It was my fiancé who suggested we venture off-piste during our last winter holiday to St. Moritz. For once, he was not talking skiing. It started one lunchtime as we were entranced by a figure skater on the rink at Badrutt’s Palace gliding, jumping and pirouetting gracefully across the ice like a ballerina. Imagine being able to do that – and in this setting, with the smooth frozen lake below snowy pines and the magnificent Piz Nair, Piz Corvatsch and Muottas Muragl mountains that rise lazily around the broad valley.
A little investigation revealed that ice skating during a winter holiday can be accessible even for novices, as well as a brilliant way to work out while having fun. The way to start, says local figure skater Olivia Haldimann, is slowly, holding hands with your partner or using a railing. “An upright posture and strong core are important to not fall over,” she explains. She recommends activities such as yoga and dancing in preparation – both helpful for strengthening the necessary muscles required to ice skate – as well as warming up with a quick run or skip and a short stretch.
For anyone serious about learning to ice skate, Badrutt’s Palace offers lessons for all levels of ability on its rink, which extends across three tennis courts overlooking the lake and mountains. “It’s best to book a few lessons with a professional to learn the basics or develop your technique,” says figure-skater-turned-instructor Valentina Persico. She loves to skate at Kulm Olympic Ice Rink, situated next to Chesa al Parc. Used for figure skating at the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics, it has natural ice that has been maintained by a specialist for decades. “Skaters come from all over the world to enjoy breathtaking surroundings, sunshine and crisp air on a rink about three times the size of an industrial arena,” she adds.
Haldimann, who started figure skating at 13, describes how it is completely different skating on the “endless expanse” of a lake. One of the prettiest is Lej da Staz, set in a fairytale woodland clearing where snow crystals twinkle like precious jewels. Take in the beautiful surroundings while you glide around the 400-metre (1,312 feet) circular track. Lake St. Moritz is a hive of activity from mid-January to the end of February as part of the annual Amusements on the Lake festivities. The one-kilometre (0.6 mile) natural rink used for Olympic speed skaters welcomes visitors keen to play ice hockey, curl and skate on ice up to 60 centimetres (24 inches) thick.
The health benefits of ice skating are many. It works almost every muscle group in the body, improves agility and is great cardiovascular exercise. Add in the alpine air and your body works harder to perform in harsher conditions and generate enough heat to stay warm. “You train endurance, as well as strength, balance and coordination,” explains Haldimann. Persico adds that the benefits extend to your fingertips, encompassing flexibility as well as artistry.
My first steps on the ice are not terribly artistic – more staccato than legato with my stiff ankles. But soon my stride lengthens and I am carving confident shapes in the ice. Persico explains that while progress is individual, many people can perform tricks after a week of lessons – some even start spinning after a few sessions. I have a loose goal of skating the 2.3-kilometre (1.4-mile) ice trail that hugs the River Inn from Madulain to Zuoz, travelling through frosty woodland, where nutcrackers and deer will keep you company. The trail is popular with families, but many locals go ice skating after a day’s skiing. “It provides a nice contrast,” says Haldimann, “because it takes more balance to skate than to ski, and you need more endurance.”
“If anything ice skating is comparable to cross-country skiing,” she explains. After an hour’s lesson, my legs can attest to that. I feel pleasingly tired yet buoyant. Persico suggests that for my next lesson I should skate to music. “It is wonderful, no matter what level you are,” she says. “You feel free, in a state of meditation.” I would have scoffed at this suggestion at the start of my lesson, but after a wobbly start I gained confidence, helped by glorious surroundings and a patient instructor, and I felt like I could manage anything on two skates. “Why not,” I replied. “Why not.”
Instructor Valentina Persico grew up ice skating and has trained with the world’s best. She shares her top tips for ice skating in Engadin St. Moritz, which, she says, has the most beautiful panoramas and atmosphere in the world.
What to wear
For beginners, especially kids, a helmet and gloves are mandatory. Beyond that, I would suggest warm, stretchy clothing, ideally with a bit of padding.
Choosing your skates
Badrutt’s Palace rents all equipment, but you can hire skates at sports shops too. Graf is a particularly good brand.
Finding an instructor
It is best to book a few lessons with a professional to learn the essentials and gain a feeling of stability and security. Badrutt’s Palace offers lessons for all levels of ability between early December and mid-March.
Ice skating with young children
The best age to start is between three and six. Go to a rink where there are skating aids such as chairs or penguin pushers.
TOP SPOTS TO ICE SKATE
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel Ice Rink
Rent a pair of skates (or bring your own) and head on to the expansive, well-groomed surface on the Palace’s ice rink.
Lej da Staz
Get close to nature on the 400-metre (0.25 mile) track that circumnavigates this secluded frozen lake amid fir trees and Swiss stone pines.
Lake St. Moritz
See how your pace matches up against the speed skaters of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics – held on this very lake (above) – on this one-kilometre (0.6 mile) circular track (above).
Ice Trail Madulain
Like cross-country skiing but on ice skates, this 2.3-kilometre (1.4 miles) trail follows the River Inn through fairytale scenery from Madulain to Zuoz.
Open year-round, this open-air artificial rink is perfect for learning the basics with an instructor or perfecting your technique during summer holidays, too.
OTHER ICE ACTIVITIES
Visitors have been coming to St. Moritz to ice skate for more than 150 years, but figure and speed skating aren’t the only ice sports to try.
Tourism pioneer Johannes Badrutt sent eight curling stones as a gift to the resort to offer his guests something new to do. He organised the first match on the continent in 1880, and it has since become a very popular sport in the region. Guests can book lessons at the Kulm Olympic Ice Rink.
Ice stock sport
Dating from the 16th century, the aim is to glide your ice stock as close as possible to the target. Try it out on Lake St. Moritz.
Almost all the Engadin villages have their own ice hockey club. On Lake St. Moritz, visitors can hire sticks and goals for free.