IN THE TRACKS OF PRINCES & TRUDEAUS: Shredding with the most interesting man in the world at Davos and Klosters
Story by Michael Mastarciyan
You could go to the ultra-ritzy twin resorts of Davos and Klosters, high up in the snowy Swiss Alps, to ski in the tracks of European royalty or to pamper yourself at luxurious spa hotels. If you hit the area in late January, you might even rub elbows with an assortment of prime ministers, presidents, investment bankers, economists and even rock stars like Bono at the World Economic Forum. My draw to the area has nothing to do with money or fame; I went there last February to shred with The Most Interesting Man in the Ski World.
The Most Interesting Man in the Ski World, in case you are not familiar with him, is Beat Däscher, a bearded sixty-something Ernest Hemingway lookalike who is also a dead ringer for Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who plays “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in those lovable Dos Equis beer ads. Based on my experience, hanging out with Däscher in Davos/Klosters is what I imagine rolling with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas might have felt like during the early 1960s – everyone knows him, everyone loves him and everyone wants to buy him a drink.
Being a method writer, I thought I’d immerse myself in a five-star ski world experience to better prepare for my role as his sidekick. With this in mind, I booked a ticket on Switzerland’s famed Glacier Express (a.k.a. The Most Interesting Ski Train in the World) and pulled into Davos Platz station after six hours of jaw-dropping panoramic mountain views, gourmet dining, and more than a few glasses of wine and champagne.
I knew I’d entered the VIP realm when I saw a muscular, sharply dressed chauffeur make an immediate beeline for me as I rolled my ski bag off the platform.
“May I please taking your bags, Meester Mass-tar-see-yahn,” he graciously asked in a heavy Russian accent, picking up my bulky ski duffle like it was a lady’s Louis Vuitton clutch purse and gently depositing it in the back of a shiny black Mercedes limo-van.
A few minutes later we pulled up in front of the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère, a magnificent white building with Roman columns, with a definite White House/Buckingham Palace vibe to it. While checking in and exchanging pleasantries with the friendly front desk staff, I was instructed to give myself at least two hours for the seven-course dinner at the hotel’s highly rated Restaurant Belvédère that night. I nodded, smiled and giggled as I walked away thinking a two-hour meal was a ludicrous impossibility for a lone diner.
Well, I was wrong. The meal actually took two hours and 31 minutes and was by far the best meal I’ve ever had on European soil. The dishes came in this amazing order: duck (with whole grain, mushrooms and Port wine sauce), beef consommé (vegetables, dumpling, chives), “Zurich-style” veal (mushroom, rosti potatoes, parsley), lobster (with sweet potato, juniper and pak choi), assorted cheese selection (from France and Switzerland – the Appenzeller was amazing!), curd cheese soufflé (wild berries, honey, lemon), petit fours (to die for), and a bonus eighth course of homemade pineapple ice cream (also to die for).
The next morning I hitched a ride with my favourite Russian chauffeur to pick up a pair of skis at Paarsenn Sport, a great rental shop right at the foot of the Parsennbahn funicular that zips skiers from Davos Dorf to the heavenly corduroy fields of the Weissfluhjoch peak. Conditions for a corduroy junkie like me were “A1” according to the nice young man who handed me a pair of Rossignol Hero slalom boards to match the ones I had back home. Skis in hand, I walked next door to the Swiss Snowsportschool Davos and instantly recognized Mr. Däscher – the big smile, white beard and swashbuckling twinkle all dead giveaways that I was in the presence of The Most Interesting Man in the Ski World.
“You’re a Davos legend,” I said, shaking his hand. “And I’ve heard you are The Most Interesting Man in the Ski World. Is this true?”
“Sure, why not?” he answered, with a big chuckle and a slap on my shoulder.
Moments later we were riding the resort’s big red funicular up to the top of Weissfluhjoch before switching over to a cable car that took us to the Weissfluhgipfel peak overlooking Davos and the five other mountains that make up the 300 kilometres of trails in this spectacular vast ski area. With sunshine and limitless bluebird skies, Beat asked me where I would like to ski.
“Do you want to ski in the tracks of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau here on the Davos side, or do you want to follow the trails Prince Charles likes to take in Klosters?” he asked with a grin.
“Let’s do both!” I replied, and we took off, clocking ungodly amounts of vertical on slopes that were manicured to perfection on buttery soft snow just begging to be carved.
Growing up in the era of Trudeaumania, I knew the father of our current PM was quite the avid outdoorsman and an avid alpine skier. I grilled Beat for a who’s who list of famous people he’d guided or instructed as we were making our way up the mountain, but he told me that he would not name names – though he did admit to skiing with many very famous world leaders, celebrities and royalty since the early 1970s. After one particularly spectacular run, when I asked if he’d ever skied with Trudeau the Elder, he smiled and his eyes grew wide. Convinced he’d skied with Mr. Trudeau, I pressed hard. Realizing I wouldn’t relent, Beat agreed to spill, since Mr. Trudeau had passed on, and because he only had good things to say about Canada’s 15th Prime Minister.
“I remember him as a very down-to-earth, classy gentleman with no pretensions whatsoever,” Beat confessed. “He was very keen and excited to be skiing in the Swiss Alps. He was a good skier, and whatever he lacked in natural skill, he made up for with a passion and love for the sport. He was a really cool guy.”
Parched and hungry from an epic morning of slope slaying, we decided to stop for lunch and drinks on our way to the Klosters side of the resort at an ancient-looking, dark brown timbered Swiss chalet called Berghaus Alte Schwendi. It was here that I realized I truly was skiing with The Most Interesting Man in the Ski World, the Sinatra of Davos. The restaurant was beyond crowded, bustling with servers in traditional Swiss garb ferrying beer-laden trays to the throngs of thirsty skiers packed inside. But as Beat walked in, he was greeted like a pope by servers and patrons alike, each seemingly thrilled to be in his presence, each calling out his name. In the blink of an eye we were seated at a prime table in a cozy room decorated with old wooden skis and antlers.
Over an exquisite bowl of Gulasch and a magical elixir of mountain berries and carbonated water, I asked Beat about the other famous person he’d mentioned as a regular skier in these parts.
“I know Klosters is Prince Charles’s favourite ski area,” I said. “Uh, have you ever guided His Royal Highness?”
“Well, I’ll answer that one because I’m not giving anything away,” he replied with a smile. “I’ve never guided the prince or given him any lessons, but I have skied with him, and I can tell you he is an excellent skier. I was guiding a group of Brits once in Klosters, and we all ended up taking the Gotschnaboden Gondola together. I ended up chatting with His Royal Highness going up the mountain, and my group skied a few runs with his group. Like your Mr. Trudeau, he was very friendly, and just like a regular guy, with no royal airs. It was a great experience, and it’s one that sticks out in my memory for sure.”
Impressed with Beat’s openness, I figured I’d give the guy a break and told him I’d quit the journalist routine and focus on skiing for the rest of the day. Later that afternoon, Beat offered to give me a lift back to the Steigenberger and invited me to dinner the next night at his cattle ranch, which makes perfect sense – only The Most Interesting Man in the Ski World would also be a successful cattle baron in the off-season! Driving toward the hotel, the journalist in me felt it was appropriate to ask the ski oracle of Davos and Klosters one more question.
“What’s the most important thing you’ve learned meeting all of these famous people over the years?” I asked.
“A simple truth,” Beat replied. “Everyone is equal when you are on skis. You may be a prime minister or a prince, but when you are on the slopes, you are first and foremost a skier and a human being just like everyone else – and that’s what so beautiful about this sport.”