well-prepped slopes – not a spot of ice, green shoots or dirt to be seen peeking up to ruin your run.
Laax itself is 143K from Zurich. You can drive, take several trains and buses or catch a coach directly to Riders. You’ll have to sort that out yourself though. Laax (in the native Romansh you say Lags) is in the Surselva Region municipality in the Swiss canton of Graubünden.
The nearest town Flims is like any ordinary Swiss mountain town (a bit boring to look at) which provides the bare minimum of shops for tourists and locals during the summer but abounds with hotels, hostels and other places to stay.
Riders Hotel has 63 rooms and 195 beds in total in a variety of twin/double, king sized rooms (with suspended beds!) quartet bunkbed rooms, family rooms and studios with kitchens and baths. The style is hi-tech wooden Scandi. Not luxurious but practical and sensitive to an eclectic green aesthetic — one suite had a worn leather chair amongst the new sleek bed, table, chairs and very cool countertop/sink combo. There’s open balconies on each floor and an open plan bar to lounge area that also leads into the restaurant/breakfast room.
Stepping into my double room at Riders was an act in defiance of waste. The overall effect of Riders makes you feel as if you’re doing your bit for the planet while you’re having a lovely holiday at the same time. The whole ethos of Riders is sustainability. Airy and light, the floor to ceiling windows bring in the outdoors, covered only by a curtain for night time. There are plenty of electric plugs, water glasses and the sink near the entrance which is near the loo and the wet room/shower. The walls look like rustic plywood. Lighting is simple — some wall lamps near the bed and two ceiling fixtures. The bed is not too soft and not too firm. The whole feel is snug and we’re told Riders is famous for it’s two matching single white duvets that are much beloved if sometimes a bit on the warm side. Riders Hotel is still working through it’s teething issues and heating during my trip was one of them. For example, there’s only one window through which you can get fresh air and sometimes the heating was a bit drying. They’re working on that.
There are quite a few restaurants from which to choose but the best are on the slopes themselves and easily accessed by gondola or lift. Bars in Flims, the nearest town, are typically expensive and hotel-bound, save the one at Riders Hotel itself, which is friendly and offers alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Breakfast at Riders Hotel
A plethora of healthy Alpine treats – fresh breads, muesli, juices, fruit, porridge, tea, coffee, matcha, preserves, seeds, berries, eggs and more are available for all guests. It’s help yourself at the coffee machine and outside of two screaming babies, mornings were blissful. The parents didn’t seem to mind and did take them outside the dining area. Thanks, dudes!
It’s like a Bond movie with wood. Nothing prepared me for the mountain vibe of Foppa, an incredible Swiss eatery near the Foppa gondola which I visited at night — and sledged down the mountain back to base (see below). This casual hideaway packed with skiers, locals, tourists and families all sharing wooden trestle tables. Dinner was incredible with a proper wine list that featured local produce as well as being famous for the local Bündner specialities and Swiss dishes. It’s not all cheese fondue although that’s very good too. The rustic atmosphere sits perfectly, naturally, on the slopes and this place is rightfully popular with everyone because it’s real. The fondue is very light, the local pinot noir was splendidly juicy and the charcuterie, pickled onions and aperitifs are healthy, fresh and worth sharing. Order some Capuns, a delicious Bünder speciality made with Spätzle dough and dried meat rolled in a chard leaf or, for vegans, a lovely mushroom risotto. The bread is fresh, the apple fritters are hot and the Pizocel (wheat or buckwheat dough, grated potatoes often served with bacon, onions and cheese, or spinach, chard or other local vegetables). This is the caloric feast you’ll need after a whole day on skiing.
Foppa, 7017 Flims, Switzerland
Located above Laax’s famous Superpipe, Caffè NoName serves fresh paninis, great thick soups and fabulous coffee. But its location is key: not only will you see some beautiful people but you can catch some lovely rays on the outside terrace. This is the in-crowds place to be because it is very much easier to ski here than get here any other way. Also, you can watch the tricks off of the Superpipe.
Near the Crap Sogn Gion BFL, 7032 Laax, Switzerland
This new ‘it’ restaurant is funky and familiar. The open plan of Ella makes it feel very cosy and you’ll be eating local, regional, organic food that hails from all parts of the world — soups, sandwiches, drinks and snacks from a menu designed as if you were sharing a kitchen with housemates. Although many of us would find the thought of that awful in extremis, the food at Ella is natural and served in a friendly manner almost canteen-style. It’s relaxed, homey and great if you don’t feel like cooking but want something familiar.
Ella, Bottom Station near Via Nova, Flims, 7017 Flims
Stalla Alp Nagens
Ace Ventura would love it here. If you want traditional, funnily cliched dining, then Stalla Alp Nagens is the place you have to go to. In a renovated cowshed on the side of the slope, Swiss specialities are served all year around. Plus there’s a roaring fire on the inside with lots of seating inside and out. The Stalla is located at 1980m above sea level but you can get there very easily, skiing or not. Barley soup, Capuns soup (order that, it’s fab) and raclette is served from 11 am to 3 pm. It is cheese heaven.
Near Alp Nagens station, 7032 Laax, Switzerland
Restaurant, Riders Hotel
So convenient that you may just want to eat here for the entirety of your stay, the Riders Hotel is the first vegetarian restaurant in Laax but they don’t make a big deal out of the no-meat thing. Of course, there are seasonal, regional, organic products transformed into a modern, varied à la carte dishes like Jerusalem Artichoke soup, curled lettuce/potato appetisers, gnocchi with goatsbeard, polenta and kale pesto. Desserts include yoghurt mousse with quince and hemp. But it goes further: this is delicious sustainability in action as Riders Hotel Restaurant also weighs up its waste to help the environment. From Wednesday to Sunday, food is served at long tables and everyone sits together. It’s not weird.
Via Murschetg 1, 7032 Laax, Switzerland
Who goes there?
Laax – along with Riders Hotel — evolved to serve a very particular clientele – the freestyle skier. Typically, these are people who are very serious about their sport but who don’t make a big deal out of it. They’re not show-offs but they know what they need. The focus of their life is such that they want a place that’s pared down and works but doesn’t scream look at me. Riders is their dream hotel.
The people at Riders Hotel are friendly, serious athletes. No one here is here for show. That said, the atmosphere is inclusive, lightweight, cheery and fun. Expect freestyle fanatics of all ages. Very few on crutches. Snobby ski types do not come here. Everyone is friendly, relaxed and warm, novice or professional skier alike. The boards and skis are about 50/50 too so there’s no sneering at style. We’re all here to enjoy ourselves — and we do.
Out & about:
Skiing and more
Laax has won the World Ski Awards prize of Best Swiss Ski Resort five times in a row (from 2013 – 2017) and winner of the ‘Worlds Best Freestyle Resort’, but it has something for absolutely everyone. Its 220km of pistes, up to 3,000m high, combine with the halfpipe and four snowparks to make it a winter wonderland. Do not miss night sledging from Foppa. Eat way too much and sled down in twisty turns back to base at night.
In house extras
Free yoga every day downstairs in the airy basement
Free, fabulously trendy gym (next to the yoga room) with billiard table.
Waxing room (for skis, silly)
Nightclub hidden beneath the hotel. Yes, really. And it’s huge.
Bar in the lobby
The worst thing:
Getting there via plane, train, train and bus. It’s really not the best.
The best thing:
The streamlined concept of hotel to slope, everything is designed for friendly, logical ease. Laax has an app that has everything you need on it.
Double rooms from CHF 180/2 person room. Via Murschetg 1, 7032 Laax, Switzerland Phone: +41 81 927 97 00; ridershotel.com