Verbier is a village in the canton of Valais in south-western Switzerland. It is a vacation resort and ski region in the Swiss Alps that is regarded as one of the world’s top “off-piste” destinations.
Verbier, one of the major Alpine resorts, has it all: large skiing, big chalets, big nightlife. Accommodation, like everything else, is expensive for what you get, and you pay for the party atmosphere, but there’s no doubt about the terrain and famed off-piste: it’s mind-blowing.
Verbier seems to be a meandering collection of wooden chalets in a sun-kissed meadow 1500m up a slope, yet despite its rustic look, the community is a purpose-built ski resort that was nothing more than summer pasture prior to 1925.
With 412km of groomed pistes – 39 percent beginner, 44 percent intermediate, and 17 percent advanced – with a stunning maximum vertical drop of over 2,000m off-piste from Mont-Fort Glacier, Verbier’s 4 Vallees ski area is the biggest lift-linked ski domain in Switzerland (3,330m).
The whole ski domain (412km) is serviced by 92 ski lifts connecting the resorts of Verbier, La Tzoumaz, and Bruson, as well as Nendaz, Veysonnaz, and Thyon, as well as over a dozen ski schools and guiding organizations based in Verbier alone, and over 20 mountain restaurants.
Critics say the 4 Vallees ski area is difficult to navigate – partly due to its vast and varied terrain, but also to poor signposting – and that the ski lift system is flawed, but the biggest issue is simply that Verbier is a victim of its own success – a situation that the lift company has addressed with increased lift capacity and improved signposting, but piste maps and marking still leave room for improvement.
Top skiers and boarders, as well as plenty of want tobes, come from all over the world to ski Verbier, thanks to legendary off-piste opportunities and competitions like the Verbier Ride and O’Neill Xtreme, so be prepared to fight your way through gaggles of helmeted, shovel-toting freeriders warming up at the top of the main ski lifts each morning.
There’s no doubt that the caliber of skiing in Verbier is great, but there’s no reason to feel inferior, regardless of your skill level. Intermediates may wonder why they’re battling the crowds in Verbier when the Portes du Soleil offers more of their kind of skiing without the hassle, but the answer is simple: when it comes to après ski and nightlife, there’s no contest.
In Verbier, there are over a dozen hotels ranging from 3-star to 5-star, several apartments, and a wonderful range of chalet housing to rent or purchase, including some of the top luxury chalets in the Alps with services and pricing to match.
Verbier is just 167 kilometers from Geneva International Airport and can be reached by car or train in about 2 hours 30 minutes or less, making it a popular location for ski weekends and short getaways.
Verbier info card
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Skiing in Verbier
Les Esserts, located inside Verbier but away from the major runs, is perfect for beginners, although increasingly more difficult beginning runs are more difficult to access; Les Moulins has a particular children’s area.
Nursery slopes for beginners in Verbier
Verbier is a great place for first-time skiers. Les Esserts, located inside the town, is a great beginning place for novices, with a 120m magic carpet and snowmaking, and is located far away from the major slopes; Les Moulins offers a unique children’s section.
However, it is not always simple for skiers to advance to more difficult novice runs: Verbier has a tendency to offer you everything or nothing, exactly when you need something in between. While rookie skiers can be skilled après-skiers, Verbier’s other big selling feature – the high mountain beauty – will be missed by most novices, while the sunny environment of Verbier itself may be enough to keep visitors coming back for more.
Best progressive beginner runs in Verbier
The finest novice progression runs are on Savoleyres and across the hill into La Tzoumaz. These family-friendly slopes wind through forests and retain more snow than Savoleyres’ highly sunny south-facing slopes. There are plans to develop this region in order to enhance connections with Verbier, but for the time being, the routes back to town from the summit of Savoleyres are simple meandering blues, with the option of returning by gondola.
La Chaux has some decent blues further up; getting there and back may be daunting, with expert skiers speeding past, but the region is now a slow ski zone. From the top of Tournelle down to La Tzoumaz, there’s also a slow zone. There are plenty of blue runs across the domain, but for beginners and early intermediates, they may as well be on the moon for all the probability of you reaching them — if you’re staying in Verbier, that’s where you’ll ski; similarly, Thyon and all the other bases.
Verbier ski and snowboard schools provide excellent levels of tuition and roughly a half-dozen ski schools to select from, whether you are a first-time newbie or an improving beginner.
Verbier’s 4 Vallees ski area is mostly made up of red runs. Strong intermediates like the diverse terrain and the ability to ski through high alpine views, while others may find it difficult to understand the value, so bear this in mind when deciding if Verbier is perfect for you.
Adventuresome intermediates have a lot of options in Verbier and the Four Valleys, with roughly 40% of the ski area at their disposal, but it’s distributed over the whole domain, making some of it difficult to get. There’s also massive skiing, including the biggest vertical descent on piste (1,227m) from Attelas to Verbier, which bypasses both of the highest lift-accessed locations.
The big issue with the generally fantastic descents on the Verbier side of the ski resort is how crowded they are. After a day of skiing the couloirs up high, the conclusion of the day might seem like a high-speed Chinese downhill as more experienced and expert skiers return home. Self-contained regions such as Savoleyres and La Tzoumaz, which are sometimes overlooked yet provide everything a casual group of skiers might desire, are more beneficial, especially during busy periods of the ski season.
A day at Bruson is a wonderful option to Verbier’s more crowded slopes in good snow conditions. Bruson lies directly across the valley from Verbier and is now more readily accessible because to the new Le Chable – Bruson gondola, which replaced the free bus service in December 2013. When there is enough snow, the ski terrain at Bruson offers excellent opportunity for learners to ski off-piste on moderately easy slopes.
Some intermediate skiers may struggle with the distances between the Four Valleys, since the most popular routes include some difficult parts. The Four Valleys are not as smoothly connected as other of the French mega-resorts; there is clearly a rationale for skiers to select Thyon or La Tzoumaz as a base if they are cautious of the more challenging skiing in Verbier.
Advanced skiing on-piste in Verbier
Verbier’s 4 Vallées provides excellent ski terrain for advanced and expert skiers and is a European off-piste attraction. Mont Fort is at the core of Verbier’s difficult skiing — there’s just one route down, but it’s steep, wide, bumpy, and 1,300 meters from top to bottom.
Typically, at least 30% of skiers visiting Verbier are advanced, drawn not just by the off-piste, but also by the harder intermediate pistes, as well as numerous significant blacks, for a total of 40% advanced terrain.
Mont Fort is the center of Verbier’s hard skiing — there’s just one line down, but it’s steep, wide, bumpy, and over 1,300 metres from top to bottom. The fact that they are on the Tortin Glacier for the most of the trip passes most people by — crevasses are not a concern between the markers – but it surely helps the northwest face preserve beautiful snow. Continuing to Tortin by a well-worn’ski-tour’ route or the long red to La Chaux extends an already lengthy descent, but without the concentration or difficulty of the high mountain face.
All of the other black runs are scattered around the remaining valleys – a relatively short, steep, east-facing route from Attelas to Lac des Vaux and also on the west face, to the Attelas chair; a longer run, Les Fontaines down to Prarion, served only by a drag lift; from the Greppon Blanc towards Combatzeline, also served by a drag; and a long run at the Four Valleys’ farthest reaches, from Etherolla There are some nice reds on this side and below the Greppon Blanc, albeit the amount of draglifts detracts from the area’s appeal and definitely decreases the pace at which these slopes may be repeated.
Verbier Ski Routes and Off-Piste
Within the Four Valleys, there are two more ski run classifications, both of which are better regarded as approved off piste itineraries. Ski routes, known locally as ‘Ski Tours,’ are’marked, not maintained, not controlled, and intended for experienced users,’ while ‘High Mountain Tours,’ are ‘not marked, not maintained, not controlled, and intended for very experienced users,’ but in practice, these are normally so well frequented that you might think you were on piste, if it weren’t for the lack of signs and grooming.
Every square foot of Verbier’s snow is skied, even whether it’s at the top or bottom of large cliffs or nestled in narrow, steep couloirs. Local guides recognize that the area’s reputation for extreme skiing means that even with a stated avalanche danger of four out of a maximum of five (when sensible skiers stay on the piste), many hardcore freeriders choose to venture off-piste rather than risk losing out on new routes.
Because of the density of tracks throughout the mountain, it is at least arguable that every nook and hole is fully consolidated throughout the course of each season, modestly lowering the overall avalanche danger when compared to equivalent un-skied terrain. Having said that, hiring a guide is recommended for both safety and finding the greatest snow conditions.
The concentration of faster ski lifts (though longer lines) and steep slopes around Mont Fort, Plan du Fou, Les Attelas, Chassoure, and Tortin makes those areas the focus for experienced skiers (they’re also within easy reach of Verbier), and it’s also where the real action is: the itineraries, off piste routes, and couloirs described in the Freeride Verbier section.
Heliskiing in Verbier
Give backcountry skiing a try with the help of a mountain guide. For a powder day, try the Vallon d’Arby or the «Backside Mont-Fort». Try heli-skiing for a really memorable experience, complete with a helicopter trip and spectacular downhills in ideal snow. Petit Combin, Glacier du Trient, Rosablanche, and Pigne d’Arolla are the four drop-off sites.
Snowboarding & Freestyle
Verbier’s snow park is close to La Chaux and has a low lift ticket price, but it’s the off-piste that distinguishes Verbier as one of Europe’s most severe snowboarding destinations.
Verbier’s snow park, www.mysnowpark.ch, is close to La Chaux. If that’s all you need, a day “Snowpark” rate ticket for SFR40 gets you access to the big snowpark’s rails, jumps, and boarder cross for all abilities; a half-pipe is in the works. Snowpark Taillay, located above La Tzoumaz, has another skier/boarder-cross area.
Elsewhere, the off-piste makes Verbier one of Europe’s extreme boarding resorts, hosting competitions such as the O’Neill Xtreme (www.xtremeverbier.ch) and Verbier Ride (www.verbierride.com) each year, but some of the run-outs from the best off-piste routes, including Mont Fort descents along the shores of the Lac des Cleuson, can be a long struggle on a board.
The Lac des Vaux and Vallon d’Arbi provide good natural terrain for freestylers, however the steepest terrain is well bumped after a few snow-free days, making it less than ideal on a board. The lack of draglifts in the major Verbier region is more advantageous.
Snow conditions in Verbier
Every winter, Switzerland is known for its abundant snowfall, with well-groomed pistes, thick powder, and challenging off-piste routes. The numerous snow guns and snow cannons pumping out artificial snow throughout Verbier’s several pistes contribute to the natural snowfall. It’s easy to understand why thousands of skiers return year after year because to its extensive number of on and off-piste paths.
Apres ski, restaurants and other activities in Verbier
Verbier is famed for its nightlife, with numerous outstanding après bars situated in the bulk of the hotels. The Farinet hotel bar, as well as the Pub Mont Fort, are popular spots for après-ski. As you exit the Meridan lift, there is a terrific line of après bars all the way down to the Place Centrale- here you will find 10-15 bars open from 3pm until late. Enjoy a jar or three before returning to your chalet for a big meal to recharge for the following day of powder pounding! If you want to go out after dinner, we suggest The Etoile Rouge, Twin Peaks, and the Farm Club, all of which are within walking distance of the Place Centrale.