Published in Whitelines Magazine Issue 88, January 2010
Words: Dan Bott
Verbier is one of the best-known resorts in Switzerland. This is partly because of the Verbier Extreme freeriding contest, held here every year, and partly because of its reputation as hangout for stars and celebrities of all shades. But for every Bentley you see cruising the streets,there’s a battered Citroen Saxo struggling up the snowy hills; for every champagne-swilling socialite, there’s probably five seasonaires pulling pints to get their powder fix; and for every rich Russian there’s a whole host of friendly locals willing to make your stay special. Add to this some of the best free ride terrain on the planet and this little French-speaking village becomes an attractive proposition for any serious shredder. We asked Verbier veteran Dan Bott to talk us through the steep chutes, backcountry bowls, and lesser-known bars of this Swiss haven.
1 Mont Fort
As you face up the mountain on the cable car, take a tight traverse to the right. With some hiking you’ll drop into a new valley. Take care to choose a route avoiding some small cliff faces and you’ll have a long, dreamy descent to a flat red run that’ll take you back to La Chaux.
2 Mont Gele
The cable car to the top is rarely open but you can always hike up the ridge from the top of the Chassoure chair. At the top there’s a wide, open face to drop in to with the opportunity for the occasional rock drop. You can pretty much drop anywhere off the top here. Off the back (and with a little further hiking) you can access a sweet couloir which takes you out to the Tortin chair.
From the lift station, walk round to the opposite side from where the pistes begin. Strap in and make the bitty traverse and descent before hiking over the ridge to drop into a couloir which faces back towards Verbier town. You can safely follow your nose back to town in clear weather from this one.
4 La Combe 1 chair top station
Get off and drop off left as soon as you can. Start descending keeping tight to the left and you’ll hit a flat track that encircles a small bowl. Drop off the track at any number of points into sweet powder. Or huck some sick spin off one the various rock drops, some of which are more difficult than others. Cane the rest of the rundown to the bottom of La Combe 1 chair and do it again… surely.
5 Funispace base station / Medran 1 top station
The Funispace is an aptly named lift which, in the right conditions, gets you access to fun fluffy stuff. Basically you’re dropping into a different part of the same bowl as off the La Combe 1 (above) for small rock drops and a few turns.
6 La Chaux to Le Chable entirely off-piste
Yep, you’d hope to find pretty much every type of terrain in an off-piste descent this long (it’s 1400 metre stop to bottom!) and you do. Hooowwwllll! There’s only one point where you need to know where you’re going to avoid some cliffs. Otherwise, just point and charge! You’ll have a 1km walk at the bottom (to the right) to get the Le Chable bubble back up to Verbier.
7 Descent left of the Medran
This is an area dedicated for wildlife to live undisturbed. So of course I wouldn’t know that this area has lovely little pockets of trees that you can dip in and out of as you cut between the pistes!
Your Verbier lift pass will give you access to this, but you need to get a bus from Le Chable. Okay, it’s quite a distance and duration to travel (and the lifts are hardly state-of-the-art) but that’s why everyone else hardly ever comes here. Basically explore the whole area and you’ll find easily accessible powder and tree runs between pistes. Another option is to drop off the back from the top of La Pasay chair and descend entirely off piste (an 1000m descent, at a guess) to the valley village of Sembrancher. Enjoy a beer in the train station bar as you wait for a train to take you back to Le Chable.
9 Bar Le Rouge
Conveniently located at the bottom of the Le Rouge drag, this quality, traditional Swiss bar-restaurant is an ideal place to chill. Especially if you’ve spent one too many nights in cheap seasonaires haunt Le Pub Mont Fort.
10 1936 on-piste bar Punctuate your final descent by enjoying the view and a first beer of the evening before you even get back to resort.
11 Farinet bar
Accessed from rue de Medran, this bar is the most consistently raucous, happy-hour-fuelled, live music venue.
Resort Altitude: 1500m
Piste Altitude: 1500m – 3330m
Pistes: 192 km