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It all started with a Bet

St. Moritz owes its global significance as a winter sport ­resort to its breath-­taking ­location in the ­mountains – and a ­clever ­hotel owner.

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We turn our eyes to September of the year 1864: Johannes Badrutt, owner of the Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz, has joined the last of his summer guests from the United Kingdom and enthusiastically regales them with his account of the splendour of winter in Engadine. As the six Britons consider his narrative exaggerated, Badrutt offers them a wager. Should the number of sunny days not make their stay unforgettable, he would cover their travel expenses. The sceptical guests returned in winter, remained until Easter and subsequently spread the word at home. The foundation of a veritable boom had been established from which clever Johannes Badrutt benefited greatly. Even if the details of this story may be somewhat exaggerated, St. Moritz definitely has become one of the most significant cradles of winter sport. Twice, in 1928 and in 1948, the scenic village of St. Moritz hosted the Olympic Winter Games. In this connection, the trail of the story also leads to the location of the Kulm Hotel, in fact, to the Kulm Country Club, which was renovated in 2016 in accordance with plans drawn up by the renowned British architect, Lord Foster. The location, which includes a large ice rink, served as the site for the figure skating competition of the Olympic Games in 1928. Of course, Heinz E. Hunkeler, General Manager of the Kulm Hotel since 2013, is proud of the historic location of his hotel, and says: «Which other hotel can claim to have hosted Olympic competitions twice?» When Hunkeler took on his present position in St. Moritz, he dreamed of breathing new life into the Country Club.

“Which other hotel can claim to have ­hosted Olympic ­competitions twice?”

Of course, Heinz E. Hunkeler, General Manager of the Kulm Hotel since 2013, is proud of the historic location of his hotel, and says: «Which other hotel can claim to have hosted Olympic competitions twice?» When Hunkeler took on his present position in St. Moritz, he dreamed of breathing new life into the Country Club. Thanks to the generous commitment of the Niarchos family, which owns the Kulm and made available 10 million Swiss francs for the project, his dream is now a reality. There is more winter sports tradition in and around the Kulm Hotel. The start of the legendary Cresta Run is only a short walk from the hotel. The natural-ice channel mea-sures 1,214 metres in length and is constructed anew every year. With a difference in its altitude of 157 metres and at top speeds of 140 kilometres per hour, mastering this channel requires a great deal of courage and considerable skill. «Jumping head-first into the ice channel gives you a queasy feeling in your stomach,» says Heinz E. Hunkeler, who has mastered this test of athletic prowess several times. Recently, he has focused on his role as host at the Sunny Bar, the meeting point of Cresta tobogganers at the Kulm Hotel. «When there’s a new winner in the race for the sought-after Morgan Cup, the champion must fill the cup with champagne,» and as Hunkeler notes, the custom is rather profitable for his hotel. After all, the contents of the cup amount to no less than twenty-nine-and-a-half bottles. Cresta Run and Sunny Bar attract not only the members of the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club founded in 1887. Here, there is quite a lot to be seen and heard: photographs and trophy cups that bear witness to the Club’s tradition and, mainly, the daredevil athletes themselves who have been known to tell one or two true and perhaps not entirely true tales of their daring exploits.

While the ice fascinated the masses during the pioneering years, in the second quarter of the 20th century, St. Moritz became a globally acknowledged and highly regarded skiing destination. Including the 1948 Olympic Games, the resort has organised Alpine world competitions five times. Heinz E. Hunkeler has very special memories of the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships: «Before the medal ceremonies, the medallists gathered in our hotel and signed the helmets of my three children. I’m sure you can image the gleam in their eyes.» These days were memorable for the Swiss athletes too. Beat Feuz was victorious downhill, Luca Aerni and Wendy Holdener won the combination run. Holdener, in addition, secured a silver medal in slalom. Lara Gut, whose star rose in 2008 with a victory in the World Cup Super-G in St. Moritz, won bronze in the second speed discipline. In addition, combination medals were won by Michelle Gisin (silver) and Mauro Caviezel (bronze). Faithful winter guests, who return to the mountains year after year, nourish the legend of St. Moritz. The glitterati are as much a part of the resort as is the breathtakingly beautiful nature. For many years, the legendary playboy, artist and sports enthusiast Gunter Sachs was a regular visitor. In honour of the loyalty shown toward the resort, the square above the bobsled run was named after him. Anyone who would like to race down the St. Moritz bobsled run, the scene of 22 world championships, can do so with an experienced driver during a so-called taxi run. «An exhilarating experience that I can recommend whole-heartedly,» says Heinz E. Hunkeler. And in what other way might the hotel General Manager spend a day doing sport? «With curling outside the Country Club, with ice fishing or snow kiting, for instance. And if you’d like to immerse yourself deep in nature, I’d recommend a ski tour in the unspoiled Diavolezza-Bernina region.»

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Johannes Badrutt promised some of his British guests that, in addition to the gorgeous summers, winter in St. Moritz was so pleasant that on clear days you could enjoy the sunshine on the terrace without wearing a jacket. If he turned out to be wrong, the hotelier said he would pay their travel costs and accommodation.

Words Alex Kuehn
Photos Kulm Hotel St. Moritz

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