The biggest (and best-known) resort in Switzerland’s Four Valleys, Verbier is a bit like Marmite: you’ll either love it or hate it. If you’re a piste skier the chances are you’ll find its terrain limited and confusing. But, if you live for off-piste, and luck out with the conditions, by the end of your trip you’ll be considering selling a vital organ to move here.
This is proper, high-Alpine stuff, with lines and routes in almost every direction, through vast powder fields, over glaciers and down impossibly-tight couloirs. It is also the home to the heart-in-your-mouth finale of the Freeride World Tour on the legendary Bec des Rosses.
For those of you who aren’t cliff-hucking pros (well, not yet anyway) there’s plenty of easily-accessed off-piste. Get a guide to take you off the back of Mont Fort. Or take one of the many intinaries for some inbounds fun. Just remember to look up: with slopes at 3,000m, the views are immense, stretching across Valais as far as the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Off the slopes, the mood is just as dare-devilish; most of the action can be found on the main 400-metre strip in the centre, where you’ll find lots of hang-from-the-rafters bars. This über-lively atmosphere is probably down to the influx of British (and Scandinavian) seasonnaires – we’ve heard many a Swiss local complain that you’ll get your kirsch faster if your order in English rather than en Francais. But quick service is a plus in our books.
Here, local John Wolstenholme gives us the lowdown of the best places on and off the hill.
BEST RUN FOR A WARM UP
I like to head up nice and early to take advantage of the quiet slopes. First off, I take the Médran télécabine followed by the Olympic lift to the Lac de Vaux area – it’s packed with nice, rolling pistes mixed with some interesting, playful bits just off the side of the runs, perfect for dipping in and out of.
It’ll get your legs warmed up and ready for the rest of Verbier. If you sleep in and the Olympic Lift gets too busy, do a couple of laps from Ruinette to the new, super-fast
six-seater at Mayentzet instead.
FOR A DAY AWAY FROM THE LIFTS
There are so many backcountry and touring opportunities, so many hidden gems, that it’s impossible for me to pick just one. The town is full of great guides and they are without doubt the key to finding the best backcountry or touring routes on any given day. Call the guide’s office at Sport Verbier or a ski school like Performance Verbier.
FOR FRESH TRACKS
Without giving away all of Verbier’s secrets, the best place to go is Bruson. Take the lift down to Le Châble and then a bus to the bottom of the Bruson lift (a long-awaited télécabine is due to be installed ready for winter 2013/14). It’s generally quiet and the tree-skiing is excellent. There’s plenty for everyone depending how far you want to explore! Even a couple of days after a snowfall you’ll stand a decent chance of finding some fresh pockets of powder.
THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION OF VERBIER
Is that it’s a ‘Boule anglaise’ (English Bubble). There are a fair few Brits here, but it’s actually a real melting pot of nationalities: Brits, French, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Spaniards, Finns, Americans, Canadians, Russians, Indians, Chinese etc, etc. Rightly or wrongly, English is the common language, which just reinforces the notion that half of the isle’s moved here, but it’s a truly global resort – just come here to see for yourself.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE VERBIER
Explore the backside of Mont Fort. Sweeping, dramatic scenery and a genuine sense of being away from everything make it a real must-do. Though I wouldn’t suggest doing it without a guide. You shouldn’t leave without skiing the front-side of Mont Fort either. Head down skier’s right to the Col Gentianes, then follow the itinerary – it’s a long, 1,300m descent through some amazing terrain.
BEST PLACE FOR MOUNTAIN BITES
When I go up the mountain I try to squeeze in a full day’s skiing, and for me that means no stopping for lunch! Though if you need to refuel, it’s worth giving Ruinettes a try. The main restaurant has got new managers this season, and they’ve got some great ideas to bring to your table. For something a little lighter, head to the Ice Cube (also at Ruinettes). It’s a take-away place that does everything from hot dogs to pastries.
FOR CHEAP EATS IN TOWN
It has to be pizza. It seems everyone has a different opinion about where’s best, but contenders include Al Capone, Chez Martin and La Pergola. If you’re after a take-away then A-Team would have to be in the mix too. Personally, I’d head for Al Capone – it’s such a friendly place with great service.
FOR AN APRÈS-SKI TIPPLE
Head to Place Centrale, there’s loads of bars around there that are well worth a visit. Farinet is due for a big refurbishment this season and T-Bar right next door is always buzzing. If vino is your tipple of choice head to Cay&Art on Route de Station – it’s a lovely little wine bar. Or you could go for Cosy Bar in Hotel Phenix – it’s as snug as the name suggests.
Pistes and Pases
Ski area: 93 miles in Verbier itself and 255 miles in the whole of the Four Valleys