Known for its challenging terrain, dynamic entertainment options and fun-loving visitors, Verbier is well known amongst skiers from all over the world, and on a trip to Europe I seemed to meet most of them.
I also met quite a few folks who were just there for the good vibe and the endless parties. The after-hours fun in this famous resort attracts the British, Dutch, Scandinavians, Geneva Hi-Sos and plenty of Swiss visitors too.
Off Slope Sensibilities
Verbier is easily reached in under three hours from Geneva airport by public transport and as the primary resort in Switzerland’s largest ski area – 4 Vallees – it offers almost unlimited variety on the slopes.
Notably for many, Verbier is a major “off-piste” (“off-slope”) ski resort, which means adventurous slip-sliders like me revel in the opportunity to feel like they have found an area all of their own. I started such skiing early on in my slope life, albeit on the relatively tame slopes of America’s Rocky Mountains, particularly Colorado’s many bowls and broad forested slopes. I do not recommend my teenage habit of hiding in the woods until most skiers are gone, however. It often left me missing late-closing lifts and making long treks on alpine skis, which is not an easy or smart way to travel long distance. In fact I flirted with frostbite on more than one occasion.
With so many choices, you will not be tempted to such foolishness at Verbier. You will love the mogul fields at Mont Fort, Gentianes, Tortin and the rather more challenging ones at Mont Gele and Vallon D’Arbi, often shut due to avalanche risk. If off-piste is your forte, make sure to run the backside of Mont Fort too, including Stairway to Heaven, The Rocky Darden and Couloir des Dix. Just remember to say your prayers first.
Verbier boasts no less than 100 lifts, as well as railways linking the resort with Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Thyon and La Tzoumaz. There are also two consecutive gondolas that whisk you in 11 minutes from the resort itself at 1500m, to over 2,700m, where the slopes provide plenty of challenges.
You’ll fill plenty of camera chips, as I did, with the stunning cableway leading to the peak of Mont Fort, which offers amazing views, especially when you reach 3,300m. With access to over 400km of runs, you won’t be disappointed skiing around Verbier. The cheerful, cosmopolitan crowds even draw skiers from other well-known ski areas that are much loftier in attitude.
Thanks to its variety, Verbier has also recently hosted many exciting events, like Xtreme Verbier (the Freeride World Tour finals), the stamina-testing Zermatt-start ski touring race, Patrouille des Glaciers, and the Verbier High Five, a fun toss-up allowing amateurs to compete downhill against world pros.
A Perfect Stay
Exclusive chalets catering to the upscale ski set are hidden throughout Verbier, and the town is popular with a wide range of clientele, so I was happy to find plenty of cafes, bars, restaurants and lounges that are within reach of the “every-man or woman skier”. The T-Bar is a favourite nightlife spot, with live music and good food at reasonable prices all day long. Casbah, meanwhile, keeps the younger crowds moving with plenty of dancefloor favourites.
Personally, I was drawn to Le Rouge (at the base of Le Rouge Piste), for its fantastic off-terrace views during daylight gatherings and its adaptable, sound-insulating glass shield to watch the snowfall from comfy sofas. As invariably happens when meeting new friends and talking into the wee hours, we often ended up at a late-night spot like Crok No Name Bar, just above Place Central, open until 1.30 am and run by a sweet local woman, Marie-Claire. It is not a low-price gathering spot, but it’s a very mellow place to be when you want to party late.
Be sure to check out Farinet Apres Ski bar in the Farinet Hotel. Live bands fill the roomy spot, which features a massive sliding roof, not to be missed on starry nights. I managed to make my way through most of the long list of shots on offer, not that I could tell you which ones they were the next morning. Oh, and be sure to hit Farm Club one night, a long time draw here for celebrities and those with the money to buy celebrity-priced drinks.
Life without Skis
Winter trekking on snowshoes can keep you busy in Verbier if you’re not a skier, and trails abound. I even took in a yoga class at Wholey Cow in the town’s centre; they offer Hatha, Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga classes, as well as spinning classes. You can take French language classes at Verbier Language School, or stay less tongue-tied by joining Happy Hour at The Pub – ask directions, and someone will tell you where to buy a drink. I made quite a few best friends there.
If you come late in the season, the April 27th party at the bottom of the Chaux Piste is a big one, with drinks, food and music to keep everyone in the groove. Another groove to join is the waterslide, which is always a late season draw in the top ski areas – “slush cup” ski-in’s are common at many slopes around the resort.
Verbier is definitely the place to go for snow in Europe, a combination of abundant snowfall and sunshine add to the pleasure, and allow you to make late- or early-season bookings. Any time you go, you’re sure to have a blast – of snow, skiing and seriously fun times.
With so much on offer in Le Verbier it’s wise to arrive with a few insider tips up your sleeve to make the most of the attractions and entertainment on offer. Here are a few suggestions from regular visitors.
- A little known secret is that one lift connects to the epicentre of skiing in the Bruson ski area. Even better, two joined gondola rides will soon make the trip even easier.
- Also new to Verbier is an enterprisingly crafted complex at the base of the main Medran gondola. New shops are being added all the time so you can jump off the lift and be shopping after only a 10-minute walk.
- The beginners’ sections at Verbier are quite disconnected from the larger area and its many slopes but if you can master the lower, tamer areas quickly, the harder slopes will offer you plenty of thrills.
- Key techniques include learning how to stop quickly – steepness prevails in this region, and drop-offs can hurt (or worse) in off-piste ski regions.
- Take the free shuttle bus, on regular runs, that connects the Medran gondola to the less major ski slopes and areas. It will save some wandering amongst the chalets and streets.