Alpine Adventure: Arosa Gay Ski Week's Swiss mist

  • by Rick Karlin
  • Tuesday February 28, 2023
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Alpine Adventure: Arosa Gay Ski Week's Swiss mist

Switzerland is known for many things; Heidi, fondue, cuckoo clocks, and skiing. It also has a strong LGBT community. Believe it or not, all these things coalesce in Arosa Gay Ski Week in January. The annual gathering is very popular in Switzerland, but mostly unheard of outside of the country, even among skiers.

Switzerland's tourism department wants to change that, and recently welcomed a group of American travel writers to promote LGBTQ tourism in Switzerland, as well as Arosa's gay ski week.

Scenic and gay-friendly Zurich (photo: Schweiz Tourismus / Lukas Werlich)  

After arriving in Zurich on a Swiss Air flight from Miami, the members of our junket were handed a jam-packed week-long itinerary. In addition to Arosa Gay Ski Week, we took tours of Lausanne, Bern, and Zurich, all the while staying at five-star hotels and dining at top-rated restaurants.

Fabio Zurmuehle from the Swiss Tourism met the junket members at the airport and handed us our Swiss Travel Pass, which is fabulous way to tour the country. It allows unlimited travel by bus, boat, and train and includes premium panoramic trains, as well as local public transportation in more than 90 towns and cities as well as free admission to more than 500 museums. The phone app that comes with the pass also alerts you to nearby sights and landmarks. It's like having your own tour guide 24/7.

We hopped on a train to Lausanne and thanks to the city's efficient Metro system, we barely had to step outside until we came to the stop closest to our hotel, the Lausanne Palace. A grande dame of a building, it first opened in 1915 and whispers old world luxury. Rooms are large and charming, especially for an older hotel. After we checked in, we had an hour or so to settle into our rooms and enjoy the stunning views of the sun setting across the lake in France (Evian), with more mountains in the distance.

A short walk along the lakefront led us to La Couronne d'Or, a landmark cafe in the city since 1895. You can almost feel the history. After dinner we took the Metro to The Moxy Hotel which hosts a weekly "Oh My Gay" Sunday tea dance. The DJ leans heavily on old school '70s and '80s disco hits.

Historic Bern (photo: Schweiz Tourismus)  

Museums and swanky lodging
The next day, we visited to the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts and had lunch at Café de Grancy, followed by a guided tour of the city. With just a bit of time to recharge, we enjoyed dinner at Brasserie de Montbenon.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and stored our bags before heading out to the Olympic Museum. If you are a fan of the Olympics, there is much to appreciate here. We then hopped a train for a day trip to Bern. Our first stop was a delightful lunch at the Restaurant Falken with Nik Eugster, from the EuroGames, and Michael Nägele, from Pink Alpine, who explained plans for the EuroGames taking place in Bern in July (

After lunch, we headed for a guided tour of a unique exhibit at the Natural Historic Museum of Bern. "Queer — Diversity is in our nature" showing how "normal" the gender spectrum can be. Given the atmosphere in the U.S. now, it was a joy to see children as young at five years old being taken through the exhibit by their parents.

We hopped the train back to Lausanne, where we picked up our luggage and transferred to another train to Zurich. A two-hour train ride gave us an opportunity to rest in our first-class car. Our Zurich home was the five-star Dolder Grand, perched on a mountain ledge on the edge of the city. A short walk from the train brought us to the funicular (a cross between a tram and an escalator), which took us up the mountain to the elegant hotel. With its elevated location, it provides magnificent views over Zurich, the lake, and the Alps. It's one of Zurich's most famous landmarks. We settled into our rooms and reconvened at the hotel's award-winning Restaurant Saltz for dinner.

The Grand Hotel in Arosa (photo: Tschuggen Grand Hotel Arosa)  

Arosa air
The next day's activities included a tour of the National Museum of Zurich, lunch at Restaurant Hiltl (founded in 1898, which claims to be the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world), and a walking tour of the city culminating in a climb to the top of Karlstower of the Grossmünster Church (187 stairs!) In the evening, a ride down the funicular and a trolley delivered us to the trendy Restaurant Markthalle, a delightfully casual bistro tucked underneath a stone bridge. After dinner we grabbed a nightcap at Heldenbar, which looked exactly as you would imagine a gay club in Europe to look; lots of eccentrically dressed, unbearably thin folks, with severe make-up and interesting eyewear.

The next morning, we were on to our main destination, Arosa. We bundled up and headed to the train station. A short ride on one train took us to our connection for Arosa, home of Gay Ski Week. We relaxed and dished during the nearly three-hour train ride up the mountain to Arosa.

There we were met by the hotel's shuttle and taken even farther up the slope to the Tschuggen Grand Hotel, a haven high above everyday life with 128 colorful rooms and a unique view of the Arosa mountains. Tschuggen's Bergoase spa, designed by architect Mario Botta, is a Swiss landmark. After we checked in to our luxuriously appointed rooms (certainly worthy of its five-star rating), I joined my junket buddies for our ride to the Tschuggenhütte, a sunny terrace, right in the middle of the ski area, where we enjoyed a light lunch.

View from the Tschuggen Grand Hotel (photo: Schweiz Tourismus)  

Arosa Gay Ski draws more than 600 participants. There is something for everyone, even non-skiers; classical music concerts, sunbathing at the Tschuggen hut, and après-ski, pool, ice-skating and disco parties. Event passes are geared for everything from a full week of activities to day passes. Every day there are different culinary restaurant suggestions to make your stay even more enjoyable. With more than a dozen gay-friendly partner hotels, weekly rental apartments and chalets, there's something for every wallet.

Snow bunnies
The next item on our agenda was listed as "short stroll on a prepared winter trail" to the gondola station. The "trail" of compacted ice and snow rises at a 40-degree incline for about 500 feet. We made it to the big gondola at the Weisshorn summit, the highest peak in the Arosa region that can be reached by cable car. It's 8,704 feet above sea level. For perspective, imagine seven Empire State Buildings stocked atop one another.

Arosa Gay Ski Week's Ski Drag Race (photo: Arosa Gay Ski Week)  

Lovely views, but I was distracted by the cute snow bunnies, many of whom dress in little more than underwear. I also marveled as I watched a man ski down the mountain with a parasail on his back. About halfway down the slope he unleashed the sail, took off over the trees and wove back and forth in the skies.

The fondue dinner at Restaurant Burestübli in the Hotel Arlenwald is one of the most popular events of Gay Ski week. As we shared mulled wine in the cozy village gathering place, language differences don't prove a problem and soon we were chatting with other tables and passing food and wine back and forth.

After dinner, everyone piled out onto the streets which had been cleared for a sledding event. I had fantasies of sitting in a sleigh, all comfy and warm. Oh, no! These were little rickety wood sleds no more than a few inches off the ground. Hundreds of alcohol-impaired folks rocketed down an icy street. I passed and took a bus back to the hotel. To the best of my knowledge, there were no disasters.

Grand Resort Bad Ragaz (photo: Hannes Heinzer Fotografie - Schweiz Tourismus)  

Winter is coming
The big event the next day was the Ski Drag Race. Normally, everyone takes a snow shuttle up to the Carmenna mountain hut for the race, but a lack of snow the night before meant that those wanting to watch from the top of the mountain and mingle with the queens would have to hike a mile and a half up to the summit. I've seen drag queens. I've seen snow. I can imagine them together. I passed on the hike and the up-close look.

Our last night in Arosa was capped off with dinner in the cozy Alpenblick mountain restaurant. To get to Alpenblick, guests take a shuttle up to a trail near the end of the town, then board a snowmobile "bus" that takes groups of six along twisting paths with steep drop offs, to the top of the peak.

Inside Alpenblick, the staff was warm and friendly and the five-course meal was presented in an unusual style; any course can serve as a main and other tailored accordingly. Wine flowed liberally and we only left because the last shuttle was scheduled and we had to get back to change for the White Snowball farewell party at Haus Kursaal, featuring a "Heels on Ice" drag show, lasers, hot dancers, and famous international DJs.

Night Sled revelry (photo: Arosa Gay Ski Week)  

Saturday morning, we checked out out of the hotel, grabbed a shuttle to the train station for a two-hour ride down the mountain to Bad Ragaz and our last night in Switzerland. All the hotels we stayed at were five-star rated, but The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is also home to one of the best healthcare centers in Europe and offers a unique health and spa experience in addition to the luxury of a five-star resort. It's been around since 1242 and is where the world's wealthiest people come to relax, recover, and rejuvenate. As an added surprise and the perfect ending to our trip, we were each treated to use of the private spa and a signature aroma-therapy massage.

The following morning, we checked out of the hotel and boarded a train back to Zurich. A couple of transfers later we were at the airport about take home a lifetime of memories.

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