Ski week in Verbier

Back in mid-February the kids had a week-long school break and, like so many other families in Switzerland, we took advantage and headed into the mountains for a week of alpine skiing. While there are dozens of choice ski destinations within a day’s drive of us (for eg. Gstaad, Crans Montana, Saas Fee), we opted to go to nearby Verbier, which, in addition to offering some of the best skiing in the country, is also popular with other families at the school, which meant that Emma and Lachlan would have some friends to ski with (perish the thought that they should ski with us!).

Verbier village from our chalet in Patier

Verbier village from our chalet in Patier

Verbier is located southeast of Lake Geneva in the neighbouring canton of Valais, a little over an hour away by car. The ski village is located at about 5000ft on a bench overlooking the valley of Bagnes. The skiable terrain accessible from Verbier includes 4 distinct ski areas with a total of 410kms of groomed runs, in addition to vast areas of “off-piste” (ungroomed) terrain. There is a vast network of lifts and gondolas, with the highest taking skiers to the summit of Mont Fort at 11,000ft. Most of the skiing is above treeline, affording expansive views of the neighbouring peaks, which include Mt Blanc and the Grand Combin, two of the highest mountains in Europe.

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Verbier has grown considerably over the last decade or two. Once a sleepy mountain village, the population now swells to as many as 35,000 in winter. Verbier hit the radar of the international jet-set a while back and has become of favourite of British royals, entertainers like James Blunt and Diana Ross, as well as entrepreneur Richard Branson. It boasts many great restaurants and plenty of bars and clubs. It also hosts major international sporting events, including a stage of the Tour de France (2009) and the world extreme skiing championships. All of which makes Verbier a pretty expensive place to visit and affordable accommodation can be scarce.

Open slopes above treeline in Verbier

Open slopes above treeline in Verbier

We were fortunate to find a cute and modest chalet to rent (for an immodest price) for the week called the “Chateau Lapin,” located in the quiet neighbourhood of Patier at the end of one of the several bus-lines that circle the village. The Lapin was located near the top of a very steep (30% grade) and narrow road. Thank goodness we received little new snow during the week, or the car would never have made it up that road! We were able to rent ski lockers at the base of the Medran gondola so we didn’t have to lug our equipment on and off the bus and up that steep hill every day.

Kathryn and Emma

Kathryn and Emma

As for the skiing, let’s just say it was fantastic! Both the weather and ski conditions were nearly perfect all week long, with just a couple of afternoons when the clouds rolled in and made visibility problematic. While the slopes were somewhat crowded, the lift-lines were not and we seldom had to wait more than a minute or two. The mountain itself is also dotted with restaurants and cafes serving great food and beverages and we made sure to enjoy the apres ski atmosphere in the late-afternoon sun. This was often a good time to watch the many colourful para-gliders getting in one last flight off the mountain.

Paraglider launch near the Ruinettes gondola station

Paraglider launch near the Ruinettes gondola station

We are not particularly strong alpine skiers, but we found no shortage of runs that suited (and sometimes exceeded) our abilities. Lachlan and Emma found school friends to ski with most days and it was great to watch them improve and develop confidence as the week went on. They have a fondness for skiing bumps now and we can no longer keep up with them! We skied five days straight and covered a lot of ground. In one 3 hour session alone Emma and I covered over 35kms and more than 10,000ft of vertical!

Soaking up some afternoon rays

Soaking up some afternoon rays

Some of the highlights of our week included celebrating Lachlan’s 16th birthday with his buddies Josh, Freddie and Dom, following Emma down the half-pipe and the terrain park jumps (and surviving!), apres ski festivities with ISL and Nestle families, pizza with the Lowin family at Al Capone’s, and skiing in the trees at La Tzoumaz with the De Vries family.

Gorgeous trails at La Fouly!

Gorgeous trails at La Fouly!

I also made a side-trip one morning to find somewhere to do some cross country skiing (still in training mode for the Engadin Ski Marathon at the time) and found an absolute gem of a place called La Fouly in the Val Ferret. About 40 minutes from Verbier, La Fouly is a tiny ski village high up at the end of a valley that terminates where the Swiss, Italian and French borders meet, very close to Mt Blanc. In addition to a small alpine ski station and acres of off-piste terrain, La Fouly maintains a 10km network of picturesque cross country ski trails that snake through meadows, forests and along the banks of a small river. I enjoyed it so much that I made a second trip early one morning later in the week.

We were sad to pack up our things on the last day our stay, but we had a great week and a perfect introduction to skiing in Verbier. We will no doubt return, but are also looking forward to exploring other ski areas in the future.

Here are a few video highlights from our week:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/63080043″>Verbier ski week 2013</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user12260836″>Klisterhead</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Here’s a gallery of more photos:

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