Value for Money 43%
If you love to ski or snowboard off-piste, you’ll love Verbier. We can’t think of another ski resort that offers the same quantity and quality of easily-accessed steep and deep terrain. The nightlife is pretty good, too.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Guide to the Mountain
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where to Party
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
If you live for freeriding and luck into some decent conditions, then you’re going to love Verbier. So what if the network of pistes is disconnected? You’ll be too busy creaming down gorgeous, 1000m back-country descents to notice. In fact, along with Jackson Hole in Wyoming, we think this is world’s best resort to push your skiing or snowboarding to a new level.
And if you don’t have the technique to ski that kind of terrain but yearn to learn how, then you’ll have a blast here too. A number of independent ski schools are in the resort – notably the Warren Smith Ski Academy. Most of them pioneer innovative techniques, designed to lift skiers off the intermediate plateau. They work, too.
Year on year there’s always something new going on in Verbier. Recently a complex was built at the bottom of the Medran gondola, complete with shops, restaurants and the W Verbier hotel. The 2015-16 season saw the first of new life injected into the valley town of Le Chable with the opening of a new hotel that suddenly makes the valley village a viable choice for skiing the area.
A kick-ass range of bars and clubs
It’s not only the skiing, but also Verbier’s bars and clubs that attract so many celebrities to the resort. This really is the full package: there’s no monkish sense of having to sacrifice your creature comforts for the sake of the terrain, as there is in places like La Grave.
Although Verbier is not a shopper’s paradise (non-skiers don’t tend to come here), you can still manage to buy a Swiss watch, kit out a luxury chalet, or buy an original Andy Warhol here.
It’s not a place for the faint-hearted
However, we’re well aware that not everyone will as enamoured of Verbier as we are. Those new to skiing or snowboarding will find it an elitist resort where experts and plutocrats seem to have all the fun, on slopes that beginners never even see, let alone ski. Cautious intermediates will find the piste layout seemingly incomprehensible, while freestylers will bemoan the lack of a world-class terrain park.
No – to get the best from this place, you’ve got to be ready to ski hard, party hard, and push your limits. If you’re not, then aim for somewhere a little smoother.
Guide to the Mountain
It’s important to remember three things: while Verbier is only one part of the vast Four Valleys area, it’s the part that really matters. Even so, you’ll still have to buy the full Four Valleys pass to get all of it – read more about the lift pass here. It’s the sequence of mighty peaks that rise up immediately to the east of town – Attelas (2727m), Mont-Gele (3023m) and Mont-Fort (3330m) – that have made this place famous. And once you get up amongst them, you’ll see why.
The best skiing is in the Verbier sector
This is proper, high-Alpine stuff – a place of thin air, vertiginous drops and gorgeous, 360-degree views. It’s a part of the world normally reserved for gods and ravens, and to be delivered so effortlessly into its heart, thanks to Verbier’s lift system, is a rare privilege.
From these heady heights, there are lines to be skied in almost every direction – over glaciers, down tight couloirs, into hidden valleys, and even – just occasionally – through wide open, easy-going powder fields. There may be resorts with single descents that are more rewarding, but none which can match Verbier for the sheer number and variety of routes, and the fact that so many of them can be easily reached from the lifts without long hikes.
The only things it lacks are tree-skiing (although there is some at Bruson) and a world-class terrain park. There is a park on La Chaux, with kickers and rails but no half-pipe.
It’s worth noting that the ski school meeting place has now moved from its original spot outside the busy forecourt of the Medran lift station to Les Esserts nursery slope, which makes a welcome change.
Save a Verbier trip for later in your skiing career
Beginners get their own nursery slopes, Les Moulins and Les Esserts, away from the rest of the pistes but right in the middle of town. That means the snow can get slushy in warm spells, and the learning experience has a rather weird, suburban feel to it.
On-piste cruising is not what Verbier is about
Drag-lifts, long traverses, and flat pistes create the vast interlinked Four Valleys ski area, so the resort has had to work against the terrain rather than with it, and crossing it is a real schlep. Don’t believe the statistics either. The Four Valleys may claim 410km of piste, but it offers nothing like the never-ending, cruise-tastic, on-piste experience that you’ll find in Courchevel and Meribel or Tignes and Val d’Isere.
The constituent parts of the network – Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Thyon and Siviez – are too fractured and widely-scattered for that. What’s more, many of the best pistes above Verbier itself can be crowded. They seem to be hit hard by the sun, too. A good way to escape the crowds is to start the day in the Savolyeres ski area before working your way back across to the main ski area towards the end of the day.
Breaking away from the piste
This is a place for the sort of intermediate who yearns to break free of the shackles of on-piste skiing. All they need to do is sign up with one of the inspirational ski schools here, such as the Warren Smith Ski Academy, and pretty soon they’ll be charging around in conditions that would previously have produced palpitations followed by instant head-plants.
Best place in the world for advanced skiers
Once up into high alpine terrain, the most notorious run here is the steep and mean Tortin. You need sharp ski edges and full concentration here: any fall is inadvisable and liable to result in a 150m slide over giant bumps.
Steep couloirs and huge moguls can be found around every corner, attracting a high level of skier and snowboarder. Within hours of a fresh snowfall you will find tracks on even the most unattainable-looking slopes, and runs such as Stairway to Heaven and Hidden Valley are so well skied that they can appear to have been groomed.
The north face of Mont-Fort, with its B52 and Poubelle variants, is regularly skied despite its alarming entry. It’s almost always home to top-quality snow, even if it has been sculpted into monstrous moguls – as is usually the case. Ski it repeatedly during the course of a trip and you’ll get a good idea of how your technique is progressing day by day.
The nearby hamlet of Bruson – reached by gondola down from Medran and until recent years a local secret – is linked by gondola via Le Chable to Verbier. On a powder day this is one of the best sectors of the mountain in which to find yourself. The pistes are uncrowded and you will also find some good-value restaurants here. It also has the best tree-skiing in the area.
Quite a lot of the Verbier runs are categorized as half-way between piste and off-piste descents. Designated as itineraires, they’re marked as orange lines on the piste map and waymarked on the ground. But they are neither groomed, nor controlled for avalanches. The ski patrollers close them if they’re considered unsafe – but that doesn’t stop people setting off slides.
The Col des Mines and the Vallon d’Arby see much less traffic than Tortin, because the access is more complicated. Vallon d’Arby is also one of the few places where you can find good tree skiing in Verbier, and many guides end up in there with their clients on low-visibility days.
Names to conjure with here include Backside (off the back of Mont-Fort), the Banana Couloir, the Creblet Couloirs, Rock Garden and Bec des Rosses.
What’s it like for snowboarding?
Essentially, this is a resort for advanced and expert riders – and anyone who wants to learn how – and one of the best things about it is how many of the off-piste lines aren’t blighted by super-flat, super-annoying runouts at the bottom, along which snowboarders would have to walk.
One notable exception to this rule, however, is the Vallon d’Arby. Snowboarders should steer well clear of it, as there’s a long hike at the end. But of course how much you really enjoy the place depends on the snow. Verbier gets a little over six metres each winter, which isn’t bad for the Alps.
There is a terrain park at La Chaux featuring rails, kickers and an airbag, but no half-pipe.
High-profile freeride event
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that Xtreme Verbier – the finals of the Freeride World Tour – take place on the steep and jagged 500-metre rock face of the Bec des Rosses at the end of March each year.
Where to Learn
There are some fantastic ski schools and mountain guides in Verbier – particularly if you’re an intermediate or above, who wants to work on his/her off-piste skiing. This is one of the world’s best resorts in which to push your skiing or snowboarding to a higher level.
Why are Verbier’s ski schools so good?
The resort is a ski-instructor magnet – thanks to its world-class terrain, its cool, cosmopolitan ski community, and the fact that many of its visitors are loaded and can afford to pay for lots of lessons (and fat tips at the end of them, too). You’d be mad not to take advantage of the services this elite force can offer: and if your budget’s tight, then we beg you – don’t save on the cost of ski school, save on getting to the resort, and your accommodation, instead.
In fact, the only real problem with tuition in Verbier is trying to choose what’s right for you – but in brief, if it was our money, this is what we’d do:
If we were plucky intermediates who weren’t quite ready for skiing off-piste, we’d either book classes with the Verbier branch of the British ski school, New Generation, or Performance Verbier, founded by a group of instructors who’ve trained in the Swedish, Swiss, Canadian, British and New Zealand systems. New for the 2015-16 season was Element Concept, which includes ski performance camps especially for women.
Brushing up your technique – on and off piste
If we felt we still had one more breakthrough to make before we could get the most out of Verbier, we’d book a course with the Warren Smith Ski Academy. If we were already reasonably comfortable in powder, and wanted to go a little bit lighter on the tuition, we’d book a clinic with Powder Extreme. If we were beginners or nervous intermediates, we’d go somewhere else altogether.
The other choices include the new Element Concept (which runs, among other courses, women’s ski performance camps), Swiss Ski School which is the biggest, Adrenaline, La Fantastique, Altitude, Guides de Verbier, and Performance. Vivid Snowboarding is a British-run snowboarding specialist. The main ski school meeting place is on Les Esserts nursery slope near Le Rouge bar.
A good resort for older children – and cool for teens
If we had children who needed ski lessons, we’d try to book them a private lesson with European Snowsports. If we had kids who could already ski well and energetically, and were leaving us for dust on the mountain, we’d book them a two-day clinic with Powder Extreme or the British-run Performance Verbier who offer private lessons.
For the youngest skiers
For younger skiers there’s Kid’s Club, for ages three to six years. It is run by La Maison du Sport at the Moulins nursery site, which has its own lift and restaurant. Les Schtroumpfs, also at Moulins, offers daycare for little ones aged three months to seven years. For something a little different, Les Elfes are activity camps for children aged eight to 18 years, with skiing or snowboarding, language classes and an apres-ski programme.
Where to Stay
Lifts are located on both side of Verbier, but don’t imagine that means all parts of the town are equally convenient as a holiday base. For anyone who wants quick access to the resort’s main pistes and off-piste entry, the key lift is Medran, at the south-eastern corner of the resort.
There is a regular bus service that circles the town during daylight hours and luxury properties tend to run their own shuttle services. But it’s not quite the same as nipping down from your apartment next door to the Medran ticket office, is it? Parking is, at best, tricky.
Pick of the properties near Medran
The W Verbier is a five-star complex at the foot of the Medran lift. It is definitely the most convenient place to stay in town – as you can ski right back to the door at the end of the day. It houses stylish suites and bedrooms, shops, restaurants, a slopeside bar and a nightclub.
The Lodge – you can ski to it too – is one of the resort’s top rental properties and is owned by Sir Richard Branson. It sleeps 18, and has its own spa, swimming-pool…and even an ice-skating rink. As you might imagine, a stay here is not a budget option.
The best rooms at the luxury B&B, Les 4 Vallees, are the south-facing ‘Confort Rooms’ – they’re cool wood-panelled rooms. The rooms are way bigger than average and Medran is within easy walking distance. Inghams run Chalet de Verbier, a chalet-hotel sleeping up to 77 people and located five minutes’ walk from Medran.
VIP Ski have three small chalets – Chalet Mont-Fort, Refuge Darbay and Chalet Tortin – sleeping six people in each. Two of them are three minutes’ walk from Medran and the third one is 100m from the lift.
Island of tranquility
Slightly further away is Hotel Cordée des Alps, which is discreetly tucked away off the high street. It has been designed using local materials, such as old wood, stone roofing and timber balconies to produce a modern twist on traditional alpine architecture. There’s a spa with a 15-metre swimming-pool with adjacent wood-burning fireplace, and a high-tech gym.
Hotel Chamois is an old-fashioned family-run three-star. The decor isn’t exactly cutting-edge or stylish, but the place is in a little island of tranquility between the two main roads, the rues de Medran and de Ransou, away from the traffic and bars.
Hotel Mirabeau is owned by the indomitable Chris Stuckelberger, a feisty Norwegian woman who runs the attractive B&B with her daughter. This is a well-kept and convenient spot, recently revamped, and less than a five-minute stroll from Medran. Book one of the woody little rooms that look south rather than north to cut out the noise from rue de Ransou.
Le Chalet d’Adrien is a five-star hotel set at the foot of the lift up to Savoleyres. It has attractive bedrooms, suites and apartments, three restaurants including gourmet La Table d’Adrien, Le Grenier (more rustic with alpine cooking) and Le Terrace, ideal for an outdoor lunch. There’s a spa with an indoor/outdoor swimming-pool.
Hotel Central is a small B&B with a lot more style than the average Verbier hostelry. There’s one caveat though – unless you’re planning to stay up as late as the customers in the hotel’s T-Bar every night, you should avoid the rooms on the ground floor: even the staff admit they’re noisy after dark. It’s on the outer limits of an easy walk from the Medran. Hotel La Rotonde is a five-minute walk from the main Medran lifts, with 29 bright wood-panelled rooms that include everything from singles to family rooms.
Hotel Nevai has 33 bedrooms, two penthouses, a spa, and an Asian-Mediterranean restaurant. It also houses the famous Farm Club. Its style is very white, very minimalist, very pared back. Some people think it’s cool. Others will want somewhere with a stronger whiff of mountain atmosphere. If you’re staying here you can literally stumble just a few steps home from the nightlife – However, it’s a bus ride or a hearty walk from here to Medran.
No.14 Verbier is run like a chalet-hotel (it sleeps 26) and can be taken as a whole or rented by the bedroom, per week, weekend, or midweek. Its decoration is stylish, with a sitting room in an unusual silver and purple colour scheme, and a white and silver master bathroom with an enormous freestanding bathtub. Drivers working 24/7 will ferry guests to and from the lifts and night spots.
Chalet Spa is actually two gorgeous timber-framed chalets a short walk from the Savoyeres lift. They are more like small boutique hotels than anything else, but they come with the sort of luxury chalet service like personal chefs, butlers and maids but food is at extra cost. Chalet Spa Verbier is the bigger of the two, sleeping ten in five bedrooms, and Chalet Spa Blanche sleeps eight in four bedrooms and has a private cinema. As their name suggests, both come with spa facilities.
Hotel Farinet has been completely revamped mainly in cowhide and silver – in keeping with the lounge bar beneath it. This couldn’t be more central but it’s definitely not for people who want to turn in early as the nightlife is, quite literally, on your doorstep.
Luxury on high
If your accommodation provides a day-and-night shuttle service then location is obviously of less importance. Perched high above the resort you’ll find some of the resort’s best chalets – including some of the ones from Ski Verbier Exclusive, who offers a 24-hour in-resort chauffeur service. Bella Coola is one of the top chalets in the resort, with nine bedrooms and bathrooms, an outdoor hot-tub and a lovely indoor swimming-pool.
Stay in Le Chable
Le Chable is currently building and updating its accommodation – which will make it an increasingly popular place to stay. It is directly linked by gondola to Medran in Verbier, so you can pay considerably less and stay somewhere like the attractive Hotel A Lârze, which is set slightly above the valley town – it’s a five-minute walk down to the cable-car and village centre. A ski rental shop in the lift station building means that you can leave skis and boots overnight instead of hauling them up the hill.
Hotel de la Poste is two minutes’ walk from the lift and contains some pleasant rooms and apartments, a restaurant, and a nightclub called Manhattan Retro Bar. Now that Bruson is connected into the Four Valleys’ ski area, with a gondola running from Le Chable to Les Mayens de Bruson, it creates another new bed base. You can stay at Chalet Bruson, which is a converted 18th-century mazot with three bedrooms.
Where to Eat
Verbier is becoming a bigger lunching destination these days – provided you can fit in a decent break when there’s so much skiing to be done. A popular mountain eatery is La Vache, a converted lift station serving homemade soup, pizzas and burgers in comfortable and cosy cow-themed surroundings. Prices are markedly lower than a comparable establishment in a mainstream French resort, let alone elsewhere in Switzerland.
From the same owner is Cuckoo’s Nest, which is – as you’d expect – clock-themed. It specialises in fondues and tradition Swiss cuisine – and the menu includes Salade Fergie and Tarte Fergie Abricot designed by Verbier’s royal resident.
In the high-altitude area above Verbier, Cabane Mont-Fort is the hut of choice – in part because of its splendid location – though you need get there early to be sure of a table. Cabane de Tortin (+41 79 489 50 41) serves hearty food, and Chez Dany is the resort’s original – and still best-known – mountain eatery.
A recent mountain restaurant to open is Le Dahu at La Chaux. Regular Verbier visitors praise its varied menu and impeccable service, as well as the more reasonable prices.
Another good sector for lunch is Savoleyres
The Savoleyres is much quieter than the main mountain reached from Medran and overcrowding is less of an issue in the restaurants. La Marmotte (+41 27 771 6834), at the bottom of the Savoleyres Sud drag-lift, is a good place to head for. La Croix de Coeur (+41 27 775 2536) has a large sun terrace and specialises in classical Valais cuisine. It also has a private members’ club.
La Marlenaz is old alpine with wood and stone interiors and is also great for al fresco lunches. It is reached by its own small snowcat. To get there by night there’s a free bus followed by a bracing 25-minute walk along a mountain path. Cafe Restaurant Le Namasté is an atmospheric old cabin owned by Maurice Chappaz and Corinna Bille who have their animal sculptures permanently on display.
With few exceptions, the best restaurants are in the hotels
Le Table d’Adrien in the five-star Chalet d’Adrien hotel is one of the hottest restaurants in town: its chef Marco Bassi, has a Michelin star. Le Grenier, in the same hotel, specialises in regional food – stews, and fondues made with local cheese. Restaurant Arolla in the W Verbier is outstanding, as is the Eat-Hola Tapas Bar in the same hotel. Both of them feature Catalan chef Sergi Arola’s modern menus.
The restaurant in Hotel Montpelier offers outstanding cuisine. Nomad Sushi Lounge in Hotel Nevai, is for sushi and is a favourite with Verbier locals. Hotel Vanessa‘s restaurant, Brasserie Le Vie, has been refurbished and is recommended by reporters.
Au Vieux Verbier (+41 27 771 16 68) serves slightly offbeat Swiss cuisine in a large and somewhat kitsch interior, featuring wooden beams and polished brass. Le Rouge is set inside an Art Deco style building and run by the ex food and beverages manager of the Banyan Tree in Bangkok and the Maldives. It serves international dishes, and downstairs is another eatery that’s typically Bordeaux in style.
Down in Le Chable you’ll find one of the area’s new culinary additions, which uses all seasonal local ingredients. Brasserie 1 is an atmospheric little place, which is a new venture from chefs Jamie Clark and Jonathan Raeburn. It also has a popular bar – a welcome addition for those staying down at this level.
Where to Party
For its size, Verbier isn’t overburdened with bars and clubs, but the scene here is near-perfect – ranging from full on, hang-from-the-rafters riot shops to the kind of low-slung, groovy cocktail bar where you can have a conversation without shouting yourself hoarse. The only comparable resorts in the Alps, when it comes to the quality and range of nightlife on offer, are St Anton and Ischgl.
A welcome absence of British pubs
Best of all, there are hardly any self-consciously British pubs. Not that we’ve got anything against British pubs, of course – when they’re in Britain. It’s just that when you put one in the Alps, and fill it with Brits, all they seem to do is stand around watching footie on flat-screen TVs. Seems like a big waste of ski-holiday buzz to us. One more plus about the Verbier scene: it’s very compact.
L’Ice cube bar at Les Ruinettes and Bar 1936 are on the home run. But almost all the action can be found on a single, 400-metre strip of road, the rue de Medran, which runs from the place Central to the Medran lifts. Offshore with its bubblegum pink VW Beetle centrepiece is a great place for a mid-morning chocolat chaud or an apres-ski vin chaud before moving on somewhere else.
At the foot of the piste at Medran, the W Verbier’s outdoor bar is a popular place to end the skiing day. Fer a Cheval is another apres-ski venue, as well as being a pizzeria. Le Rouge is a restaurant and club at the foot of the Rouge piste. Its terrace bar has sheepskin rugs and attracts a lively crowd straight after skiing.
Everyone rates Pub Montfort: saisonnaires, ski instructors, Eurotrashy blondes from Geneva, even the likes of you and me. So don’t give it another moment’s thought – just go there. The only reason not to go there, in fact, is if there’s a good live band playing down at the Farinet.
In recent years The Farinet changed hands, but it appears to be as popular as ever. It is actually two bars – the apres-ski venue at the front and the lounge bar at the back. The apres-ski bar comes into its own when one of two things happen – if the sun comes out and they open the big windows of the glass-sided bar onto the terrace, or if a good live band are playing a set in there. It’s hard to believe, but the lounge bar next door is completely different…and much more grown up.
New is Vie Montagne is a new craft brewery decorated in modern rustic style and offering beer, coffee and sourdough pizzas, along with a restaurant called The Club Room serving cuisine using locally-sourced ingredients.
Best for after-dinner drinks
The place to go is the Lounge Bar at the Farinet (see above), with its sofas and armchairs, and cool cocktails. Downstairs is a nightclub where you can carry on partying until the small hours. Crock No Name (+41 27 771 6934) is a fun place, with hard-working staff, some good DJs and bands, and a quirky style with fake animal skin throws. However hard they try, however, it’ll always be a little bit out of the loop – a step too far from the place Central – and you’re never going to stay here for more than a couple of drinks.
T-Bar is right on the place Central, feels more urban than most Verbier bars (“a tiny cramped space full of ski bums and ski instructors”), and has live music. Le Rouge is very lively with a club, two restaurants, and an apres-ski terrace.
Later on there’s the Etoile Rouge, Carve in the W hotel, and The Farm Club. The latter is a Verbier institution and the single most famous nightclub in the Alps for over 40 years – famous, that is, for stratospherically high prices, unforgiving doormen, and the wealth of its clientele.