The first 20 seconds of the Olympia Bob Run at St. Moritz was really good fun.Taking part as a visitor gives you maximum enjoyment and no responsibility, because the driver in front and the brakeman behind ensure that you're going to get round safely.
From the start line, alongside the Gunther Sachs 'Dracula' clubhouse, the bob gradually picked up speed, and the posts alongside started flicking past, faster and faster. I was looking around at the scenery. The first corner, Monti's Bolt, came as a brusque surprise. I was forced downwards into the bob, and then we continued accelerating down a straight slope towards what looked like a high wall of ice with an impossibly tight radius of curvature.I literally screamed as we went around the Horse-Shoe corner, high up on the bank, at about 130 km/h, 4.5 G. The same G-forces that jet fighter pilots have to put up with. Compressing my spinal column and mercilessly flattening my derrière.
From then on, I was simply terrified. Everything was going so unnervingly fast that I had no idea about how anyone could possibly steer their way around. After the last corner the track levelled out and then sloped up, and we slowed to a halt. I felt in dire need of the glass of bubbly awaiting me at the Dracula clubhouse, where I didn't – couldn't – sit on a bar stool...
This is just one of the incredible sports experiences possible in St. Moritz, a resort that is famous for many reasons. One is that its snow season is very long, running from November right through to the end of April. It's at a relatively high altitude, and so the lakes in the valley freeze very quickly. The surface becomes a 20-centimetre thick ice-rink, covered in turn with fresh snow, making it ideal for snow polo, snow golf and snow driving, as well as more conventional activities such as cross-country skiing (there are 200 kilometres of piste), ice-surfing and skating.
Another reason is its weather. St. Moritz has the incredible figure of 322 days of sunshine every year. When it's foggy or cloudy in the valleys, in St. Moritz you can enjoy the sun. This makes snow and ice sports even better.
Sport here doesn't always need to be high speed and adrenaline fuelled. The Engadin Valley offers a wealth of walking, snow shoe walking and cross country skiing options. The Muottas Muragl is a great track, reached from Punt Muragl using a rack-and-pinion railway. Muottas Muragl is a sort of Alpine balcony at 2,456 metres above sea level, with amazing views over St. Moritz and its frozen lakes. From here, the Philosopher's Trail, open in its snowy winter version up until 1 April, is prepared every day so that it is walkable in ordinary winter footwear.
From here you can admire the incredible Alpine views, across the valleys and up to peaks such as Piz Bernina. You can also take a dual paragliding flight from Muottas Muragl; or a hang-gliding flight, unusual in that you take off and land on skis.
There is another exhilarating downhill sport closely related to the bobsleigh experience described above: the Cresta Run. Like the bobsleigh run, there is a curiously English atmosphere in the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club, with the same sort of nonchalant acceptance of the risks and spills involved in riding the toboggan lying down, head first, steering and braking with the special boots.
The Cresta is a natural ice run built every year since its inception in 1884/85. Many beginners fly off the track at the Shuttlecock corner, where fallers automatically become members of the Shuttlecock Club and are entitled to wear a Shuttlecock tie. One of the idiosyncrasies of the Cresta Run is that women are not allowed to ride it.
After a day of sports, what could be better than a spa session? St. Moritz has been famous for its therapeutic spas for almost 3,500 years. Many of the luxury hotels have superb spa facilities. At Samedan, near St. Moritz, the Mineralbad Samedan is a fascinating vertically-arranged aqua itinerary that ends in a heated mineral pool in the open air, on the rooftop, with views to the village church tower and the mountains beyond. Great for taking the weight off a sore derrière.
Olympia Bob Run, St. Moritz, open from 21 December to 2 March, with guest rides available from Monday to Friday. It's the oldest bobsleigh run in the world, and the only natural-ice track to host international races. Guest visitors receive a certificate. Helmets are provided.
Tel. +41 81 8300 200, olympia-bobrun.ch/
The Cresta opens just before Christmas and operates until early March. Beginners receive a special package that includes instruction, equipment and their first five rides. Information from cresta-run.com