Verbier ski holidays…
Sitting high on a sunny plateau facing the Mont Blanc Massif, the town of Verbier has grown from what was a rustic collection of wooden chalets to what is now one of the world’s most famous international ski resorts, complete with 5* hotels attracting wealthy individuals and celebrities.
Its transformation might not suit some former residents who claimed ‘ski bum’ status - there purely for the off-piste skiing that the area is so well known for, but one thing is clear; as a ski resort, Verbier has it all – a vibrant après ski scene, well located for Geneva Airport, a huge choice of restaurants, amazing hotels and private chalets, sunny slopes, and a great snow.
SKIING IN VERBIER
What to expect…
Verbier’s ski area is linked with what’s known as the 4 Valley’s, Switzerland’s largest winter sports region taking in several resorts that straddle the Rhone River Valley. Verbier itself sits within the Val du Bagnes, tucked away in a sunny bowl and has what’s generally regarded as the best skiing within the area, although there’s some excellent spots that are worth a visit further afield if you have time.
"Famous for its expert terrain, it’s worth pointing out that beginners and intermediates are well catered for too, but it is the off-piste that makes it stand out from many of its competitors. "
LOCAL SKI AREA - VERBIER
The main starting point for ski activities in Verbier is at the Medran lift station that accesses Ruinettes, a kind of mid mountain point.
From Ruinettes you can either head up to Les Attelas (2727m) or Fontanet (2482) – both options opening up mostly red runs and some blues in the mellow La Chaux area and also at Lac de Vaux, a high altitude bowl that’s also the access point for Tortin, a steep and often moguled itinerary route (a marked run that is unprepared and left to nature) with variations (Col de la Mouche) that can be epic, and potentially dangerous, in fresh powder snow conditions. Strong intermediates will enjoy the long run back from Attelas down to Medran, although it can become busy later during the afternoons. Further above Attelas is Mt Gele (3023m), served by a single cable car. It’s a unique mountain, with just two unprepared itinerary routes scuttling down on the easterly and southerly faces – the rest of the mountain is available, but it’s seriously gnarly stuff; it’s a mountain for highly experienced freeriders only.
Other classic itinerary routes around Verbier include Vallon d’Arby and Col des Mines – both accessed via Lac de Vaux via a narrow path around steep rocky cliffs. Whilst Col de Mines branches off to the south and descends back towards Verbier, Vallon d’Arby sweeps down through a long valley ending up in the village of La Tzoumaz, where a gondola serves the Savoleyres ski area, an intermediates paradise that is linked by cableway to Verbier on the opposite side of town to Medran. This mixture of piste and itinerary routes is what makes Verbier so attractive to good skiers and snowboarders.
WIDER SKI AREA - FOUR VALLEYS
The 4 Valley’s ski area is the largest in Switzerland, and whilst Verbier is considered the star of the show, all of the other resorts have a part to play.
The village of Bruson, sitting directly opposite Verbier and accessed by gondola via La Chable, might be small in size but it packs a punch in terms of its terrain, with a couple of nice pistes and lots of off-piste tree skiing on fresh powder snow days – but it’s steep in places and can be prone to avalanches. On the Savoleyres sector, with its views across the Rhone Valley, more gentle slopes meander on the back side down to La Tzoumaz. It tends to be quieter than Verbier’s Medan-Attelas sector and worth the effort to get there. But perhaps the pinnacle – both literally and figuratively – of the whole area is Mont Fort (3328m), accessed via both the Nendaz-Siviez sector and Verbier. From the top, a steep slope, often heavily moguled, leads skiers either back to the easier slopes of La Chaux or down Col de Gentianes – a long, tough, itinerary route leading down to the bottom of Tortin and further down to Siviez. From here, another highlight is Flan de Fou, where a very steep itinerary routes descends into the Nendaz ski area. It is possible to go down the first (and steep) section in the cable car too.
The pistes around Nendaz themselves are mostly blues and reds. From the other side of Siviez, it’s possible to plug into the rest of the 4 Valley’s area that includes Veysonnaz and Thyon 2000. It’s worth heading over for the Piste de L’Ours, a long red run in the Veysonnaz area that’s often used for a women’s World Cup downhill race. Across in Thyon, there’s a number of easy runs but some good off-piste potential after fresh snowfalls. Whilst the linked area doesn’t have the convenience of say the 3 Valley’s or Espace Killy in terms of getting around easily, it does have some fantastic skiing possibilities that are worth the excursion from the hub of Verbier itself.
Min Ski Elevation:
Max Ski Elevation:
Gondolas / Cable Cars:
Approximate transfer times:
- BERN: 2½ Hrs
- geneva: 2½ Hrs
- BASEL: 3¾ Hrs
Verbier’s setting, a high semi-circular bowl sitting at 1500 metres above sea level, predominately faces west towards the Mont Blanc mountain range and is around two hours drive from Geneva Airport.
Before the Second World War, Verbier wasn’t much more than a few farmers’ huts, although an old chapel and remains of a small castle suggest it was a popular hunting ground for the Dukes of Savoy (this area of Switzerland used to be part of the wider Savoy region). During the 1950’s and then into to ‘60’s, Verbier’s rapid growth was driven by both building and ski lift expansion – a purpose built resort in some respects, but one that has always retained a traditional look and feel, with mostly low lying buildings that are sympathetic to the surroundings. Today, wooden style chalets spread out in all directions, providing around 40,000 beds – recent developments have seen new hotels and large chalets that have pushed the resort deep into the luxury bracket. The lower part of town sees most of the action when it comes to shopping, bars and restaurants, focused around the Place Centrale, which as suggest sits in the middle of the town centre. The main ‘drag’ runs for about 1km, from the large supermarket of Migros, slowly ascending on a gentle hill towards the ski lift station of Medran, with a few variations branching off in different directions. A mix of boutiques, cafes, bars, real estate agents and interior design outlets dominate the scene. Verbier is now a smart, sophisticated town that has a dynamic feel with a mix of ex-pat residents, wealthy weekenders and entrepreneurs that come here for the skiing and to hang out with like-minded people.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
Everything from pizza to sushi, bar food to haute cuisine – it’s all available in Verbier and whilst not for those looking to watch the pennies, there are decent value options around too.
Perhaps the best ‘go-to’ eatery in town is the Fer a Cheval, a Verbier institution that serves good pizza, decent steaks and lighter meals, all at a fair price (for Verbier standards). It is family run and the atmosphere is always relaxed and fun. Close to the Medran lift station, the Offshore café (inspired by the founders obsession with surfing and VW Beetles) is a good bet for light meals, burgers and salads – it’s also an option for lunch because of its proximity to the ski lift. Just behind, the Pub Mont Fort is another popular dinner choice for decent value and good quality bar food. For pizza, Chez Martin is a good bet in the town centre with good prices, whilst further up towards the Savoleyres lift station, AL Capone remains a long standing favourite. For fine dining, La Cordée des Alpes holds a Michelin star and serves modern French cuisine, whilst La Channe is another upscale option. Of course, there’s plenty of traditional Swiss eateries to please the cheese lovers too – Le Caveau in the Place Centrale being the most well-known, but Au Vieux Verbier provides a cosy alternative. Should you crave Asian food there’s now plenty of options to choose from including the CARVE sushi bar in the W Hotel.
There’s a good mix of self-service and sit down options all over the mountain in Verbier, not everything is eye-wateringly expensive and in general the quality of food is good.
For a quick bite, the Ice Cube at Les Ruinettes works well, whilst the larger building nearby housing Le Mouton Noir has both a large self-service canteen with an indoor and outdoor option and an upstairs restaurant with a good reputation. Higher up at Les Attelas, celebrity owned La Vache (Verbier regulars Carl Fogarty, Lawrence Dallaglio and James Blunt) serves pizzas, burgers and salads. Lower down towards the town, Le Mayentzet is small but cosy and serves good traditional Swiss fare. Chez Dany is tucked away and tricky to get to for beginners but worth the excursion whilst over in the Savoleyres sector, Namaste is a popular stopping point on the lower slopes of the Verbier side of the mountain.
Verbier après ski has something to offer everyone – from dancing in your ski boot madness to comfy and relaxed luxury.
Perhaps you want to kick things off on the mountain (don’t drink too much) at the Ice Cube by Les Ruinettes, then head down to Bar 1936 at Carrefour, which is basically a make shift yurt set up with a cool vibe. Continue downwards and Le Rouge will be waiting – it’s the end of the road (well, piste) and the beautiful people will be partying. If you can manage the stroll down to the Place Centrale, then the Farinet Hotel is the place for live bands and has après ski until 9pm. Dinner in Verbier often goes by the wayside. The Pub Mont is an excellent alternative and is a more relaxed afternoon hang-out where skiers have regaled their stories of off-piste adventures for decades and opens until late. The Loft Bar just off the Place Centrale is a great choice for a few beers and shots with the seasonaire’s. If you want something smarter, the Vie Montagne has its own micro-brewery and of course the W Hotel has a large and very comfortable cocktail bar. Later at night, several night clubs provide the action until late – 4am – including The Farm Club, famed over the years for celebrities, royals and maybe the odd seasonaire who’s had one too many and blows a month’s salary in one night.
Verbier might be famous for its skiing and snowboarding terrain but it has plenty of other mountain activities on offer too.
The longest toboggan run in French speaking Switzerland, helicopter sightseeing flights, husky dog sledding, ice go-karting, snow shoe guiding and ice climbing are all available. Paragliding is also popular here and there’s a number of cross country trails too. There’s even a tandem skydiving experience for the real adrenaline junkies out there.
Skiing and snowboarding is certainly the main course on Verbier’s menu, but there’s an extensive list of options and perhaps surprisingly the town caters well for non-skiers.
The large sports centre was partly re-built following a fire a couple of years ago and has an indoor pool, ice rink, climbing wall and squash courts as well as other activities. Several spas including the Les Cordees des Alpes, and the W Hotel offer entrance to day visitors. There’s also snow shoeing and paragliding too, but the numerous cafes, restaurants and shops are bound to take up plenty of time too. There’s also a cinema in the town centre that shows movies in both English and French.
WHO IS VERBIER SUITABLE FOR?
Here are the highlights...
Sure, Verbier has good skiing for intermediates and even beginners, but it’s the experts in search of both lift-serviced off-piste action that will probably get the most of the area.
Mountain Guides are numerous in Verbier and it’s always worth taking one if you’re thinking about heading off-piste. There’s a number of well-known itinerary routes – marked runs that are not prepared – but beyond that, a world of possibilities opens up for experienced off-piste skiers and snowboarders. From the top of Mont Fort, it’s possible to dive (almost literally) over the back where a huge descent takes you down steep gullies, over wide powder fields and then through a tight forest path, finally popping out close to Siviez. Stairway to Heaven is a steep face, usually cut with boot tracks, starting from close to the base of the top Mont Fort cable car station. After a short, but intense climb, a wide bowl that’s not too steep opens up. For a variation, skip the climb and follow the track around to Highway (much steeper terrain and far more technical).
Getting onto the slopes of Verbier is quick and efficient, so maximising the time on skis for a short break is relatively easy.
Verbier is a good destination for short breaks. It’s a two hour drive from Geneva Airport , around the lake and up the valley that eventually leads to the Grand St Bernard Pass. Peel off before that and it’s only the final 15 minutes on a windy mountain road – always take snow chains just-in-case and winter tyres are highly recommended. The train is another option and although a bit of a faff (requires a change in Martigny and in Le Chable) it’s a nice journey around Lake Geneva. A good compromise is to get a taxi or pick up from Martigny.
Whilst Verbier doesn’t have the amount of five star hotels as say Gstaad or St Moritz, it offers a more modern luxury feel with a combination of hotels and high-end catered chalets.
There’s some seriously good places to eat, some with eye-wateringly expensive menu prices, but for a special treat…why not? The transformation from slightly rustic, rambling wooden chalet ski resort popular with ‘Sloanies’ and ski bums to uber-international high-tech centre of world fame has been quite dramatic, but it has managed to retain its charm – luxury is a difficult thing to quantify, but Verbier definitely has something special.
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MAP OF verbier
Find your way…
Here's our map of Saas Fee showing you the key hotels and apartments as well as some of the main points of interest.