AS I CLIMB steadily, rhythmically, up a soft, snowy path, my dog Thala bounds in front. She’s clearly enjoying the blue skies and crisp air as much — if not more — than I am. We are in the Swiss ski resort of Arosa, bound for a mountain restaurant for lunch, and I’m using touring skis rather than a mechanical lift to gain altitude.
It seems fitting to do this the natural way given I’m staying at the resort’s newest property, the boutique Valsana Hotel and Apartments, the first in Switzerland to be powered by an ice battery, which draws waste heat from the hotel and uses ice blocks and a vast water tank to reconvert it to reusable energy.
The 40-room property is a triumph of design, an industrialised space in marked contrast to the traditional wooden chalets that pepper this iconic Swiss town. It is flanked on one side by forest and offers fine views over Arosa’s frozen lake.
The hotel and its nine family apartments opened in December, the fifth property from the family-owned Tschuggen Hotel Group, which seeks to pioneer environmentally sustainable tourism in Switzerland.
As well as its eco power source, the Valsana uses ecological cleaning products, keeps packaging to an absolute minimum, is almost paperless (news is displayed on blackboards) and its restaurant, Twist, boasts a menu that uses only locally sourced products.
And while it doesn’t shove the concept of health food down your throat, it’s refreshing to be in the Swiss mountains and, rather than fondue, feed yourself on venison carpaccio with quince chutney, pumpkin seed oil, orange and thyme (£18) and a ‘green bowl’ consisting of baby spinach, feta cheese, roasted pumpkin, avocado, sprouts, figs and walnuts (£15).
The rooms are vast — my Rhodesian ridgeback and I share a junior suite the size of a tennis court with a huge balcony to boot — and beautifully designed. Mine is a stylish mix of smoked oak flooring, roughly hewn Aztec-print throws and framed dried botanicals from the surrounding hills that strangely complement the retro record player (on which I’ve played Marvin Gaye) and a huge TV with IOS Airplay if you can’t live without Netflix.
Pooches are indulged here too: Valsana welcomes dogs for an additional £18 a day. Thala had food and water bowls and a blanket waiting in the room when we arrived, and they can organise food if needed. Skiing with your dog is generally limited to ski-touring or walking, not downhill skiing (very dangerous on pistes). Transport to those pistes also has sustainability in mind: Valsana asks guests to jump on the free ski bus that stops outside the hotel, instead of offering a shuttle bus to the slopes.
Indeed, the hotel’s eco credentials have got under my skin. I use the stairs instead of using the lift and when I try out the 800 sq m spa, I actually linger in the pool, saunas and steam bath instead of my usual impatient whistle-stop tour.
Switzerland’s tourism has suffered in recent years due to a painful exchange rate against the pound but, incredibly, when I open the spa menu and find an eyelash tint for £11, I book up immediately. It’s cheaper than a visit to a local salon back home in Hampshire.
If you’re not keen on skiing to lunch, Arosa offers around 140 miles of snow-sure pistes above the village. At almost 6,000ft, it stays cold here and if you get bored of cruising the local runs you can jump on the Urdenbahn gondola and head to nearby Lenzerheide.
But in the spirit of sustainability, I climb. With Thala in tow, we make our way to the Alpenblick restaurant, halfway up the Hörnli, for a decadent lunch of cold white wine and meat (buffet £29, hotel-alpenblick.ch). Not quite as healthy as dinner the previous night but, hey, I figure I’ve earned it.
■ From £287 per night for two adults, incl breakfast and spa access, valsana.ch/en
Pick of the week
La Rosière, France — where conditions are just about perfect right now with near record-breaking base depths of 250/450cm depending on altitude.
After record-breaking January snowfalls, conditions in the Alps remain excellent as we approach the busy half-term period, with few (if any) weak spots. The deepest bases are still at altitude in the northern and western Alps, with over 4m in Flaine, La Rosière and Saas-Fee, over 5m in Andermatt and a whopping 6.2m up top in Engelberg.
The week ahead will be relatively cold with occasional light snowfall in places, most likely in the south-western Alps (e.g. Isola 2000, Prato-Nevoso, Sestriere).
All Austrian resorts are in great shape. The deepest snow is at altitude in the west where Obergurgl has 150/300cm and St Anton has 130/365cm. Snow cover is also impressive lower down, with 70/165cm in Söll and 80/190cm in Alpbach.
Snow conditions remain exceptional across the French Alps with near record-breaking depths in some high resorts including La Rosière (260/450cm) and Tignes (230/380cm). Lower resorts are also in great shape right now, with 70/250cm in Les Gets and 45/360cm in La Clusaz.
All parts of the Italian Alps are offering great skiing conditions right now. In the west, high altitude Cervinia (250/415cm) has some of the deepest snow in the Alps, while further east there is perfect piste skiing on offer in the Dolomite resort of Arabba (125/155cm).
Snow conditions are superb right across Switzerland. In the south-west, Zermatt boasts a very healthy 150/230cm of settled snow, while St Moritz in the south-east has 85/145cm. However, the deepest base in the Alps is still to be found in Engelberg in the north, which claims a staggering 620cm on its Titlis glacier.
On the whole, Canadian ski resorts continue to offer better snow conditions than their US counterparts. Whistler, for example, saw over 1m of new snow last week and has upper base depths now well over 3m. By contrast, Colorado’s Vail remains below par, with settled snow depths of just 86cm.
■ By Fraser Wilkin from snow forecasting site weathertoski.co.uk