An insider guide to Verbier, Switzerland

Lifts:

Walking out of your chalet, you have a choice between two lifts; Medran and Savoleyres. Medran is the main lift for the resort with two gondolas delivering skiers to Les Ruinettes. Les Ruinettes serves as a central point for the majority of easy-access skiing in Verbier, conveniently located for runs down from Attelas and La Chaux as well as having the option of skiing back down to Medran below. It’s also a good place to stop for lunch where one can watch clouds wander through the valley below towards Martingy whilst enjoying the alpine sun.

Although there is a designated picnic spot just around from the lift, the eponymous restaurant opposite Les Ruinettes gondola offers the best view with adequate indoor seating as well as the terrace. The restaurant offers freshly-cooked food that is as reasonably priced as Swiss alpine dining gets; packed lunches are advised (buy a couple of hot chocolates and the restaurant staff won’t mind too much). Once at Ruinettes most people take the ‘Funi Space’ to Attelas, but there is the option to take the La Chaux express to the top of Les Fontaneys as well skiing directly from Ruinettes.

For less-experienced skiers:

The village offers two ‘learner’ slopes, Les Moulins and Les Esserts, which are accessible by bus and have button lifts. Both have lift operators to help less-experienced skiers ride to the top. Lift passes can be purchased for these slopes individually to avoid the steeper prices of up-the-mountain options. Les Esserts also has a magic carpet, worth bearing in mind if button lifts seem quite daunting at first.

Once comfortable with these slopes, there are also manageable options up the mountain. Taking the lifts up to Attelas, the Lac des Vaux offers the first option often popular with less experienced skiers. However, most learners make the pilgrimage to La Chaux. With its south-facing disposition, newly-renovated ski lifts and plethora of gently rolling, beginner runs, La Chaux offers the ideal location for learning to ski. The snow can be heavy later in the day as it gets more sun than other slopes and therefore can also be icy when lifts first open, so avoiding these times is worthwhile. Ultimately though, it’s warm, it’s easy and a hot chocolate is never more than five minutes away.

Whilst providing relatively unchallenging, enjoyable skiing, Savoleyres, on the other side of the valley, is less learner-friendly; usually only offering one option for descending the mountain and has a tendency to be icy on the piste down to Tzoumaz. The area hasn’t seen the kind of infrastructure renovation which Medran has enjoyed in recent years, so whilst this means no cosy bubble to keep you warm on the chair lifts it also means less crowds; one for the more confident learner.

For more-experienced skiers:

Verbier boasts an impressive portfolio of both on piste and off-piste routes. Mont Fort, Tortin and Mt Gelé provide easily accessible runs that offer less crowds, better snow and more of a challenge. Mont Fort requires an embellished lift pass (at extra cost) which covers you for this run as well as Gentianes. Even for those not set on the challenge of Mont Fort, the addition to your lift pass is worth paying for as Gentianes’s meandering route through the shaded valley regularly boasts some of Verbier’s best on-piste snow. Tortin is accessed through the far side of the Lac des Vaux and varies in its difficulty based on snowfall for the season. Some years it’s a long, challenging but ultimately pleasant ski; other years, the rocky precipice that acts as the top of the run will likely leave you watching ‘how to repair ski bases’ on You Tube and the waist-high moguls towards the bottom of the run will have you Googling ‘sports masseuse Verbier’.

Mt Gelé is possibly the hardest of the lot, or at least the most dangerous. There are three main routes down; the front of the Mt Gelé ends up beneath Attelas, the side brings you to the top of La Chaux and the back leaves you at the lift up from the Tortin. The front side is the scary one. The windswept path, that serves as the traverse round from the lift, is narrow and tumbles disconcertingly off to the right; the collection of jagged, limestone rocks below look decidedly uninviting. The cable car that takes suitors trying to tame the mountain to the top means descents come in waves; the resulting queue that forms behind you on the traverse offers ample encouragement. Those that survive this ordeal are rewarded with a fast, challenging run down to below Attelas, often with relatively untouched snow.

Those looking for more remote, back-country type skiing have the option of the ‘rock garden’, finishing at the lift for Tortin, the back of Mont Fort, which hosts a variety of different routes as well as many others, although local knowledge is essential for attempting these safely.

Other tips:

  • Good family restaurant- Al Capone
  • Best après ski- Pub Mont Fort/ Le Rouge/ Farinet
  • Best food up the mountain- Le Dahu at the bottom of La Chaux
  • Best take away pizza- A Team
  • Best ice cream/ crepes/ milkshakes- the Milk Bar
  • Best chicken nuggets up the mountain (possibly in Europe?)- Les Gentianes igloo
  • Avoiding crowds in peak season- Take the first lift up and enjoy a couple of hours skiing before the hoards descend upon the chairlifts
  • Avoiding the long queue at Medran- take the bus to Carrefore and ski across the path to the lower of the two bubble chair lifts
  • The town centre is good on New Year’s Eve but those not wanting to be covered in champagne should stick to the edges

For more information click here

N.B. written by a Verbier veteran of more than 20 years

Photo credit: Verbier Promotion, Yves Garneau

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