ST MORITZ is never easy to get to, unless you have a private plane. Often described as the world's most famous resort, it is perched in Switzerland's high Engadine valley on the edge of a lake near the Italian border, surrounded by some of tallest peaks in Europe. From Zurich it's a four hour drive (six hours by train) but from Milan it's a little easier. Its inaccessibility partly accounts for its attraction. 'Come a few days earlier and bring your wife so you can spend the weekend with us in St Moritz,' my friend Alastair Guggenbuhl had said on the phone when I told him I would be visiting Zurich. 'We have a house nearby which will be empty.' So we flew to Zurich to meet Mr Guggenbuhl and his wife, Yonca, then drove for about two hours as far as Chur (pronounced 'cur'). From Chur we took the last train on the two-hour trip to St Moritz, because all the road passes were blocked with heavy snowfalls and threatened by avalanches. Stepping on to the station platform at the village of Celerina (which lies at the foot of the Cresta and Bobsleigh Runs just a couple of kilometres from St Moritz), our shoes, ankles and shins promptly disappeared into soft, luminous whiteness. It was dark, still snowing and intensely quiet, except for the crunch of our footsteps. Alastair had not told us much about the house. But he was carrying a bunch of enormous, old-fashioned keys which indicated that it would not be some modern apartment. A chalet, perhaps, a small village cottage? We slipped and lurched through the snow towards the building, bags swinging from all shoulders. Then, illuminated by a street light, I saw an enormous mural on the high back wall of the house, showing the animals entering Noah's Ark. With a jangle of the heavy keys, Alastair scraped open the back door. Dim lights were switched on. We stumbled inside, brushing snow from our clothes and bags. I don't recall ever being so surprised on entering anybody's house for the first time. Long dark corridors, flagstone floors, wood panelled walls, painted frescoes, masses of bedrooms - we had a choice of seven since nobody else was staying in the house that night - a games room, a huge dry cellar where the cattle used to live and a bathroom with a massive iron door which many years ago had been used as a security room for storing valuables. The most extraordinary thing about this enormous, empty house was that it looked as if it had been unchanged for about 100 years. We had entered a fairytale and half expected to find Sleeping Beauty lying on an ancient four-poster bed. We went to sleep tothe sound of wooden panels creaking like the tread of ghosts on the stairs. It snowed throughout the night and was still snowing the next morning. At the peak of the blizzard we were told that the snow had been settling at a rate of 10 centimetres an hour. Cars were buried in it, snow ploughs were throwing it from the road, gateposts were piled high with it. We trudged through knee-high snow to the village shop to buy provisions for breakfast. We threw snowballs at each other like kids. This was our introduction to St Moritz. Viewed across the frozen lake in a snowstorm, St Moritz conjured up images of Lhasa in my imagination, though I have never been to the Tibetan capital. From a distance, the big hotels sprouting from the slopes on the side of the lake seemed like the Swissequivalent of Buddhist monasteries, even though they were establishments of sensual rather than spiritual experience. Its commanding position gives St Moritz access to a multitude and variety of ski slopes and tracks as well as all the ice-based activities that winter sports enthusiasts have been able to devise - ice hockey, curling, horse, greyhound and sled-dog racing,polo, ski-juring (in which the skier is pulled behind a galloping horse), and even cricket and golf on ice with red balls and white 'greens'. Another reason that St Moritz has become so popular as a year-round sporting and holiday paradise is because it is said that the sun shines here more than anywhere else anywhere in Switzerland: reputedly an average of 322 days a year. People talk of the sparkling 'champagne climate of St Moritz'. That day, unfortunately, was one of those 42 days a year when the sun didn't shine. The British were instrumental in St Moritz's development as a winter sports resort; indeed, they practically invented the whole concept of winter sports. Less than 20 years after the British flag was raised on Hong Kong, an enterprising inn-owner, Johannes Badrutt (who later built the Palace Hotel), invited a group of visitors to spend the winter at what was then a sleepy spa town. The sports-mad British tobogganed down the village street, skated on the lake and hiked through the snow. This was the birth of modern winter sports, which soon replaced hot-spring bathing as the number one attraction in St Moritz. Skiing soon became fashionable and in 1884 an artificial toboggan run, the legendary Cresta Run, was created. St Moritz is the only place in Switzerland to have hosted the Winter Olympics, and twice, in 1928 and 1948. Apparently it doesn't want to do it again because it doesn't need the publicity or any more visitors. A quarter of a million visitors a year (about one-third from Switzerland, a quarter from Germany and the rest from all over the world) are quite enough for some 50 hotels to cope with. St Moritz does, however, host an enormous number of international events. The 150 events open to the public this winter include skiing, bob-sleigh, curling and polo competitions, horse jumping and races, an international bridge tournament, Christie's and Sotheby's jewellery exhibitions, a platinum week, a gourmet festival and 'cricket on ice' with a wicket of green carpet laid on a specially-prepared snow surface. I'm not the first writer to discover that glitz rhymes with Moritz but I might be one of the first that went to the fabled playground of the rich and famous and not recognise any of them. Elegant ladies of a certain age wrapped in fur coats and gents looking suave and prosperous? Yes, we saw plenty of this species drinking champagne at the bob-sleigh run, sipping tea at Hanselmann's tea shop and restaurant, shopping in the expensive shops by the Palace Hotel. Perhaps they were rich, perhaps they were famous. But you come to St Moritz to have fun, to enjoy the mountains and the winter sports. You can see royalty and movie stars on TV. People you may bump into include: the Aga Khan; Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos; Baron Heini Thyssen; Gianni Agnelli; the German playboy and former husband of Brigitte Bardot, Gunther Sachs von Opel, who lives in a tower at the Palace Hotel and keeps an inn at the other fashionable Swiss resort, Gstaad (pronounced by those who know as Sshhtaad); cricketer and socialite, David Gower; Theo Rossi (as in Martini); Freddie Heineken (beer); Queen Marie-Jose of Italy; Princess Alexandra; the Duke of Beaufort; the Duke of Marlborough; the Grimaldis of Monaco. And so the list goes on. The focal point of many of this clan is the elite Corviglia Club which was founded in 1945 and is restricted to 200 members. So exclusive is the membership that, according to the British Tatler magazine, the Duke of Marlborough and George Livanos resignedfrom the committee when Sir Mark Weinberg was prevented from joining. The club, which is named after the Corviglia glacier, is located at the top of the funicular railway which runs up from St Moritz. Non-members can always dine next door at La Marmite which is said to be the finest mountain-top restaurant in the world - with prices to match. The ski slopes and runs around Corviglia (2,488 metres) are the most popular in the vicinity of St Moritz. On the second day of our visit, it had stopped snowing and for a while the sun broke through the clouds. Skiing conditions were perfect: the snow neither too wet nor too dry. Even helplessly inept novices like ourselves were able to enjoy the exhilarating combination of sun and snow and the superb sensation of sliding downhill at some speed. Mr Guggenbuhl, however, as a true Swiss and familiar with snow sports since he was a toddler, was wonderfully adept. His skis were apparently glued together even as he slalomed at top speed down the steepest slopes. Skiing well on two skis is hard enough but skiing on one is only for the seriously skilled. From what we saw on the slopes of Corviglia, it appears that snow-boarding, in which the skier's feet are strapped at right angles on what looks like a small surf board, has become something of a cult - particularly among the grunge and techno-music brigade. They swoop and spin down the mountains in a style similar to surfing or skate-boarding. If snow-boarding is the latest snow sport in St Moritz, tobogganing is the oldest. Those mad-cap British visitors at the end of the last century developed this form of snow transport (the word 'toboggan' being a North American Indian term for a wooden cart made of birch) into a very fast, lightweight 'skeleton'. Contests were held between teams from Davos and St Moritz on a special toboggan track with banked corners and an iced surface - the Cresta Run. In the days before fast cars and planes, this was the fastest sport on earth with competitors reaching speeds of up to 90 mph. The St Moritz Tobogganing Club, founded more than a century ago, still operates the Cresta Run and the club language is officially 'Oxford English'. Male visitors are welcome to take their chances at one of the most dangerous and thrilling sports but women are not allowed to ride down the Cresta Run for 'health reasons'. The sport of bob-sleighing developed shortly after the Cresta Run with two- and four-man teams riding in a specially adapted enclosed sled. But even if you don't sleigh or ski at all (this year special 'non-skier' packages were introduced by some hotels) anybody can enjoy the bonhomie of the apres-ski. St Moritz lacks nothing in the way of discos, luxury hotels and first-class restaurants. If you can afford not to go by car, you can take a schlittenfahrt, the strangely unromantic word for riding by moonlight in horse-drawn sleigh to a hunting lodge in the woods serving marinated venison. Or if you want something more moderately priced, I would recommend Veltinerkeller in St Moritz Bad, the lower part of town, for traditional regional dishes. Be warned - when you think you've finished the substantial maincourse they will bring you an equally large second helping. Or you can go home and dine on a simple but delicious Swiss fondue, as we did on our last night before taking the train and car back to Zurich. St Moritz is not only for the rich and famous, but it does help to have friends with a house in the area. How to get there Swissair and Cathay Pacific share a daily service to Zurich. Cost $11,510. Malaysian Airline System flies twice a week via Kuala Lumpur. Cost $7,220. Information supplied by Wallem Travel, phone 821-3861.