Still Living The High Life In St Moritz

Link Copied


Still Living The High Life In St Moritz

Words by Mr Stuart Brumfitt | Photography by Mr Dominic Zimmerman | Styling by Mr Charlie Schneider

27 January 2023

“The exiled royalty, minor princes, beauties, near beauties, sportsmen and bankers of the International Set consider St Moritz the place to spend a winter holiday. It is not just because this village, tucked high in the Alps of southeast Switzerland, is world-renowned as a winter sports center, with a famous Olympic bobsled run, unparalleled ski slopes and miles of beautiful mountain trails. It is mostly because St Moritz is the most fashionable village in Europe.”

That was Life magazine’s take on the Swiss ski resort back in 1947, and for many, its jet-set reputation is still its calling card, thanks to a continuous stream of rich and famous visitors (from Mr Gianni Agnelli to Mr David Bowie) and regular cinematic appearances (from Bond movies to House Of Gucci), plus its reputation for caviar parties, fur shops and winter polo matches on the frozen lake.

But it feels like time to bring it back to that other – not inconsequential – thing that made it so special: the mountain. Former British ski and snowboard teammates Messrs Paddy Graham and Billy Morgan have skied all over the world and agree St Moritz is up there with the finest areas.

“The terrain is mega,” says Morgan, a Winter Olympic bronze-winning big air snowboarder and three-time World Cup medal-winner. “If you get there at the right time, you’ll probably have the best skiing you could have. The pistes are all really nice and wide and the terrain is really diverse. You can see the beautiful lake from the top.”

As a result, the area is attracting increasing numbers of highly-talented athletes. When the pair visited, the Swiss national team were also practising in the snow park and elsewhere on the mountain, there were high-class skiers and free riders taking advantage of the quiet slopes. “There were a couple of the young kids throwing it down,” Morgan says. “We also got to do some tricks, so it made for a memorable trip.”

Graham, a skier who moved out of competitions to start creating jaw-dropping freeride films with his production company Legs Of Steel (“You ski down unprepared slopes, jump off cliffs and hopefully dodge rocks”), was impressed by the offering around St Moritz, too. “We did some big powder turns and jumps on the slope and in the snow park. It’s actually one of the best ski parks in the world. And one of the chairlifts goes up the park, so you can sit on it and go over the jumps, watching everyone do the tricks.”

It’s all a far cry from where they started out. Morgan only hit the dry ski slopes near his native Southampton at the age of 14, making him a late starter compared to his rivals who largely started out on the mountain as toddlers. He did have another advantage, though: he’d trained as a gymnast, so already had flip skills and aerial awareness. It’s now a tried-and-tested route for the world’s greatest alpine freestyle athletes, especially those coming out of China. “They’d dropped off the map, but they had a complete reshuffle of their programme and we heard of them taking gymnasts and being like, ‘Right, you’re on a snowboard,’” Morgan says. “Now they’re incredible.”

Graham also developed his early skills on trampolines and Sheffield’s dry ski slopes, before taking ski trips in his teens and being offered an early opportunity to do a season out in Serre Chevalier, France, aged 16. “I somehow managed to persuade my parents to let me go and I went to meet the teachers, and they were like, ‘Definitely do it. If it doesn’t work out, come back to school the next year,’” he says. “So, I did that ski season and I never went back to school… ever.”

The pair have been snow buddies ever since they met at a ski exhibition in the UK and became British teammates. They remember it fondly. “Everyone was really close and the skiers and snowboarders all rode together,” Morgan says. “Me and Paddy were pretty much doing the same discipline, but he was on skis and I was on the snowboard, so we trained together and went to the freestyle academy, where there’s trampolines and foam pits, so we’d be throwing ourselves off those all the time.”

Proud though he is of his Olympic bronze medal, Morgan has especially dreamy memories of earlier times, when the sport was less strict. “It was sick back then,” he says. “Me and Paddy went to some sweet ski areas together. It was a little bit more out of control because there were just World Cups and other contests, but as soon as the Olympics came around, all of those contests became Olympic qualifying, so it all got way more serious. But back then, it was a little bit more loose.”

It’s part of the reason Graham moved into the freeriding world. “The Olympic disciplines of freestyle, slopestyle, halfpipe and big air are all on prepared slopes,” he says. “It’s a lot of training and a lot of repetitions to get your runs down. Free ride side is more true to what freeskiing is, where there’s less regulation and governing bodies.”

Morgan stuck with it. “I always had a bit more of a taste for that hardcore contest thing and doing as many flips and spins as possible,” he says. “Whereas he’s done exploring, filming the video content and the more creative side.” But the pair have come together to film mind-blowing videos for Legs Of Steel. “I’d be the only snowboarder there, which might be a bit weird for most people because skiers and snowboarders have that beef,” Morgan says. “But because we’re both from that British team, all that was just crushed years ago. It’s really rad that he’s had me out with his crew to shoot some stuff.”

Freeriding comes with extra risks and Graham has certainly suffered for his passion. “I’ve done my ACL twice,” he says. “I’ve had two of those reconstructed. I’ve had two shoulder surgeries on both sides. I’ve broken my back, my wrist and lost my teeth. The list goes on, but obviously it’s worth it. If it wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing it. One of the coolest aspects of freeskiing is like using your skis to explore and to be able to travel the world. I’ve been able to visit New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, Norway, Patagonia and Canada.”

He loves the options offered by the Engadine valley: “St Moritz is south facing, so it’s always got the sun and the slopes are a little more leisurely than other ski resorts around, which is where the lifestyle comes from. Then just 10 minutes up the road is Corvatsch, with its north-facing, more freeride terrain. It looks out onto like all the big crazy mountains behind like Piz Bernina. So it’s an interesting mountain area.”

When they head back for après-ski and fondue, it’s clear the scene is still in full swing here. “We went to a really famous après-ski spot, called Paradiso, and it’s like a fashion show,” Graham says. “You watch people coming in; non-skiers get the lift up and then walk over for dinner. Everywhere looks really amazing and it attracts people from all over the world, so it’s a huge mix of nations. Lots of people might not even ski.”

“But,” Morgan says, “we get our buzz from shredding.”