Skiing in Verbier
Verbier’s 4 Vallees ski area – the largest lift-linked ski domain in Switzerland – offers superb skiing on 412km of pistes served by 88 ski lifts, including 300km pistes and 50 lifts linking Verbier, Savoleyres – La Tzoumaz and Bruson, and some of the best off-piste on the planet.
Verbier Ski Area Overview
Verbier 4 Vallees Ski Domain
The 4 Vallees ski domain is quite complex and may be difficult for newcomers to navigate by lift and piste, rather than by following a mountain guide, but its two main peaks, Mont Fort and Mont Gele, offer superb skiing and boarding, both on- and off-piste, with panoramic views from the top of the Mont-Fort (3,330 m) encompassing Mont-Blanc, Matterhorn and Combins mountain ranges.
Even when frequently consulting Verbier’s 4 Vallees piste map, it’s confusing. You might not locate the four individual valleys at a glance – they neither radiate from a central point, nor sit conveniently parallel to each other, meaning they’re of limited use as a navigational framework – so whether you’re trying to work out piste itineraries or where Verbier’s best off-piste routes are found, you need to be switched on.
Verbier Mont Fort 3330m
The ski area above Verbier, La Tzoumaz and Bruson comprises 195km of pistes including two distinct skiable peaks – Mont Fort 3330m and Mont Gele 3023m – and three winding ridges that separate the 4 Vallees. Mont Fort and Mont Gele are the big summits, each with a cable car to the top. The terrain between them and Verbier – Attelas 2727m, La Chaux 2260m and Chassoure 2740m – makes up much of Verbier’s skiing, on- and off-piste.
The ski area falls mainly in Verbier (the first valley), as well as the bottom end of La Tzoumaz (the second valley) and the upper end of Siviez / Nendaz (the third valley). Access is via the Medran gondolas to Les Ruinettes 2200m, the staging point for onward travel: to Attelas 2727m and points northwest by two parallel gondolas or to La Chaux 2260m by chairlift and onwards to Col des Gentianes 2950m and the highest terrain on Mont Fort 3330m by two cable cars.
From the top of Mont Fort 3,330m is a genuinely big, steep, very black mogul run which descends the north face. All other routes from the top of Mont Fort are off-piste, many of them legendary. To skiers in the know, ‘off the back of Mont Fort’ speaks volumes. Mont Gele is a similar proposition though it’s all ‘off the back’, with no piste skiing at all. Two itineraries are the official routes down but plenty of couloirs are also on offer.
Savoleyres – La Tzoumaz
Almost completely separate from the main skiing, Savoleyres to the north of Verbier provides 55km of lower altitude, sun-drenched skiing, accessed by gondola at the opposite end of the village to the main Medran ski lifts. When everyone’s chasing fresh tracks up high after heavy snow, it’s a great spot for gentler pitches without the crowds. Over the top, on the north face of Savoleyres, are more challenging runs down to La Tzoumaz, but the piste skiing is mostly easy with 62% rated blue for beginners, 33% red for intermediates and just 5% black for advanced skiers and boarders.
Onwards from Chassoure 2740m, via Tortin 2050m then Siviez 1730m, to Thyon 2100m (the fourth valley), which is a long haul by piste and lift back to Verbier. One of the main reasons for ending up this far over is to ski the off-piste itinerary from the Greppon Blanc 2700m that drops to the far valley road, from where you can catch a bus back to Les Collons 1800m to return to Verbier via the lift system, but check lift access and closing times and allow plenty of time for the return journey on snow, otherwise you could be facing an 80km (one hour and 40 minutes) long, expensive taxi ride back to Verbier.
Ski St Bernard
Further south, the ‘Ski St-Bernard’ ski area comprises five small ski areas – Bruson, La Fouly, Champex-Lac, Vicheres-Liddes and Les Marecottes – with 100km of pistes on quiet unspoiled slopes between 1103m and 2267m, served by 17 lifts and offering good opportunities for beginners and freeriders. The two most accessible ski areas from Verbier are Bruson and La Fouly, with 48km and 20km of pistes respectively and each served by four lifts.
The ski area above Bruson 1080m has four lifts serving a total of 48km of pisted terrain of which 48% is designated for beginners, 14% intermediate and 38% advanced as well as plenty of easy off-piste terrain between the pistes, north and south of the upper lift stations, including good possibilities for newcomers to guided skiing off-piste. Getting to Bruson is easy; take the telecabin from Verbier 1500m down to Le Chable 821m, connected to Bruson since December 2013 by the new Le Chable – Bruson gondola in place of the free shuttle bus.
The ski area at La Fouly 1600m is tiny, just 20km of pistes – 30% blue, 20% red and 50% black –between 1600m and 2200m as well as a natural halfpipe. Popular for winter walking and cross-country skiing, La Fouly is about 30km (40 minutes) from Verbier and difficult to get to unless you have your own transport.
Beginner Skiing in Verbier
Les Esserts, within Verbier itself and well away from the main runs, is ideal for novices, but progressively more challenging beginner runs are harder to reach; Les Moulins has a special children’s area.
First time skiers can have a good time in Verbier. Les Esserts, within the village, is an ideal starting point for beginners with a 120m magic carpet and snowmaking, well away from the main runs; Les Moulins has a special children’s area.
However, it’s not so easy for skiers to progress to more challenging beginner runs: Verbier tends to give you all or nothing, just when you need something in between. And while it’s true that novice skiers can be expert après-skiers, Verbier’s other great selling point – the high mountain scenery – will be missed by most beginners, though the sunny setting of Verbier itself may be enough to get people back for more.
The best progressive beginner runs are on Savoleyres and over the ridge into La Tzoumaz. These family-friendly slopes run through trees and keep better snow than the very sunny south facing slopes of Savoleyres. There are plans to develop this area to improve links with Verbier, but even now the runs back to town from the top of Savoleyres are easy meandering blues and there’s also the option of returning by gondola.
Higher up there are good blues at La Chaux; getting there and back can be intimidating, with advanced skiers hurtling by, but the area is now a slow ski zone. There’s also a slow zone from the top of Tournelle down to La Tzoumaz. For the rest of the domain, there are certainly plenty of blue runs in total, but for beginners and early intermediates they might as well be on the moon for all the likelihood of you reaching them – if you’re staying in Verbier, that’s where you’ll ski; likewise Thyon and all the other bases.
Whether a first time novice or improving beginner Verbier ski and snowboard schools offer high standards of tuition and around half a dozen ski schools to choose from.
Ski Schools & Ski Lessons in Verbier
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Intermediate Skiing in Verbier
Verbier’s 4 Vallees ski area as a whole consists mainly of red runs. Strong intermediates enjoy the varied terrain and the opportunity to ski through high mountain scenery, but others might struggle to see the point so keep that in mind when judging whether Verbier is right for you.
Adventurous intermediates have a lot of scope in Verbier and the Four Valleys, with around 40% of the ski area at their disposal, but spread across the whole of the domain, making some of it hard to reach. There’s big skiing too, with the longest vertical descent on piste (1,227m) from Attelas to Verbier, which doesn’t even involve either of the highest lift-accessed points.
However, the real problem with the otherwise excellent descents on the Verbier side of the ski area is that they’re so crowded. The end of the day can feel like a high speed Chinese downhill as more advanced and expert skiers head home after a day skiing the couloirs up high. More useful, particularly at busy times of the ski season, are self-contained areas such as Savoleyres and La Tzoumaz which are ignored by many, yet deliver everything that a relaxed group of skiers could want.
In good snow conditions, a day at Bruson is an excellent alternative to Verbier’s more crowded slopes. Bruson is just across the valley from Verbier and now more easily reached by the new Le Chable – Bruson gondola, opened in December 2013 in place of the free bus service. In good snow conditions, the ski terrain at Bruson also include good opportunities for learning to ski off-piste on relatively gentle slopes.
Some intermediate skiers may find the distances across the Four Valleys a problem, as the biggest routes tend also to involve occasional tough sections. You shouldn’t consider the Four Valleys as seamlessly linked in the way that some of the French mega-resorts are; there’s certainly a case for skiers to consider Thyon or La Tzoumaz as a base if they’re wary of the more advanced skiing in Verbier.
Advanced & Expert Skiing in Verbier
Verbier’s 4 Vallees offers superb ski terrain for advanced and expert skiers and is a European mecca for off-piste. Mont Fort forms the heart of Verbier’s challenging skiing – there’s only one run down, but it’s steep, broad, bumped and over 1,300 metres from top to bottom.
Typically, at least 30% of skiers visiting Verbier are in the advanced category, attracted not only by the off-piste, but also by the tougher intermediate pistes, along with several serious blacks which together make a total of 40% advanced terrain.
Of Verbier’s pisted runs, Mont Fort forms the heart of the challenging skiing – there’s only one run down, but it’s steep, broad, bumped and over 1,300 metres from top to bottom. The fact that for most of the way they are on the Tortin Glacier passes most people by – crevasses are not an issue between the markers – but it certainly helps the northwest face to keep great snow. Continuing to Tortin via a much-used ‘ski-tour’ itinerary or via the long red to La Chaux extends this already long descent but without the focus or challenge of the high mountain face.
All the other black runs are spread disjointedly round 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 farthest reaches of the Four Valleys, from Etherolla towards Les Masses, dropping 800 metres to end at around 1,600 metres on a north facing slope. Also on this side and below the Greppon Blanc are some interesting reds, though the number of draglifts puts a dent in the popularity of the area and certainly slows the rate at which these slopes can be repeated.
Off-Piste Skiing & Freeriding in Verbier and the 4 Vallees
The off-piste opportunities in Verbier’s 4 Valllees are immense, but we strongly recommend that you hire a mountain guide and check avalanche risks if you intend to go freeriding. Security information about latest snow conditions and avalanche risk is provided by Verbier’s ski lift company at the lift station at Medran in partnership with Mammut and Recco.
For anyone needing practise using an avalanche transceiver, probes and shovel, Verbier Guides offer free one hour courses every Sunday afternoon at 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00 from December to March at the DVA Park La Chaux. Equipment available on site.
Verbier Ski Routes and Off-Piste
There are two further ski run designations within the Four Valleys, both best described as official off piste itineraries. Ski routes, known locally as ‘Ski Tours’, are ‘marked, not maintained, not controlled and intended for experienced users’ and ‘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, except for the lack of signs and grooming.
Virtually every square foot of Verbier’s snow gets skied, even when it’s at the top or bottom of big cliffs or nestles in tight, steep couloirs. Local guides acknowledge that the reputation of the place for extreme skiing means that even with a posted avalanche hazard of four out of a maximum five (when sane people stick to the piste), many hardcore freeriders still choose to go off-piste rather than risk missing out on fresh tracks.
With the density of tracks all over the mountain, it is at least arguable that every nook and cranny is well consolidated over the course of each season, slightly reducing the overall avalanche risk as compared with similar un-skied terrain. That said, hiring a guide is advisable both for safety sake and to find the best snow conditions.
The concentration of faster ski lifts (though longer queues) and steep slopes around Mont Fort, Plan du Fou, Les Attelas, Chassoure and Tortin makes those areas the focus for accomplished skiers (they’re also within easy reach of Verbier) and it’s also where the real action is to be found: the itineraries, off piste routes and couloirs described in the Freeride Verbier section.
Heliskiing in Verbier
Give back-country skiing a shot accompanied by a mountain guide. Take on the Vallon d’Arby or the Backside Mont-Fort for a powder-filled day. For a completely unforgettable experience, try heli-skiing – with a helicopter flight and incredible downhills in perfect snow. Four drop-off points are Petit Combin, Glacier du Trient, Rosablanche and Pigne d’Arolla.
Boarding & Freestyle in Verbier
The snow park in Verbier – with cheap lift ticket – is right by La Chaux, but it’s the off-piste that makes Verbier one of the extreme snowboarding resorts in Europe.
Verbier’s snow park is right by La Chaux, www.mysnowpark.ch. If that’s all you need, you can buy a daily “Snowpark” rate ticket for SFR40 to access the large snowpark’s rails, jumps and boarder cross for all levels; there are plans for a half-pipe. Another skier/boarder-cross area is at Snowpark Taillay above La Tzoumaz.
Elsewhere the off-piste makes Verbier one of the extreme boarding resorts of Europe, regularly 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 can be a long struggle on a board, including Mont Fort descents along the shores of the Lac des Cleuson.
The Lac des Vaux and the Vallon d’Arbi provide perfect natural terrain for freestylers, but the steepest terrain tends to get well bumped after a few snow-free days, so it’s less than ideal on a board. More useful is the absence of draglifts in the main Verbier area.
Verbier Mountain Restaurants in Verbier
Most mountain restaurants in Verbier are of the self-service variety, perhaps reflecting the serious attitude taken by many of the skiers to the area.
There are 30 mountain restaurants throughout the domain. Given the upmarket profile of Verbier, the on-mountain eating isn’t in the mega-league. The number of functional high-volume places perhaps reflects the serious attitude taken by many of the skiers to the area – and of course there’s no shortage of good eating at the end of the day back in town.
Several restaurants in the Verbier area offer both self-service and quality table service: try l’Olympique at the top of the Funispace lift. Also in the Ruinettes and Attelas area is the Restaurant Col des Gentianes and the Cabane Mont Fort, on the Gentianes to La Chaux ski run. This is actually a refuge with showers and 2-bed and dormitory rooms – perfect for first tracks. The cosy interior gets crowded in bad weather; otherwise the sun terrace with its great views is the place to be. Below Ruinettes in the trees towards Verbier, Chez Dany is a classic mountain restaurant with good food and views; booking is recommended but if you can’t get in by day, try an evening meal followed by a toboggan run back to Verbier.
Savoleyres has two self service restaurants, one with a large sun-terrace, at the top of the gondola. More rustic is La Marmotte at around 1930m near the T-bar. Further afield, the base area at Siviez has a couple of large restaurants for pizza or spaghetti and in La Tzoumaz the Hotel Poste is recommended.
Ideal for last stop of the day is Le Carrefour and the adjoining open air Wax Bar. The restaurant is good, though not so well placed for the middle of a ski day; the Wax Bar is the place for a gluhwein and a piece of cake while waiting for the bus to take you back to Verbier town centre. There’s good après-ski atmosphere partly thanks to being on a much less stressful ski route down than the final run to town from Les Ruinettes.