I decided to check out the skiing in Brigels in the Surselva region of Graubünden. It is not the easiest resort to get to from Basel for a day out and it is not covered by the Swiss Railways Snow’n’Rail scheme. However it looks good on paper, has 75 km of piste between 1100m and 2418m and seems to get good reports.
My first mistake was not to research my trip enough. There seemed to be base stations at Breil/Brigels, Waltensburg/Vuorz and Andiast. There were also stations along the route of the Rhine at the former two, and since Waltensburg/Vuorz was the first of these, that was my chosen destination. I had already read somewhere that there was a ski bus, so it all sounded a piece of cake.
The trip was beguilingly easy, and the trip up the Rhine valley was fascinating. At Ilanz, often called the first town on the Rhine, a lot of people got off, presumably for Obersaxen and Laax, and there was a bevy of buses waiting for them.
Anyway as I prepared to hear Waltensburg/Vuorz called as the next stop, I also heard it was a request stop, so I requested it. I should have been suspicious, and as I alighted and tried to take in stock of where I was, I both realised something was not right and saw the train was moving on.
Sure enough, the station is just a stop in the middle of nowhere. Nothing nearby at all, except a track, and along the track I came across the main road up the Rhine Valley and a sign pointing up a steep, narrow trail through the trees that informed me the nearest bus stop was in Waltensburg/Vuorz, 45 minutes walk away. Anyway suffice it to say the 400m ascent, 3km walk with skis was not a dirt track all the way, only the steepest first half. And the chairlift was right at the top of what was a long, sleepy village.
Romansh is spoken in this part of the world, and all the signs are in Romansh. The language is lovely, and later on in the day I had a beer in a bar full of locals and was enchanted by their conversation in this ancient and sadly declining tongue. Once you get to the lifts though, the overwhelming speech is in Swiss German. This why all the villages seem to have two names – Waltensburg is German, Vuorz is Romansh; Breil is Romansh, Brigels is German.
Anyway, after my initial errors I was finally on the lifts and I rather liked this resort. The 75km of terrain might be a little of an exaggeration as many of the runs cover the same part of the same mountain and I wasn’t going to risk the run to Andiast seeing how infrequent the buses back to Vuorz were.
Basically the resort is one mountain with two base stations (Plaun Reuen at Brigels, and Curtiginet at Vuorz) with chairlifts bringing you up to two mid stations (the wonderfully named Cresta Falla and Alp Dado), then a further two chairlifts from these taking you up to the top stations (La Cauma and Fil). The higher topstation is augmented by a t-bar which gets you all the way up to 2415m. There is another t-bat at Alp Dado, basically supporting the reasonable snow park.
Most of the runs are graded red, but they are light for reds. There are blues and blacks and off-piste. A lot of winter walkers around when I was there, plus people using a toboggan run. There’s a couple of mountain restaurants, bars at the bottom and top and amenities in Brigels.
Leaving the resort I took the courtesy bus to Brigels Post from the base station at Plaun Rueun, but I needn’t have bothered. It is about a 10 minute walk – head towards the church, following a path away from the road and in the village turn left. Simples. The bus is a little irregular, so I ended up in a bar chatting with the people there, German-speakers who very kindly picked up my bar bill, then took the bus when it arrived down to Tavanasa-Breil/Brigels. Brigels like Vuorz and many of the villages round there lie on high terraces above the Rhine. I don’t know that should be, but they are consequently sunny and have wonderful views. Tavanasa is a long way down from Brigels, so I am glad to have avoided that walk. Again, there was time to kill in Tavanasa so there I had another beer, and this bar was full of my Romansh speakers.
Spring skiing is back. In the glorious sunshine, the south facing slopes were started to suffer already, and in the afternoon the lower slopes had bare patches and heavy snow. Off-piste was generally not particularly enjoyable, as it has been the last few weeks. my next few trips will likely need to start hitting the higher resorts unless the cold weather comes back. The ice hockey season is running down and the end of the winter season has suddenly looked all too close.