Celerina: a sleepy Swiss village offers super skiing -- and more

By now most people have heard of the biggest and most famous Swiss ski resort, St. Moritz, because of its showy millionaires and its early start on the ski scene. But when you go skiing for a week or two, you may not need a casino, caf'e society, horse races, fashion shows, and many of the other features of a grand resort. You might feel more at home, pay less, and get to know the Swiss better, in a smaller place. We spent a week in Celerina, a ``suburb'' of St. Moritz, a few kilometers down the road. It gives access to all the famous runs -- and on the same ski bus as St. Moritz. Included in the well-known trails are these:

The Diavolezza, one of the oldest long runs, is for advanced skiers, but we got down safely.

The Piz Lagalp, a new development with expert runs, looked frightening, although an elderly Swiss couple assured us there was nothing to it.

Muottas Muragl, with its splendid views, features novice runs at the top.

Corviglia-Piz Nair, where in earlier days skiers used to run against time to earn Sternli, or stars, can still be reached via the famous old blue cog railway. From Corviglia you take the new cable car to Piz Nair, which features some steep runs.

Sils-Furtschella, the newest development, is for advanced skiers and is usually not crowded.

The Corvatsch, which goes up to 3,000 meters, has large bowls that hold snow late into the season and are good for spring skiing.

Like many resorts in the Alps, Celerina has its ``ski circus,'' meaning that instead of going up and skiing down the same mountain all day, you ski down, not to the start of the cable car, cog railway, or chairlift you just came up on, but to the start of another uphill conveyance. In the Celerina-St. Moritz region it works this way: You take the ski bus to Sils, go up the Furtschella, ski down to Surlej, from there you go up to Corvatsch, ski down to the Signal region of St. Moritz, go up the Corviglia, and from there ski down to Celerina.

After you have been on many runs in one week, you don't remember them all in detail, but there's one hour I do remember. From Celerina we had gone up to a large restaurant in the middle of a ski area, Tras Flores (``three flowers''). We sat outdoors in brilliant sunshine, and there, amid sparkling corn snow, was set out the largest, most elegant, appetizing buffet I have ever seen, with salads and fruit and all sorts of goodies, hot and cold. You served yourself, at only $3.50 a plate.

Celerina is also a good place for members of your family who don't ski. Besides the window-shopping and entertainment of St. Moritz, they can enjoy lovely walks out of the village, one of them leading to an ancient Romanesque church on a little knoll, silhouetted against a hill with snow-covered spruce.

If you want a palace, Celerina has the four-star Cresta Palace, which is picturesque and not too large, and it has all the trimmings. We stayed at the Misani, a small hotel in an old house with character; it used to be the residence and place of business of a big wine merchant. The service in the dining room was elaborate, the staff attentive and helpful beyond the call of duty. The guests were mostly Swiss; some French and some English people also visit Celerina, but I don't think the Misani has ever seen an overseas visitor before. There are 15 hotels and pensions in Celerina, all near stops of the Sportbus, which takes you to the various ski areas.

If you want to ski in this region, it's best to plan for the second half of March to the first half of April, when it's sunny, the snow is soft, the prices are low. You have your choice of package rates; bed (in double room), half board, lift ticket for the whole region, and five mornings of ski school will run you $220 to $280 a week. You can't beat that! Sign up for ski school even if you don't think you need it. Instructors will take you over the runs most suited to your ability, ones that have the best conditions that day.

Plane fares are surprisingly reasonable if you take one of the weekly charters (such as Balair -- connected with Swissair) that are represented by Travac in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Your fraternal organization, college, professional group, or travel agent may offer other charters. Our New York-Zurich round-trip cost only $480 -- and our ski vacation was a most enjoyable bargain.

For additional information contact the Swiss National Tourist Offices: 608 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y. 10020; 250 Stockton Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94108 ; Commerce Court Toronto, Ont. M5L 1E8, Canada

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