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Set in a south-facing bowl, enjoying all day sunshine, Verbier is famous for its immensely varied, snowsure ski terrain and spectacular scenery.
Set in a south-facing bowl, enjoying all day sunshine, Verbier is famous for its immensely varied, snowsure ski terrain and spectacular scenery. Standing at the top of Mont Fort, you can see the glaciated peaks of the French and Italian Alps, the Matterhorn, Dent Blanche and the Mont Blanc massif. Expert off-piste skiers, hard core partying types and the glitterati return here year after year, but as the resort evolves, a wider audience is being attracted. Some excellent ski schools have started up in recent years, giving beginners and intermediates an opportunity to enjoy the pistes, meaning there is something to suit every level. The village remains a charming and chic resort with a vibrant atmosphere and an increasingly cosmopolitan choice of bars and restaurants.
Resort altitude: 1500mHighest point: 3330mVertical drop: 1830mSki areas: Verbier is part of the “Four Valleys - one of the largest ski areas in Switzerland, linked to the resorts of Bruson, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, La Tzoumaz and Thyon. It is now officially known as the Verbier-St Bernard ski regionPistes: 140km of pistes (36% beginner/intermediate, 37% advanced, 27% expert)Lifts: 92Best for: Powder hounds who live for off-piste and intermediates who are looking to step up a level or two.
Verbier is the main resort in the “Four Valleys” – Switzerland’s largest ski region, with each area giving skiers a range of distinct terrain. Recent lift investment has seen a vast improvement in access to the slopes, where previously it involved free shuttle buses, and the resort boasts some of the best lift-served off-piste skiing and steep terrain in the Alps. It has one of the best snow records in the Alps, with around 6m usually falling each season. The slopes above Verbier can get quite busy in late afternoon, so it’s best to know where to head to avoid the crowds. Whilst Verbier is a paradise for experts and free riders, there is terrain for every level, and ski schools to suit all abilities.
Bruson, in the Val de Bagnes, is the ideal place to head when there’s low visibility. It offers great tree-lined skiing, with some exciting off piste options, and it’s where the locals like to ski. Now linked by a new lift, getting there is much easier. From Savoleyres down to La Tzoumaz, it is a gentle run, taking you down below the tree line. Le Taillay and Le Nord chairs drop you off on some friendly blues, making this an ideal spot to ski if the weather closes in. Les Etablons two man chair gives you access to a fun red, and with a new lift system here, you’ll rarely have to queue. The Mont Fort section offers some of the best expert ski terrain in the Alps. If you don’t fancy the often mogulled-out black run down, it’s still definitely worth taking the cable to the top, just for the views. Here, you’ll find some incredible itinerary runs (marked in yellow on the piste map). Or for some real thrill seeking adventures, hire a guide to take you down the back. From the Col des Gentianes at 2950m, you can either drop down towards Tortin, or take the more gentle red down towards La Chaux. From here, you can spend a sunny afternoon cruising the wide pistes of Attelas and Les Combes, alternating between La Chaux Express, the Funispace and Les Attelas lifts. Over towards Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon, north east of Tortin, there is a good choice of reds and blues to suit intermediates, as well as some exciting blacks for the more advanced.
For beginners there are conveniently located nursery slopes, all of which are equipped with snowmaking facilities. Les Esserts with its drag lift and the longest magic carpet in Switzerland, has gentle slopes and is in a sunny spot. You can then progress from there to Le Rouge, which is slightly steeper. And once you’ve got more confidence, you should head for La Chaux (take La Chaux Express from Médran), where the easy blues are perfect. Up here you’ll find a terrain park with jumps and rails and a giant airbag (experts only!), as well as an adrenalin rush of a ski cross run.
There is plenty to keep a good intermediate happy in Verbier. There are enough “boulevard” reds and cruising blues for some confidence building skiing, as well as plenty of good off-piste runs to try. The Médran lift takes you above Verbier, where you’ll find a myriad of reds, whilst the Lac de Vaux area between Attelas and Col des Mines is great terrain and usually has near perfect conditions. Once you’ve skied that area, head over towards Thyon, where you’ll be spoilt for choice, or spend some time exploring Bruson.
Verbier is famous for its off-piste and itinerary routes. These are marked on the piste map, but are ungroomed, and not controlled for avalanches, and if conditions are deemed too unsafe, they’ll be closed. The most popular is the notorious and mogulled Tortin “wall”, either down from Col des Gentianes or Chassoure. Make sure your edges are sharp! More advanced itineraries include Vallon d’Arbi and Mont Gelé which are often closed. The north face of Mont Fort has quite a frightening entry, but is regularly skied, and after a heavy dump of snow is a must for free riders. For some steep couloirs and knee bending moguls, try Stairway to Heaven, which involves a long climb carrying your skis to get there, and Hidden Valley. We also recommend hiring a guide for the day to explore all around Bruson or to reach the less accessible Bec des Rosses which is host to the annual finals of the Freeride World Tour.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stop for lunch, as ever, there’s a choice to suit most appetites, tastes and budgets. Most waiter and self service restaurants have had major transformations over the past two or three years, and the variety and standard of cuisine is fantastic. We especially like Le Dahu, a popular restaurant with waiter service, and a fabulous panoramic balcony at the top of La Chaux. You should also try La Vache, a joint venture between Lawrence Dallaglio, James Blunt and Carl Forgarty, with the help of Heston Blumenthal. With its life size cows and stylish design, it’s very cosy and atmospheric and serves great, reasonably priced food. For the 2013/14 season, their new venture is The Cuckoo’s Nest, a waiter service restaurant, where our favourite is most definitely the truffle fondue. Over between Siviez and Thyon, you’ll find Les Chottes which has two sunny terraces, one reached through a snow tunnel, and serves delicious typical Swiss cuisine. Another must, is Chez Dany in the hamlet of Clambin. You get to it from an unpisted itinerary route, but is absolutely fine for intermediates. Or if you fancy some fresh seafood in the mountains, then head for Les Ruinettes lift for Le Cristal, where you’ll find lobster on the menu. We recommend booking beforehand for most places if you want to guarantee a table. For the serious off-pisters, the Cabane Tortin is an isolated mountain hut, where you definitely don’t need to book, as not many people can get there. Be warned though, it only has a wood stove and no running water.
Verbier still remains a charming resort, and has a vibrant atmosphere. Previously it has been dominated by private chalets, but a new complex at the bottom of the Medran gondola, including the W Verbier Hotel, shops, restaurants and bars is changing all that. The village centre is bustling with life, and you’ll find little boutiques right next to international brands. This is where the après-ski takes off. You can ski right to the Off Piste Bar at the W Hotel – the snow machines make sure you won’t have to remove your skis – and enjoy a few cocktails and live music as the evening takes off.
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