Learning to freestyle in Laax

17th April 2015, by DaveA

Building the pro line at Laax

Building the pro line at Laax

I’ve skied past a few terrain parks in my time, watched plenty of videos of youths skidding along rails and heard tales of ‘riding switch’ and ‘jibbing’, but caution and lack of knowledge had meant that I remained on the other side of the rope.

So when the opportunity arose to get into the park under the guidance of freestyler Christina and ski instructor Thomas in the Swiss resort of Laax, I leapt at the chance.

Laax has been busy reinventing itself over recent years as a cool and trendy destination, leaving the traditional Swiss ‘chocolate box’ image behind and pursuing a youthful vibe with stylish lodging in the village and a freestyle focus on the slopes.

On arrival, my initial impression was that the latest additions to the resort, the stone blocks of the Rocks Resort were stark and unattractive, though that impression eased and on discovery that everything was close at hand – rental shop, lift tickets, restaurants etc were all a stone’s throw from the foot of the slopes – I began to like the place and realise why it is so popular.

The new Rocks Resort: Dave wasn’t a fan at first sight, but grew to like it

In addition to the stylish apartments inside the Rocks Resort there are one or two more conventional lodgings on offer, including the welcoming Signina Hotel with its lovely bar, restaurant, pool and gym, and there are other more animated spots too, including the vibrant Riders’ Palace with its car park chic concrete decor and its uber popular nightclub.

Having joined several hundred others moving to the techno house tunes of German DJ Alle Farben one evening and sampling the noodles on offer at the Nooba restaurant the next, I felt I was ready to join the freestyle set and found myself in the park atop the delightfully named Crap Sogn Gion (Crap is local dialect for rock apparently, but this doesn’t stop the smirking as you pose for a selfie outside the resort’s Crap Bar).

I was slightly apprehensive as we gathered to look down on the various humps, jumps, rails and boxes laid out across an area perhaps three times the size of a football pitch. Christina was keen to take some of our group in the direction of the ‘Medium line’, but I was more than happy to follow Thomas to the ‘Beginner line’.

Ahead of us lay two boxes, plastic covered, about 50cm wide and 1.5m long, one was flat, the other bowed upwards, a ‘rainbow’ in fact. Thomas talked us carefully through mounting and dismounting the box and the best way of sliding across, even getting us to try it without our skis. After three or four goes we were getting the hang of it and even moved on to sliding sideways across the flat one – the trick apparently is to resist angling your skis and keeping them flat to the surface. Jibbing – the art of sliding on a board or skis across a manmade object, such as a rail or box – takes practise it seems.

Along with the boxes were a couple of mini-jumps, no more than 1m high and with modest inclines. Initial fears subsided; we were ‘getting air’ – leaving the ground if you didn’t work that out – perhaps only 10cm, but still air, after two or three tries.

Later we were progressing down the entire line, popping over a couple more humps on the way back to the lift and excitedly rushing to go again. We headed across to the Superpipe next, by-passing the smaller novice pipe and heading straight into the jaws of this mammoth – at 200m long, 22m wide and with sides bigger than a house – we might not of reached more than 1/3 up the sides, but made it down successfully and looked back up with pride.

Laax superpipe

Just below the Superpipe teams of groomers and shapers were busy building the ‘Pro line’ with its vast jumps and steep landings, in anticipation of the forthcoming European Open and we gazed in awe at the prospect. From here we skied down P60, the freestyle holy grail of runs, with boxes, jumps, walls and rails of all shape and size spread out down a lovely piste perhaps 1km in length. We might not have been ready to take on any of these features ourselves, but we were thrilled to watch others in action and to enjoy the vibe.

In between visiting the parks we tried skiing backwards – riding switch – and doing 360 degree turns on the snow. Despite my best efforts, somewhere around 179 degrees I kept coming unstuck, but I vowed to keep on trying.

As night fell the action wasn’t over, as we moved indoors to the resort’s Freestyle Academy – a cross between a playground and a skate park, the venue has some excellent facilities in which to practice and perfect skills and tricks. We bounced enthusiastically on the mats and then the trampolines, lead by our guide, a laid-back snowboarder called Wally. He encouraged us to ‘go for it’ and try turns and seat-drops and the like. At the heart of the Academy is a vast pool, perhaps 30m square and 2m deep, full of foam pieces, which we were invited to jump into and boy was it fun. Two of our number even had the courage to take on the ski slope, whose jump lands into the foam pool.

Buoyed by the fun to be had in the Academy and the park earlier that day we all resolved to return to the park the following morning. More jumps, boxes and the like followed, with whoops and hollers of joy. My first attempts at switching and jibbing might not have been that impressive, but they were great fun, so now when I see another terrain park, I will be sure to cross that rope.

Dave Ashmore visited Laax as a guest of Graubünden Tourism.

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