Sunday, December 14, 2008

Verbier, Switzerland










There are scores of ski resorts and resort areas in Europe marketing themselves as the biggest, the highest, or the mightiest. However, there are indeed very few that can actually live up to some, if not all, of these superlatives. One you might take a closer look at is the Swiss resort of Verbier.

Give it a good look while you are at it! Something, isn't it? You get not only the very impressive ski domain tied to the Verbier ski pass, but, if you buy an all-area pass you get the whole Swiss Four Valleys region thrown in as well. This entitles you to hurtle your ski-clad frame down some very challenging mountainsides in some six or so resorts. Heck, there is so much to explore here that in this writer's estimation it would take one the better part of a season to do it all thoroughly.

And the good news is, if you think through the lift pass possibilities, compute them with your skiing ability, energy storage and late night rock 'and roll tendencies, and buy one as close to tailor made to your results as possible, you might find you have computed your way to some very good ski value. So dear reader, to my knowledge, Verbier makes no claims to being the biggest or the best of anything. Perhaps it should.

As a resort for skiers, Verbier is, really, second to none. My goodness, how could it be? It is enough on its own, for goodness sake, but combined with Haute Nendaz, Veysonnaz, La Tzoumaz, and Thyon on the same lift pass, it is absolutely awesome.

Awesome in skiable terrain, with 410 total kms. of prepared slopes. Awesome in lift capacity with 96 different means of uphill transportation. Awesome in downright challenge. There are a huge number of really challenging runs in and around Verbier. Expert skiers know it far and wide, as one of the most difficult skiing resorts anywhere. That's a given.

But what about the vast majority of readers of this magazine? Should they give Verbier a miss? Should they be put off by Verbier's "daunting" reputation? We don't think so.

The skiing features good areas where beginners can find out which way to point the skis, improve their talents, and go on to higher levels of achievement and elevation.

There is adequate space for beginners, either at the village level, or higher up the mountain. Almost immediately, first time skiers can get the feel of some high altitude skiing in a safe and sound environment. The area around La Ruinettes and Attelas is a good area on which to improve, and it has the added advantage of a couple of on-slope restaurants where you can meet up with more experienced friends. The new Tortin cable car will solve any queue problems on the way back from the 4 valleys.

However, it is for better skiers that Verbier really comes into its own. Highlighted by Mont Fort (summer skiing on the glacier here as well) at just over 3,000m, Verbier offers challenge and variety in just about every nook and cranny. Bumps, powder, unpisted and untested, it's all within the borders of this big ski country. If, by the way, you fancy tracking some unmarked slopes, please don't do it without a guide.

This is high-mountain skiing at its best, and, we might add, at its most treacherous. If you are a top-flight skier, you should find all the action you want on Verbier's prepared slopes. If it appeals, and if you are good enough, you can ski over to, as well as on, the slopes of Nendaz, on the other side of the Valley. What's more, you can come back on the same day, on skis.

First, though explore the tremendous selection and challenge in the immediate Verbier vicinity. This place is a good skiers dream. Again, we stress that those who are not yet up to all the testing stuff on tap here should have no problem enjoying this resort. The lift system is big and expansive, and laid out in such a manner that decent intermediate skiers should be able to find some adequate runs at the end of most lifts.

Considering the extent of skiable terrain and number of lifts offered in Verbier, this resort represents fine value for money. Even with this impressive selection, lift-pass prices are in line with most of the other top-flight European resorts. Families can reap special savings by buying a family pass, which gives discounts to members of the family after the first two family members pay full price. It's best to check with the lift company before buying any ski passes here. There are lots of varieties and combinations available.

Verbier is also world class when it comes to apr├Ęs ski and night time offerings. Heck, the village takes on a completely new life after dark. All one needs is enough Swiss Francs in your pocket and you can probably find almost any action you want. There are pubs for the young, clubs for the mids, discos for everyone, and food of almost any style for every taste and budget. This resort is no shrinking violet.

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