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|Candide Thovex at Laax, Switzerland's European Freeski Open.|
The sleepy Swiss canton of GraŘbunden -- best known for the exclusive charms of St. Mortiz, a resort frequented by royalty and European glitterati -- seems an unlikely place for a freeriding revolution. But Laax, a sprawling resort located two hours southeast of Zurich, has spent the last decade transforming itself into one of the top park and pipe destinations in Europe. Laax already has Europe's largest halfpipe and the resort plays host to events like the European Freeski Open and the Burton European Open. That transformation continues with the recent announcement that the resort will be opening Europe's first indoor freestyle ski and snowboard facility, the Laax Freestyle Academy.
Scheduled to be unveiled on December 4, this facility will include extensive training and practice areas not only for snowboarders and skiers but also skaters and BMX riders. An instructional component is also available, via onsite coaching, lessons and other events.
If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it is. The concept is akin to Camp Woodward's offerings at Colorado's Copper Mountain, where an indoor training center provides beginners and pros alike the chance to hone skills. Laax differs, however, in that parts of the facility offer a year-round opportunity to strap on skis or a board and hit jibs and kickers. The Academy won't be making snow indoors, but rather relying upon the artificial Snowflex surface to host these training sessions.
But while Laax's Freestyle Academy is grabbing headlines, it's not the only action planned for the resort this winter. The mountain has also announced a new 2.5 kilometer freeride zone, with kickers, boxes and jibs for all abilities. Given the resources on tap, it's not hard to envision that in the future, some kid from Laax will be standing on the podium at a Winter X Games.