The Swiss ski resort of Laax backed snowboarding long before it made financial sense. Whether they were playing the long game, or they just believed in the sport, they put their money where their mouth is and made things happen, and now Laax is widely regarded to have the best freestyle facilities in Europe. P60 – the trail that runs virtually half the length of the mountain– is the shining gem in the crown, several kilometres long and with dozens and dozens of obstacles to ride. Last spring, as the temperatures rose and the days got longer, we headed to Laax with some of the Gypsy Rodents crew to enjoy the delights of p60 All Day.Being a British snowboarder means you spend a lot of time riding indoors at snow domes, endlessly lapping the features that are set out by some killer park crews. This approach has built some insanely talented UK riders – Jamie Nicholls, Andy Nudds, Ollie Dutton, Will Smith, Katie O and more have spend plenty of time riding indoors and the Gypsy Rodents are the latest in the long list of shredders who got their start in UK domes.
Snowboarding has always had it’s crews; gangs of riders who come together to push a scene, a ski resort, a dome or a dryslope and the Gypsy Rodents are a loose affiliation of some of the UK’s most dedicated dome riders. No-one seems to know exactly how many people are Gyspy Rodents, but there’s tons of them – they’re like an refrigerated So Solid Crew – but we only had space for four riders on the trip, so we left it to Harry Winnard, the most communicative/annoying of them, to organise the riders and so we ended up taking him, Josh Ogden, Leo Fordham and Charlie Kemp and let them loose.
While it’s rad from the beginning of the season to the end, Laax at the end of March is a springtime dreamland. As other resorts are slowing down and getting ready to pack away the rails for the summer, Laax’ park crew are stepping up a gear as even more freestylers head into town for slushy park shred on P60 all day and we were among them.
The crew was interesting. Harry Winnard is one of the most stoked young shredders we’ve every had the pleasure to road trip with. He’s also infuriatingly annoying and forgetful – your pretty typical 16 year old, really. Charlie Kemp is so used to riding at the short slope at Tamworth that we couldn’t stop him lapping so while the rest of us were setting up for shots he kept of shredding, zipping past as he lapped the lift. Leo Fordham is a quiet ripper, who keeps himself to himself, but always comes up with something innovative on the rails – interesting combinations or different ways to approach the obstacle. Josh Ogden is a little older and plain kills it. He’s always down to shoot, thinks of different approaches to every obstacle he tries and works hard to get the shots he wants. We were in for a good week.
Starting at the top of the brilliantly named Crap Sogn Gion mountain, P60 runs to the mid point on the mountain and takes in the super park that has hosted the Burton European Open, the Laax Open and the British Championships. If pipe is your thing, you can take a detour into Europe’s only Olympic level super pipe and if you’re still learning, there’s a smaller pipe beside it to get your confidence up. After the super pro lines at the top, the run settles into a freestyle heaven with an enormous range of kickers, hips, rails, jibs, picnic tables, bonks, sidehits and more and best of all there are rails for all levels of rider throughout, so instead of having a ‘pro’ or ‘beginner’ line, you can mix up every run with riders who are better and worse than you so stoke levels are high.
It’s easily possible to hit 30 different obstacles on every run, so progression is rapid and the facilities are groomed all day so they stay in top condition. While Laax is a huge ski resort with everything you could possibly need for a lifetime, let a lone a week, of shredding (a glacier, wide open powder fields, tight tree runs, fun undulating sidecountry, well groomed pistes and more), P60 was our focus and we didn’t leave it’s many kilometres of terrain park for the whole week.
One of the things about Laax is that they’re always ready to adapt to the prevailing conditions. Case in point is the Laax Freestyle Academy, a cross between a skatepark, gymnasium, youth club and training facility, housed in what was the town’s old indoor tennis complex where they’ve removed the tennis courts and replaced them with a skatepark, trampoline park, indoor snowflex kicker, climbing wall and more. There are coaches to make sure that you learn in safe environment, it’s basically the most fun you can have when you’re 16 and not on the mountain.
We stayed at the Peaks Place, an all new apartment hotel complex just outside town, which was also home to members of the British team during our time in resort. The Peaks Place is probably the nicest spot I’ve ever stayed at – good sized rooms, underfloor heating, a great view of the ski area out of the front window and most importantly for our connected rodents, Wi-Fi. When they weren’t shredding the boys were busy spending almost every minute on social media, uploading pics, watching clips and logging their digital lives. Peaks Place has everything you need. When you come off the hill there’s a spa/sauna and swimming pool set up to revitalise your tired bones and relax, and a bar in the lobby that is open most of the night, although we never put it to the test.
The main village area of Laax has undergone a serious transformation since the first time I came here more than a decade ago. The central area used to be a huge, open and anarchic car park where you basically parked where you liked and went up the hill. In the past ten years it’s been redeveloped so completely that it’s like an entirely different resort. Parking is all underground, on five levels and at the street level there’s a pedestrianed plaza-style area built around five monolith-style apartment blocks built from local stone and wood called the Rocks Resort, complete with bars, restaurants and more so there’s always somewhere to eat or have a drink. The main lifts up the hill start in this area and around the centre are the more traditional buildings of Laax.
It’s fair to say that Switzerland is not a cheap country, and this Brexit lunacy has automatically made it more expensive for Brits, but it’s still worthy of your holiday money. We really can’t highlight enough what a near-perfect set up Laax has for snowboarding and we can’t wait to go back. Given it’s history and support for snowboarding over the years, plus it’s heavy investment in building Europe’s best park it’s among the very best resorts on the continent, if not the world and a trip to Laax needs to be on your snowboarding ’to do’ list. You won’t regret it!
Resort website: www.Laax.com
Halfpipe: Two, a training pipe and Europe’s best Olympic standard pipe.