Beginners will find the nursery slopes conveniently located next to the village itself, on pleasant sunny hillsides and there is a choice of ski schools offering lessons, so really this is a traditional learn-to-ski experience. The nursery slopes are in several locations with those at Esserts now benefitting from an easy-to-use carpet lift. Once you feel confident to strike out in to the wider area there are plenty of easy blues to head for, particularly over at Savoleyres.
The world’s large ski areas, of the kind that link multiple ski areas together, come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are fully integrated, some have long-winded connections and some even have breaks in the circuit where you need to walk or take a bus to get to the next bit. The 4 Valleys comes somewhere in the middle with almost all of the 400km+ (250 miles) of runs lift-linked, just about (excepting the runs at Mayens-de-Bruson across the Valley from Verbier), but some of the connections are a little tenuous. The upside of this for intermediates is that you feel challenged and you get a sense of travel as you make your way across the circuit past Nendaz to the most distant slopes above Veysonnaz; just be sure to leave enough time to make all the connections to get back.
If you don’t fancy going the full way you’ll be pleased to know that about half of the entire 4 Valleys is located in two sectors right next to Verbier itself. The quieter of the two is below Savoleyres, a single gondola ride from the village and a great place to while away the day on the blues and reds above la Tzoumaz. Most of the runs in the 4 Valleys are above the tree line, the longest a remarkable 15km (nine miles) in length.
Verbier’s main attraction is to advanced and expert skiers, who have 20 black runs totalling more than 75km in length to choose from. Most of the better skiers will head up in the Jumbo Mont Fort cable car to attractions like the infamous Tortin bowl where the Gentianes descent, popularly regarded as the toughest in the area, is located.
However, the resort’s main attraction for experts is the extensive off-piste terrain for which the area is most famous, and to enjoy it you’ll need to employ a guide. Most of the ski schools offer guiding services, but Verbier Sport Plus (+41 (0)27 775 33 63; http://www .verbierbooking.com) has the most, with more than 60 fully qualified guides working for them.
Verbier probably stages more advanced and extreme ski events than any other resort in the Alps. The season begins with the Verbier Ride freeskiing event in December, then in March there’s the Verbier Xtreme, High Five and Xspeed Ski competitions with the Patrouille des Glacier, a race from Zermatt to Verbier in a single stage, rounding off the competitive season each April. These five contests bring together the world’s best free riders, ski tourers, speed skiers and other snowsport pros, and highlight the fact that Verbier has plenty to offer every one of them.
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
Verbier has been a cult boarding resort since the early years of the sport, and remains a boarding mecca for those hooked on the freeride side of the sport. This is especially so at the most advanced end of the sport. The same natural hits, particularly off piste, that attract advance skiers, draw the boarders too – and the same essential requirement of tackling them with a ski school or mountain guide. Again, as with skiing, there are world-wide boarding contests staged here each winter, most notably the Freeride World Tour, attracting the planet’s current best extreme boarders.
Freestyle is a little less of a forte for Verbier but is still reasonably well catered for with the main 1936 Neipark (www.mysnowpark.ch) in the la Chaux sector complete with multiple lines for all ability levels, several quarter pipes and kickers, as well as plenty of boxes and rails, although no regular half pipe.
Verbier has 10km of cross country trails located by the village and over at Les Ruinettes. They are part of a network of more than 50km of tracks in the wider Verbier St Bernard region, but are mostly short individual loops in separate locations. So the facilities are good for a half day excursion during your stay, but rather limited if you just want to ski cross country for a week or more.
Average Snow And Weather Conditions
Verbier’s upper slopes extend above 3,300m making them among Europe’s highest, and the Mont Fort glacier has snow cover all year round, and indeed was once a summer ski destination. So snow cover is rarely, if ever, a problem at higher elevations. Closer to resort level – although 1500m is a healthy enough altitude for a resort – half as high again as Kitzbuhel for example – the snow cover is a little less certain. However, key runs have snowmaking cover, which now covers two fifths of the pisted terrain, and Verbier receives more than 5.5 metres (18 feet) of natural snowfall on average each season anyway.