The wealthy residents of Gstaad, one of Europe’s few remaining bastions of Old World refinement, are waging a war against newly minted billionaires determined to turn the idyllic mountain town into their own gaudy playground. But despite putting up a solid front, the locals are quaking in their fur-lined ski boots.
The resort town of Gstaad likes to congratulate itself on its snow-globe-preserved Alpine charms. Here, change moves at a glacial pace. This has proved both boon and bane to this Galt’s Gulch of billionaires, where from the road, every chalet looks pretty much the same, and they talk about Russians the way people used to talk about Jews in Darien, Conn. If locals ever wandered too far off-piste with the big decisions, Gstaad would risk tumbling into the same precipice as, well, St. Moritz, the girl next door who just couldn’t say no and is now coping with noisy nightclubs and condominiums. And Russians. Anyone who lives in Gstaad also toyed with buying in St. Moritz, hence the rivalry between them; when a United Nations study in 2007 revealed St. Moritz’s wastewater contained traces of cocaine, the local magazine GstaadLife immediately proclaimed, “St. Moritz is the drug capital of the Alps.”
If you are even considering Gstaad as a destination, chances are you don’t need the pronunciation key (that’s Gstaad, with a K). Perhaps you don’t even ski, in which case you are among the estimated 40 percent for whom Gstaad is solely about scene as scenery. And you are obviously not in college, or you’d be leaning toward Verbier or Val d’Isère. Gstaad is the place for people who have graduated to the big-big bucks — and their children with commensurate trust funds, many of whom are enrolled at Le Rosey, whose satellite winter campus is here. (The most expensive private school in the world, at about $110,000 a year, famously keeps students motivated by breaking midday for an afternoon schuss.)
Twenty years ago, the German art collector Friedrich Christian “Mick” Flick picked Gstaad over St. Moritz as his primary residence for the quiet. “St. Moritz is dramatic. This is soft, charming. The dinners are more private. The chalets, more expensive,” he says in a surprising basso profundo. “Gstaad doesn’t really act like the rest of Switzerland. It’s unique, like an independent principality of Gstaad,” explains Cedric Notz, the 40-year-old son of Peter Notz, one of a trio of Euro playboys invariably described as “founders of the town” — the other two being Gunter Sachs, who killed himself here in 2011, and Flick, who misses the open house his great friend Peter kept for a decade….
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