Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Real Chill-Out Zone; the Ministry of Sound Sets Up the Decks at a Techno Dream Palace in the Alps

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Real Chill-Out Zone; the Ministry of Sound Sets Up the Decks at a Techno Dream Palace in the Alps

Article excerpt


THE image of the Swiss Alps is usually one of fabulous exteriors rather than interiors, but the Riders Palace is a hotel where cool isn't just a description of the landscape. No wonder the Ministry of Sound has chosen it for its first Alpine club residency.

Set against a backdrop of thick pine forest, the hotel's three-storey chequerboard front of wood panels and glass reflects the snow-covered peaks of the eastern Swiss region of Graubunden, where the towns of Laax, Flims and Falera make up what the locals call the Alpenarena.

Like a Swiss army knife, the Riders Palace blends the iconic and the utilitarian - industrial chic for people who think the South Bank constitutes architectural beauty. A quartet of top-floor suites combine trendy technology like plasma TVs with more traditionally stylish luxury, but most rooms are more like a modernist meditation cell, all bare concrete walls and industrial fittings.

Like the suites, my room was a multimedia den, steely techno boxes and joysticks filling one corner alongside a wall-sized white panel for largin' it with your DVDs and PS2 games.

The hip austerity of much of the hotel might seem tailor-made for punters who are into monochromatic Teutonic style - more stark than Starck - but instead the lobby milled with twentysomethings sporting boarding gear and trendy cuts, for whom pared-down room prices (the bunk rooms) were as important as pared-down techno-ambience.

Main activities seemed to involve either basking in the glow of the underlit 24-hour bar, where receptionists doubled as bartenders, or lounging in the chill-out area where egg-shaped cushion seats were scattered in the space between giantscreen TVs (for games and music vids rather than Swiss telly) and a line of flat-screen internet PCs.

But Laax is about slopes as much as sloping around, as befits one of the world's snowboarding Meccas. When German TV decided to make a snowboarding thriller, this is where they came, following in the trail of the world's top performers whose season ends here with the World Tour Finals in April. The mix of competitions, partying and tipi camping have earned it the title, the Boarders' Woodstock.

My snowboard teacher, Tommy, complemented the ambience perfectly with his baggy duds, straggling ginger goatee and dreads poking out from beneath a big woolly hat, but I knew he had a uphill task getting me to bridge the gap between indoor play with circuitboards and outdoor play with snowboards.

He tried with a style that reminded you it was Switzerland that founded Dadaism. "Imagine your feet are in a huge bar of chocolate that's been left out on the slopes all day, then feel your toes squashing down into it," he said, a couple of hours into a morning of watching my nervy slides down a gentle training slope. …

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