Is Disentis Skiing’s Next Big Secret?

Ski season has arrived! Have you booked your next trip? If you’re looking for new trails, consider Disentis, Switzerland, where the Alps are winter’s playground. New York Times’ Christopher Solomon shares more on this up and coming destination for ski bums.

"The crowd-free views of the Alps." Photo by Christophe Margot for the New York Times.

“IN the early 1990s, Powder magazine, the proudly die-hard ski rag that has weaned countless future ski bums, published an article in which the author spoke of a mystical ski area of unprecedented off-piste challenge. So paranoid was the writer that this mountain’s pristine slopes and elevator-shaft chutes would soon be overrun by, well, the rest of us, that he wouldn’t even name the place. He would only call it — tantalizingly — Valley X.

Secrets are hard to keep in the ski world. People pieced together the clues, and word got out that Valley X was La Grave, France. La Grave became famous.

A few winters later Powder ran a piece about another unknown ski kingdom — a Valley Y — where off-piste runs stretched for a vertical mile or more. The place was revealed as Alagna, Italy. “So many Swedish ski bums” — those shock troops of great skiing —“showed up there and were so rowdy, Alagna had to hire a cop for the first time in its 800-year history,” recalled Powder’s former editor, Steve Casimiro.

The pattern has played out again and again in subsequent years in places like Engelberg and Andermatt, Switzerland. The arc is always the same: from rumor, to Swedes, to pictures in ski magazines, to appearances in ski movies, until finally your secret slopes become a play land crowded with powder seekers.

As a former ski bum, I’ve always chafed at not knowing about the next great place — at being the guy who has to buy his secrets secondhand with beers at the bar, then jockey for powder turns with everybody else who’s come late to the party. Why couldn’t I be the first know about the next hidden gem?

Then one day a mountain guide I’d been talking to about the Alps let slip that there was a place tucked away in Switzerland’s more remote and quirky Graubünden canton. He said that it had the vertical terrain of a Whistler Blackcomb in Canada yet none of a big resort’s neon or crowds. What’s more, most of the skiing was ungroomed and wild — a ski area served by lifts yet untamed by them. I searched but could find almost nothing written about it. That only excited me more.

Then came the clincher: Some Swedes had recently opened a bar there.

Clearly it was time to visit, and fast, before my Valley Z got away.

I won’t make you hunt for clues. Valley Z goes by another name, Disentis. And fittingly, everything about it adds to the sense that it’s a place apart, a half-step removed from the rest of the world — or even the rest of Switzerland.”

Is Disentis Skiing’s Next Big Secret?