That Bogner Style

Mountain Life

Sonia Bogner calls it her ranch in the Engadine. She and husband Willy have transformed the Swiss chalet that Willy’s parents built in 1952 into a vacation getaway that is more Santa Fe than St. Moritz. It may be the simplest dwelling in the posh Suvretta neighborhood of this famous Swiss resort, but it has a million-dollar view of the precipitous runs and glaciers of Corvatsch, Willy’s favorite ski terrain at St. Moritz.

The Bogner family gravitates to its chalet for most holidays. “I have loved it ever since we came here on our honeymoon, 30 years ago,” says Sonia, a former Brazilian model, who met the scion of the Bogner skiwear empire when designer Valentino brought her to Munich from Rome for a fashion show.

Maria, Willy’s mother, grande dame of skiwear, inventor of stretch pants and the Bogner image, had a dozen beautiful ski suits waiting in Sonia’s closet when the newlyweds arrived. “I had never even seen snow, but I was soon with the kids class, learning to snowplow,” says this girl from Impanema.

It was inevitable that Sonia would learn how to ski: The sport runs deep with the Bogners. Willy Bogner Sr. was on the 1936 German Olympic ski team, and son Willy was on the downhill squad at Squaw Valley, Calif., in 1960 and Innsbruck, Austria, in l964. Papa Bogner also was an avid trophy hunter, and young Willy often went along on expeditions, though he only shot with a camera.

His love for skiing and photography evolved into making magical films that combine daring adventure with exquisitely choreographed alpine acrobats in bright Bogner gear. These days, Sonia designs the Bogner women’s line and Willy runs the international company started by his parents.

“The house has been the base for 15 of my 40 films,” Willy says. For a sequence in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he skied the icy St. Moritz bobsled run at 60 miles per hour-bent over with a camera between his legs-filming a stunt double following close behind. Blessed with a natural feel for the dramatic, Willy took guests to the top of Corvatsch for the premiere of his latest project, Ski to the Max, projecting the Imax film on the glacier wall as the sun went down.

The Bogner house is called Chesetta da l’Urs, or Bear’s Burrow, for the giant Kodiak bearskin that Willy’s father bagged in Alaska. It hangs on an interior log wall, surrounded by Willy and Sonia’s collection of Native American and cowboy artifacts. Like many a German schoolboy, Willy began his romance with the American West reading the adventure novels of Karl May, Germany’s Zane Grey. He and Sonia had a ranch near Telluride, Colo., for many years and began collecting Navajo blankets, beaded Indian crafts and rare l9th-century E.C. Biddle prints of Indian chiefs.

To this day, the iconography of the American West (Indian symbols, longhorn cattle, saddles, spurs and such) are design elements found on Bogner skiwear. The most dramatic painting in the house, by cowboy artist Ruben Nieto, is of an American Indian shooting an arrow in the air. It has particular significance, Willy says. “Bogner is the German word for bowman or archer.”

In the open living/dining room, a giant coffee table made from a polished slice of 400-year-old yew root sits on a cowhide. An Arizona find, a phalanx of silhouetted cowboys, cut out of cast iron, marches across the rustic mantel. “By flickering candlelight,” Sonia says, “they seem to be moving, and riding toward you.”

In typical Swiss style, the bedrooms of the house are compact snuggle nooks called arvestubli. Arve is the redolent Swiss wood that’s traditionally used to panel walls and ceilings; it fills the chambers with the fresh smell of pine as the fire in the Bavarian-tile stove warms the house. Instead of the usual down-filled duvets found in most Alpine chalets, the Bogner beds are covered with Pendleton blankets or 19th-century American quilts.

“With our two children in school in England, unless I’m making a filmm, we seem to get here for Christmas, Easter and school breaks,” Willy says. The trip from their home in Munich is a three-hour breeze in Willy’s new car. It’s the prototype of Audi’s speedy new model, the Bogner.