Take two good skiers, two different ages, give them one week to cover as many good slopes at top resorts in Switzerland as they can manage, using trains to get around, and you have a Swiss ski dream week.
GenevaLunch’s weekend sports writer Nick Bates and son Liam Bates, 22, who writes occasional travel reports for GenevaLunch, hit the slopes with a pair of skis and a snowboard, the last week in February. Nick has been skiing in Switzerland for 30 years and Liam grew up skiing most weekends in canton Valais, then spent four years near the Whistler resort area in Canada.
Like so many skiers in Switzerland, though, they have tended to return to the same places, and this year, they decided to test and compare.
We’ll give you their daily reports from the week, with high and low points, plus tips for each resort.
Switzerland’s ski season continues until mid-April (check individual resorts).
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Day 1: Verbier, Monday 21 FebruaryFreeride, Mont Fort, Verbier, in better weather (photo ©2011 Verbier St-Bernard / François Perraudin)
Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The village of Verbier is at 1,550 metres, but the good skiing, especially the off-piste where Verbier has an enviable reputation, goes as high as 3,300m. Off-piste here, “ski-tour”, is a large area set aside and marked for this, where slopes are not groomed.
Verbier is not the ideal resort for beginners or the faint-hearted, but it is justifiably a favourite with fast and serious, experienced skiers, who also like their après-ski, so there are plenty of options at the end of a long day outdoors.
The Swiss winter of 2010-2011 has not offered the kind of heavy snows that shows off Verbier at its best, but this is a resort that can always offer good skiing.
Verbier and its skiers like to think of it as more “sporty” than most other resorts. It has a solid international mix of returning skiers: British, Swiss, French and Scandinavian skiers are regulars. There are other good outdoor options, including the longest slide run, 10 km, in French-speaking Switzerland, open at night.
Ski area Verbier: 27 lifts, 100 km of runsVerbier, a wealth of good skiing (photo ©2011 Verbier St-Bernard / Yves Garneau)
Nick – “We had lots of cloud, but the snow was pretty good on the pistes, with a few centimetres of fresh snow. The snow from January has held because it’s been cold enough.”
Liam – “But they still need a big dump so people can go off-piste and do more at the snow park, which wasn’t busy.”
Nick – “At 10 in the morning, the queues are not too bad, even during a school holiday week.”
Liam – “Some parts get a bit crowded but you can get away from them, easy.”
Nick – “It’s challenging skiing, with a big variety of slopes for intermediate to good skiers.
Liam – It’s not really aimed at little kids.
Nick – There were a lot of little kids on the slopes, but they were really, really good!
Nick – The Mont Fort piste from the very top is large mogul field.
Liam – We couldn’t really see it because of the conditions, so we stayed mostly at 2,200-2,700. The conditions there were nice. And Verbier’s really big, with the four valleys.”
Nick – And very complex. Slopes going in all directions.
Liam – There’s a really cool thing in the snowpark, like a big jump and then you land on something that’s like a huge crashpad. You can learn how to do backflips, so it’s really good for learning.”
This is one resort where a guide really makes sense. It can be very confusing, with all the mountains, all the options. We stayed in one area, maybe one-sixth of the resort, where our guide, a very fast skier who used to compete, thought the snow was better, we’d have decent visibility and fewer people. So especially if you want to cover a lot in a short time, it’s useful to have a guide here.
It takes a good while to understand the lay of the land. You need a few days with good weather to fully understand the many and various ways you can link up.
The tone is set on the slopes: this is a place for sports-lovers, and the village reinforces it. This winter there are posters for Hublot watches everywhere, all featuring sports stars like German skier Maria Raisch. Sports shops are everywhere, with several specialty shops.
Verbier also has a reputation as a party town, with chalet parties and plenty of nightlife. Skiers who aren’t there for all-nighters and who just want a good beer, a bit of a crowd and a chance to unwind just off the slopes will find three to four pubs and several “more night-clubbish ones” that get good business as the day winds down. A couple favourites: the Pub Mont Fort and Fer à Cheval.
Verbier in generalVillage of Verbier, sprinkled with chalets (photo ©2011 Verbier St-Bernard / François Perraudin)
Verbier isn’t the luxury brands paradise that some resorts are, but it’s a busy resort, with a large number of vacation chalets, so there are a lot of shops here.
The village is strung out, but the shuttle bus service is good and, with so many English-spaking visitors, Verbier makes it easy to get timetables and access services.
Cars are allowed, however, it makes little sense to take one up to the resort if you don’t live there: the best option is to leave your car at the bottom,at Le Chables.
- Verbier resort
- map of the ski areas
- practical information in English, including bus and train timetables
- radio in English, Mountain Radio Verbier (new, December 2010)
- snow conditions at the resort
- My Switzerland (national tourism office) page on Verbier