Activity Workshop
 

Snowboarding - Flims/Laax

Area:

Flims-Laax

Base:

1100m

Summit:

3020m

Skiable vertical:

1900m

Lifts:

24 (6 draglifts)

Slope orientation:

Southeast-facing

slope orientation diagram

Getting there

For a zoomable, scrollable map of the areas, see this online map using Openstreetmap or Opencyclemap.

You can start either from Flims or from Laax - both are served by post bus from Chur. Traffic on this route can be quite awful though, so treat timetables in peak season with scepticism. On the SBB website, look for "Flims Dorf, Bergbahnen" for Flims, or for Laax use "Laax GR, Murschetg". Both these buses drop you right outside the lifts.

From Zürich, take the hourly train to Chur and change to one of the connecting post buses. Total time anywhere between about 2h and 2h30, although the return journey can sometimes take 3h30. The "Snow and Rail" ticket (available from the machines) including train and lift pass now costs an eye-watering CHF 101 with halbtax (up from CHF 82), but beware of the CHF 5 ticket scam once you get to the resort.

Laax has an interesting approach to the "Snow and Rail" tickets - they provide a special "Express Schalter" outside the building for a speedy ticket purchase, rather than forcing you to join the enormous queues inside. Bizarrely, however, after you've queued up here to exchange your Gutschein for your lift ticket, (after already having paid them), they refuse (saying it's a special price) and make you queue up in the enormous queues inside anyway! Talk about customer service. But wait! It gets better! You can't just get a normal paper ticket, because they don't do normal paper tickets at Flims. Instead they only have plastic hands-free cards. The special twist at Flims is that they refuse to take them back at the end of the day and give you your deposit back, like (most) other resorts do. No, they insist that you buy the card for CHF 5! Incredible! This is after they only open four counters for the massive queues as well. Maybe they're just trying to be unpleasant to their customers??

If you're not coming with a "Snow and Rail" ticket, a day pass by itself will cost you a hefty CHF 71 (up from CHF 60) in the regular season. If you have a GA, you can buy a discounted ticket from the station before you take the train. Either way you still have the CHF 5 ticket scam. Oh, and don't forget, the card they forced you to buy will set off every beeper at every ski resort you go to afterwards, if you leave it in your jacket. If you take it out of your jacket, they'll force you to buy another one next time you go to Flims. If you want to put up with their appalling service a second time, that is.

Update 2016: Some things have changed since this was written - there's been a whole lot of fancy buildings going up in the last few years, including brand new ticket counters, but there are still only four windows and the queues are still long. The ticket scam is still there but the people at least seem friendlier. If you come by car there's a big underground multi-level car park, which charges by the hour (currently CHF 1.60 per hour).

Slopes and lifts

plot of the resort
3D plot of the Flims-Laax area, showing just some of the many runs and lifts

An amazingly huge area is covered, with a good variety of runs and very large vertical drop (3000m down to 1100m). With that amount of drop, there's always going to be something suitable, whether fast blues up on the glacier, or tricky yellows (steep unprepared routes) lower down, or virtually anything inbetween. Any lift system this size is going to have difficulties with getting from one place to another, but there are a few bottlenecks. The bottom of the La Siala lift seems to collect the worst of the queues.

The map used to conveniently mark flatter traverses as 'less suitable for snowboarders' in orange but sadly not any more. Early lift closure (some lifts closing as early as 3:30!) is very disappointing.

To get to the very top of the resort on the Vorab glacier, you need the drag lift from Vorab, and depending on whim this may or may not be running (it seems mostly not). And that's the only way to get to the black run down to Lavadinas. Similarly, getting to the very bottom of the resort (at 1100m or so) relies on there being enough snow at the bottom - down to Laax is bearable on fake snow but other home runs may be closed.

Recommendations

Overcrowding is a serious problem here on a sunny day, so recommendations have to take account of the chronic lifts. For example, runs on the far West side to Lavadinas are almost deserted, and offer plenty of off-piste soft, but the unbelievable queues for the appallingly slow lift make this one to avoid and since they finally upgraded the lift to a smooth 6-seater, it's even better. Morning queues for the Curnius chairlift (Curnius - Crap Sogn Gion) and the Crap Sogn Gion cable car (Laax Murschetg - Crap Sogn Gion) are similarly crushing. Some of the least painful spots are around Fuorcla, using the lifts Vorab I (Fuorcla - Crap Masegn) and Vorab II (Fuorcla - Vorab). The runs around the Plaun lift (Plaun - Crap Sogn Gion) are also relatively light.

If the pistes aren't too full, the long red from Crap Masegn to Plaun is a treat, and if the snow allows it then try out the black runs if you can find them. The big cable car from Crap Sion Gion to Crap Masegn (the crap-to-crap lift) runs quickly but very infrequently, so have a backup plan in case you just miss one.

For somewhere that hypes up its cool snowboarding image, Flims/Laax has very little in the way of terrain parks a much improved jump park as of 2016. There's a pair of immaculate halfpipes just underneath Crap Sogn Gion, and a selection of rails and boxes, and now also for the average rider there are a number of reasonable-sized jumps.

One excellent place for that natural terrain is underneath La Siala, on the area marked yellow on the map. Amazing acreage of soft off-piste, and although care is obviously required, the terrain is open and the rocks pretty visible, making it difficult to get stuck. Well worth exploring (obviously depending a lot on the prevailing snow conditions!).

Flat spots

On piste maps a few years ago, the flat runs are marked in orange on the map - an excellent idea, and very useful. Sadly they stopped doing this for some reason, so now for example the run from the Alp Dado lift to Fuorcla looks like a nice downhill blue but is actually partly uphill, so it would be better to go down to Plaun instead. In fact there are a few places where it would be better to go down to Plaun instead.

Overall

This resort seems to be a victim of its own popularity. From the traffic problems getting to the resort, to the interminable queues to exchange your tickets, to lift queues of more than 20 minutes, and the slow lifts themselves, adds up to a wearying day out. The very early closure of the lifts is another face-slapper.

On a quiet weekday this huge resort would no doubt be a dream, but on a sunny Saturday or Sunday you can forget it. Given the price of the tickets, some investment in the lifts would go a long way. Somehow you get the feeling that this place just isn't quite as cool as it likes to think it is. An excellent example of the arrogance here is their latest money-wringing plan (announced in 2012) for "VIP access", letting those who pay even more to jump the queues in front of you. Hands up if you think that will make coming here a more pleasant experience?

Update 2016: Well it seems they carried through with their threat to introduce VIP queue-pushers (the so-called Blue line), but at the time of writing it doesn't seem to be very popular and so doesn't cause too many problems. There are still the queue-jumpers from the local ski school in their red jackets though, and the 6-er chairlifts often only carry 3 or 4 people due to the strange layout of the queue lines. But the investment in the lifts has happened and has had a noticeable effect.

More info

The website is now at laax.com, with a decent lift map available from the menu "Interactive map" at the very top. Snow'n'Rail details are at sbb.ch (at least until they move the pages again). Snow conditions are at snow-forecast.com (until they move it again).