Verbier has a reputation as something of a winter playground for those who like to party and like to ski; while the partying has been ongoing since the 60’s it is only in the last 15 years that Verbier has seen enough significant investment in the lift system to turn it into a truly world class ski area.
Verbier is part of the 4 Valleys ski area which includes 410km of runs and 89 lifts; although the lift system isn’t quite as seamless as the 3 Valleys the area has become a mecca for intermediate and advanced skiers with enough variety to keep even keenest happy for years. If you are a complete novice who only wants to ski wide open pistes then France may be better suited to you, but if you want to get off the ‘intermediate plateau’ and experience some easily accessible off-piste, gentle bumps and some confidence building reds and blacks then Verbier is the place to come!
Verbier has two main lifts at which you can start your day on the slopes – Savoleyres and Medran – both are bubble lifts but start from two different parts of town and were built in two different eras! The Medran lift is actually two lifts, with a 4man bubble which comes from Le Chable and lets people get on and a 6 man bubble which starts in Verbier. Savoleyres is a slower, older 4 man arrangement which many people wrongly dismiss as only having access to a limited ski area. What you gain in speed at Medran you can lose in queues depending on the time you arrive; if you’re not in the centre of town it makes sense to walk or take a short bus journey and start at Savoleyres. Or get the Number 1 bus to Carrefour and ski over to the new 6 man chair which will take you straight to the top of Medran – the lift even has its own ticket office if you want to avoid the queues for a lift pass at Medran!
Savoleyres has some fantastic red runs which are a great way to warm up in the morning and you can also ski ‘off the back’ down some long blue and red runs through the trees to the La Tsoumaz bubble which brings you back to the top of the Savoleyres lift. These runs are almost always shaded so offer great skiing in the spring and are never crowded even at New Years and half-term. From the top of Savoleyres you can ski across the bowl that Verbier sits in down the long Plenard blue run towards the Medran lift. Half way across is the brand new 6 man La Combe lift which will take you to the top of the Medran bubble and from here the sun trap of the La Chaux area can be accessed by taking the Chaux-Express chair or you can take on three of the best off piste runs in Europe.
Verbier is famed for its easily accessible off piste, and rightly so. The three itineries (patrolled but not pisted runs) of Tortin, Col des Mines and Vallon d’Arbi allow intermediate skiers to do some real off-piste in relative safety and with the promise of fast gondolas and bubbles at the bottom instead of a long walk or a thigh burning schuss which can sometimes be the case in other European resorts. It is best not to follow the crowds and hire a guide who can show you the best places for untracked powder and manageable bumps as each of these itinerates has numerous entry points and lines to choose from. If the snow is excellent then the cable car to Mont Gele will open – but this should only be taken on my very confident skiers as the powder here is steep and deep!
Another great option is to head up to the top of Mont Fort, at 3300m it is the high point of the 4 Valleys and offers stunning views of Mont Blanc and a short, but steep, mogul run down to the long, fast, fun red that takes you back to the La Chaux area and is the very essence of confidence building. You can also stop half way and take in the stunning Bec De Rosses mountain where the annual ‘Verbier Extreme’ takes place – the top 20 extreme skiers simply start at the top and ski to the bottom down some of the steepest slopes imaginable – fastest time wins!
A word of warning – the runs down to the bottom of the Medran lift are narrow and extremely busy from about 3pm. Those who are not confident in these conditions, or those skiing with children are advised to take the Medran bubble back down – you don’t miss any good skiing and will avoid the run where 80% of accidents seem to happen, no bad thing! A better route home for those who want to ski to the last is to ski across the Verbier bowl in the direction of Savoleyres and then head down the uncrowded beginners area (actually a very tricky golf course in the summer) to the Le Rouge bar and restaurant for some of the finest après ski in Switzerland– after all, that’s half the reason for going to Verbier in the first place!