Milan may be Italy’s richest city, but no-one this weekend was talking about the markets or “Il New Deal di Obama”. The only topic during the Engadine treasure hunt is who is going ‘up” this weekend. “Up” means St Moritz, where from December until April, Milanese society is to be found every weekend munching apfelstrudel at Hanselman’s, hosting kitschy raclette parties in their houses at Zuoz or Celerina and possibly taking a run down the Trais Fluors or the Corvatsch.
Romans claim the more serious pedigrees, but what the Milanese miss on breeding they make up for in snottiness. Getting it wrong in St Moritz is horribly easy. I’m no champion skier, but for my first outing with my (ultra Milanese) husband I thought at least I looked the part. Black salopettes, matching waisted jacket with mink trim and even a jaunty co-ordinating fur toggle for my Grace Kelly ponytail. “
“Amore no”, he winced, as only a Moro can wince. And dragged me inside to replace my ruinously expensive get up with a mangy cagoul. In St Moritz, you’re not smart unless your great- grandparents skied there, so the correct gear is reminiscent of those 80’s stories about yuppies who buried their Barbours in the gardens of newly-acquired Cotswold piles in a futile attempt to pass as county. Men wear ancient Viyella shirts, cashmere sweaters and waterproofs over old 501’s. My husband favours a toad coloured gilet manufactured about the same time as the first metal skis. Salopettes are just about permitted, but only in the most noisome colours. It must pain the genetically natty Italian to look deliberately scruffy, but as the Kempinski is (still) full of Russian oligarchs, the object is to confound aspirational dressing. So girls can wear Moncler jackets, but only vintage, before the label rebranded and became the over-logoed treasure of suburbanites. And no make up except sun-block in case of looking like Elizabeth Hurley.
Excessive keenness on the piste is also frowned on. All those hearty English queueing for the first lift just give away the fact that they only do this for one week a year. You want to give the impression that you’ve been downing shots with a Niarchos until four am at the Dracula club, so staggering out at lunchtime is de rigueur. Since St Moritz ski passes are the most expensive in Europe, the advantage of this approach is that you qualify for the half-day card, the “pass degli sfigati”, otherwise known as the idiots’ discount. Smart teenagers buy theirs from panting amateurs who have worn themselves out in the morning. The other dead give-away is tourists who talk about the grading of the runs. Form is not even to glance at the indicator and ski the blacks as nonchalantly as the blues.
All this requires a stiff dose of my favourite Italian word, sprezzatura, the art of doing something tremendously difficult without apparent effort. Luckily, as an afternoon visit to sip a vin brule at the ice rink at the Kulm will prove, the smartest thing in St Moritz is not to ski at all.