Visitors know they are going to find some of the steepest pistes in the Alps here – with fearsome itineraries and awesome off-piste. There are also moguls and catwalks with drop-offs to one side, so it’s no place for those with vertigo. That said, there are intermediate slopes too, although this is not a resort we’d particularly recommend for beginner skiers or boarders. And you’ll need well-prepared skis. You can now hire equipment online from Ski Republic (their prices include half a day’s ski guiding with European Snowsport), or go to Ski Service on the high street.
Verbier’s challenging pistes and legendary off-piste mean you’ll need top tuition or guiding and you won’t have to search very hard. Verbier has some of the best schools in the Alps, headed by Warren Smith Ski Academy whose myriad courses include instructor training, mogul camps, return from ski injury, and a junior academy. Powder Extreme is great for off-piste, employing a team of free ride instructors who have competed at world class level. There’s also the Verbier branch of the well-respected British ski school, New Generation.
3. You can stay in a hip hotel
W Verbier was the first of its kind in the Alps and opened its doors just before Christmas 2014. The whole base area around the main lift at Medran has been remodeled around its construction, which has taken five years. It’s ski-in ski-out, a collection of minimalist chalet-style buildings but with floor-to-ceiling windows. They are joined together by glass hallways – in one you find a gondola cabin and in another gigantic boulders made from felt. There’s a amphitheatre of steps from another corridor down to the restaurant and nightclub.
The service is all-American style. Your skis and boots are whisked away for you at the end of the skiing day and then you are given more comfortable crocs in which to walk to your room. Add to this a sumptuous spa and swimming-pool and two restaurants featuring Catalan chef Sergi Arola’s imaginitive menus.
Hotel Cordée des Alps opened in the winter of 2012-13 and is discreetly tucked away off the high street with an attractive spa and swimming-pool. The design and mood are based around a 100-year-old canvas rucksack, wooden ice axe, climbing rope and leather boots that are displayed in the lobby.
Bramble Ski is at the top end of the luxury market with some wonderful chalets that include Annelies with its four en suite bedrooms. Solmai is the largest chalet here – it sleeps up to 26 – and caters largely for the corporate market. Verbier Exclusive has some excellent properties, and VIP Ski has two chalets.
Cow-themed La Vache is part of the Farinet group, is decorated with three life-sized resin cows and serves some good pizzas. Surprisingly, Verbier’s mountain food prices are actually lower than in top French resorts such as Courchevel and Val d’Isere. Add to this Cuckoo’s Nest, which is – as you’d expect – clock-themed. On the menu are Salade Fergie and Tarte Fergie Abricot designed by Verbier resident and former royal.
If you’re looking for genuine old chalet style, head uphill to La Marlenaz, which is reached from the top of the Savoleyres lift on an off-piste run. In the evening there’s a free bus followed by a 25-minute walk along a (sometimes icy) path.
It’s every bit as challenging as the skiing. Start at The Apres Ski Bar in Hotel Farinet, the T-Bar in Hotel Central, or Le Rouge by the nursery slopes. Then head for The Farinet Lounge Bar with its comfortable leather sofas and low lighting. Later there’s a choice of the iconic Farm Club, Etoile Rouge or Carve in the W hotel.
7. Some good places to relax
Along with spas in the W and Cordee des Alpes, the Solmai Spa attached to the Nanuk art gallery vies for the title of coolest health club in town. Nanuk has monthly exhibitions of works by international artists.
8. There are cheaper alternatives too
A gondola from the valley town of Le Chable goes up to the little resort of Bruson. So, as an alternative to taking the Medran gondola up to the Verbier slopes, you can also take it down to Le Chable without a whisper of a queue. From the arrival building another gondola whisks you up to Bruson.
Once you’ve arrived it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. The small ski area has flattering pistes cut through the trees, a lack of crowds even in high season, and restaurants that come at a lower price than those on the main Verbier slopes.
You can also avoid the high prices of the world class resort of Verbier yet still share its skiing by staying down in Le Chable. There’s a supermarket, restaurants and accommodation such as Hotel de la Poste and La Ruinette Cafe and Appartements here. The lift and rail station car park is free and provides a stress-free way of starting and ending the ski day.
9. It’s easy to get here
Geneva airport is two hours’ drive and offered by airlines including Swiss, Flybe and easyJet. Or you can take the direct train to Martigny, followed by a small alpine railway on to Le Chable. Erna Low offers ski-drive packages here, including Eurotunnel crossings.
If you want more information, our Verbier resort report is a good place to start.