Expert guide to Verbier
The chic centre of the 4Vallées
Verbier is the main resort in Switzerland’s largest ski area, the 4Vallées. Thanks to the combination of a sunny, scenic location, exciting terrain and a lively nightlife, it has long attracted a young crowd intent on making the most of both the slopes and the après ski.
Easy access (two and a half hours by public transport from Geneva airport) has helped make Vebier popular with the British as well as the Dutch, Scandinavians, the international Geneva set – and above all, the Swiss.
While Verbier has slopes to suit all levels, it best suits confident, adventurous skiers and snowboarders. The 80 lifts access more than 410km of runs, including some of the best lift-served off piste in the Alps.
Inside the resort . . .
The resort’s main network of pistes is directly above Verbier, served by the Médran gondola. At its foot is the luxurious W Verbier hotel, plus a generous number of bars, cafés and shops. These form the resort’s second focal point – the first being Place Centrale, at the opposite end of Rue de Médran. Between the two, Rue de Médran itself is home to the majority of bars, shops and restaurants.
Resort life in Verbier is concentrated in venues within a short stagger of the après hub of Place Centrale, the main lift base at Médran and the buzzing street between the two. The sound of live bands pounds from the glassed-in terrace of the Farinet from late afternoon, as revellers dance on tables in their ski boots.
Verbier itself is a gentle sprawl of chalets, hotels and apartments, few of which are ski-in/ski-out.
Verbier’s slopes are snow sure and the scenery spectacular, and from the top of the ski area – Mont Fort, at 3,330m – the views reach as far as the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Thanks to the altitude of the ski area and the extensive snowmaking, it’s pretty safe to book early or late in the season. From the resort at 1,500m, heights of more than 2,700m can be reached by two consecutive gondola rides that take under 11 minutes in total. At the top, the resort height guarantees abundant snow.
A regular free shuttle bus links Médran with the lifts for Verbier’s other, smaller ski areas, via different routes among the town’s chalets.
Two key lift connections make it easy to explore the whole of the 4Vallées ski area. One of them accesses the heart of the separate Bruson ski area, a favourite with locals as it’s often quieter than the main Verbier slopes, the other quickly links Verbier to the 4Vallées resorts of Siviez and Nendaz.
The challenging terrain on Verbier’s doorstep has given rise to thrilling spectator events, from Xtreme Verbier (the finals of the Freeride World Tour) and the Verbier High Five (where amateurs compete alongside world champions), to the Patrouille des Glaciers, a gruelling ski touring race from Zermatt.
Verbier does have its drawbacks. The beginner areas at the foot of the mountain are all but detached from the other pistes, so it may take novices days to be able to access the main ski area. And while there’s plenty to do on the slopes other than skiing and snowboarding, activities off the snow are relatively limited.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Verbier’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
Verbier’s pistes are classified as 43 per cent easy, 29 per cent intermediate and 28 per cent advanced, but confident and adventurous skiers and snowboarders will get the most out of a visit. The resort’s ice-cream-scoop of a mountain bowl is perfectly oriented to the south, so virtually the whole ski area enjoys sunshine all day, as well as views towards the glaciated peaks along the borders with France and Italy.
Experts comes to Verbier not only for its black runs, and unmarked off-piste runs to explore with a mountain guide, but for the itinerary runs. These are off-piste runs that are shown on the map in yellow and, like normal off piste, are neither groomed nor patrolled. They are often heavily mogulled, but anyone tackling them should have training and experience in off-piste skills and safety, and stay close to the markings (a single line of posts down the centre).
There is detailed information on itinerary runs in the Freeride Verbier book, available from the tourist office, but Verbier’s most notorious and challenging itinerary is Tortin, one of two that descend to the lift hub at Tortin (2,050m). Starting directly below the Chassoure gondola, its upper slope is usually a vast expanse of moguls. The other itinerary to Tortin is Gentianes-Tortin, starting below Col des Gentianes at 2,950m.
It’s a guaranteed adrenalin rush to descend the steep, usually very bumpy Mont-Fort black run from the top of the Mont-Fort cable car, the highest point of the ski area at 3,330m, then schuss past the little drag lift to join Gentianes-Tortin – more than a vertical kilometre of descent in all.
Piste-wise, the majority of visitors spend most of their time on the main network directly above Verbier, served by the Médran gondola from town. This spaghetti of reds is a glorious intermediate playground, but even cautious beginners should ride up to access a couple of scenic blue runs higher up. From the top of Mont-Fort there is only the black run and serious off-piste runs to be tackled with a guide, but everyone – non-skiers included – should ride the sequence of gondolas and cable cars to 3,330m for the views.
The gentle, sunny bowl of La Chaux, before the top of the area, is popular with families and beginners. There’s also a terrain park here that has three routes (blue, red, black) with jumps and rails of varying difficulty, plus a giant airbag and a thrilling snow cross run.
An alternative to the Médran gondola at busy times is to take a shuttle bus to Carrefour, a roundabout and restaurant of the same name near the top of the Le Rouge drag lift, which access the fast Mayentzet six-seater chairlift to Médran’s mid-mountain hub of Ruinettes.
The Savoleyres sector of slopes is a 10-minute bus ride from central Verbier, and this is followed by a 12-minute ride on a slow gondola. However, the reward is an extensive network of blue and red pistes shared between a sunny bowl above Verbier and the forested slopes behind, which lead down to the smaller resort of La Tzoumaz. The Savoleyres runs are quieter than those directly above Verbier, and the north-facing tree runs down to La Tzoumaz are the best place to go on low-visibility days. The Audiquattro Funslope, a cross between a terrain park and snow-cross course, is a fun run for all levels with a tunnel, banked turns, gates and small jumps.
The more confident should certainly explore the further reaches of the 4 Vallées ski area, allowing a day for Thyon and Veysonnaz, and another for Nendaz. The routes to get there do include ungroomed itinerary runs, but non-experts can always ride a cable car or gondola down instead.
For all levels, a half day is well spent exploring Bruson. It’s reached by taking the gondola that descends from Verbier to Le Châble, then riding up another gondola on the other side. Above the Bruson gondola there is just one slow chairlift and two drag lifts, but the small network of scenic, tree-lined runs and a long itinerary run make the area well worth the journey.
Verbier has two options for beginners. Les Moulins is a junior slope near the town centre with a magic carpet lift and a drag lift. It’s home to the kids’ club run by the Swiss Ski School and a crèche, also called Les Moulins. The main beginners’ slope, Les Esserts, just above town, has the same set-up on a bigger scale. A red piste through the forest leads here from the Savoleyres area, but there’s no piste leading to Les Esserts from the main Verbier ski area – the only access is by shuttle bus.
Who should go?
Verbier is an expert’s playground, anyone who can handle Verbier’s itinerary routes, never mind its couloirs, can consider themselves pretty darn good. Off the slopes après celebrations in Verbier are just as wild. It’s snow-sure credentials also make it a safe choice for an early- or late-season trip.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy/Consulate: 00 31 359 77 00
Ambulance: dial 144
Police: dial 117
Fire: dial 118
Tourist office: See verbier.ch, the website for the Verbier Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from one of three offices in Verbier, Val de Bagnes and Fionnay.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 41, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour