Yoga on Snow

Yoga on SnowIs there skiing after a fractured hip? Balancing on one ski with my eyes shut I began to forget last season’s nightmare.

Yoga on Snow, a new innovation in the Swiss resort of St. Moritz, had seemed a good way of getting back in the saddle. I was bound to be nervous after spending the best part of three months on crutches and as long again in physiotherapy.

Controlled breathing, stretching, communing with the mountain? Even to an old cynic it looked like the ideal path to rehabilitation. But would it really help?

The hotel certainly did. The first priority was to establish a launchpad which would involve as little discomfort as possible. I put up for a few days before Christmas, at the Kulm, a venerable institution dating from the mid-19th century whose oldest part has creaking floorboards, moulded, vaulted ceilings and a staircase from the original reception area to the former owners’ quarters so narrow you’d need to stick to the bircher muesli at breakfast in order to squeeze up it.  It’s the headquarters of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club, whose male only members are brave – or mad – enough to have hurtled head first down the nearby Cresta Run.

Kulm Hotel, St MoritzThe Kulm Hotel has an equipment rental shop in house, a ski room right next door to that – and the sort of staff who won’t let you carry your skis between there and the frequent hotel shuttle to and from the lifts. It also has a spa, and indoor and outdoor pools, which I though might be useful if sheet ice or poor visibility deterred me from skiing. But I didn’t use it.

It was at the Kulm, 150 years ago, that the British love of wintersports was born, when the hotel’s founder, Johannes Badrutt, bet four summer guests they would find snow and sunshine much more pleasant than London’s winter weather. If they didn’t, he would pay their travel expenses. They returned with friends and family, stayed all winter – and left converted.

They were seduced by the same blazing sun which softened the slopes of Corviglia as I stepped off the funicular railway. It hadn’t snowed since the previous month but the man made snow that augmented a thin natural base was astonishingly good. No ice, no stones. I made a few, tentative turns, and that felt good, too.  No pain in the hip, where three pins remain like deeply embedded bolts from a crossbow. And after an hour or so on easy, blue, cruising pistes, no more nerves.

Yoga on SnowAnd so to yoga, which I had never tried in conventional fashion, never mind on skis.  It turned out to be a series of eight exercises, or positions, with skiing in between.  Some, such as “the triangle”, which involved stretching the torso, were preparation for the slopes.  I was smug when I found I could lean forward in my bindings, straight backed, and touch the tips of my skis. Better than the traditional warm up, claimed the course’s founder Sabrina Nussbaum, which heats you up and lets you cool down too quickly. Others could be applied as the class skied down: surya namaskara – “the sun salutation” – for one. This involved synchronizing breath and movement – breathing in as you entered a turn and out as you came out of it. It’s logical, said my instructor, Priska Hotz, who is also a ski teacher. It’s also rather relaxing. The one legged exercise was vrkasana – “the tree”. We were then urged to try it on the move – eyes open this time.

Lunching afterwards on Bratwurst and Roesti at the Piz Nair restaurant, with its magnificent views of mountain peaks, my fellow participants agreed, though some had been sceptical at the outset, that there was something to it.

Roger BrayI was bold enough, that evening, to go night skiing on the separate slopes of Corvatsch. Though I thought it wise to continue skiing in tight control, I felt some of the old fluency return. The 4.2 kilometre descent, floodlit and immaculately groomed was pure bliss – proof that if you love to ski you should not let an injury deter you from taking it up again.

Had the yoga helped restore my confidence? It’s fair to say that it induced a certain uncharacteristic calm. None more so than the course’s last act, entitled savasana – the snow angel. Priska told us to lie on our backs on the snow, arms outstretched, and shut our eyes. Feel the snow beneath you, she said. I felt so peaceful it was tempting, as the December sun beat on my face, to nod off.

Yoga on Snow (contact Suvretta Snowsport School – [email protected] or 0041 81 836 61 61) is available to snowboarders as well as skiers. You could also take a course on snowshoes. Group courses run on Saturday mornings or Wednesday afternoons and cost around £65.  Or you can book a private session at any time for around £350 or £260 full day or half day), sharing the cost if there are several of you.

Sample holiday price at the Kulm.  Ski Solutions can arrange one week’s half board with flights and rail transfers from £1750 per person sharing a double room, departing on March 22.

NB: men need jackets and ties at di9nner in main Kulm restaurants

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Roger Bray

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