Hans Andreas Valär seems perfectly relaxed as he sits at the wheel of his Sprinter. Blinding sunshine gleams in the rear-view mirror and the snow amplifies the effect. With a quick motion, Valär pushes his sunglasses higher onto his nose. The mid-30 driver quickly grips the steering wheel again. Because the journey the sturdy man takes in his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 is anything but casual drive. Valär, the locals call him “Hanesch”, is absolutely focused. He skillfully guides his vehicle around the hairpin corner – to the right, skiers race by and pedestrians wander across the road. Hans Valär is a chauffeur. Every day, the friendly Swiss driver and his colleagues transport winter athletes from the valley up into the Heuberge in the Grisons Canton – inclines of up to 15% on the icy roads make driving a test of concentration.
The Heuberge are located around one and a half hours away from Zürich by car and are famous for the “Schlittelweg”, a route which runs 12 km and descends more than 900 meters to the town of Fideris. “It is the longest route in Switzerland, a paradise for winter athletes and especially for sledders and tobogganists,” explains Henrik Vetsch. He is the Managing Director of Heuberge AG and responsible for the entire operation: from the mountain cabins and catering to the ski lifts. However, there are no lifts on the Schlittelweg, the winding road up the mountain is the only access to the skiing area. There are no cable cars in the Heuberge – but there are Sprinter.
The route is incredibly demanding for our vehicles and our drivers. We would be lost without our Sprinter fleet.
Guests, employees, beverages, food, spare parts for the Pistenbully snow vehicles and rental ski boots: everything has to go up the mountain – transported by the chauffeurs with their 14 Sprinter. They have placed their trust in the vans with the star since the 1990s, explains Vetsch, while “Hannesch” parks his Mercedes-Benz 519 CDI long wheelbase outside the restaurant in front of the Aflina mountain cabin, located at an altitude of 2,000 meters. The fleet old-timer has been in service for more than 15 years, says Vetsch. “Yet still runs like it did on the first day.” The vans provide enough space for 20 passengers. During the 25-minute drive, the passengers can admire the Swiss scenery of Prättigau with its rolling hills that offer amazing hiking tracks, especially in summer – with an impressive moor landscape, a spectacular wealth of flowers and a wildlife preserve where you can even see red deer.
Vetsch, who has a Master’s degree in business administration, is working hard to strengthen the summer business. The conditions at the three hostels on the plateau are ideal for hikers, mountain bikers and also model aircraft pilots, canine sport enthusiasts, school classes, clubs and families, he says. “In the Arflina mountain cabin we also have conference rooms for companies.” Last year the region hosted more than 50,000 guests who stayed around 12,000 nights. More than 90% visit during winter. In addition, around 50 tonnes of material must be transported up the mountain every year, including 4.5 tons of fondue cheese for the outdoor grill buffet. If even one vehicle breaks down, this can cause the team major problems. This is also why Vetsch relies on the Sprinter. “The reliability of the vehicles is the top priority – and the Sprinter is simply the best there is.”