Skiing off the Les Attelas chairlift at Verbier, we stop and pull off to the side, as much to adjust ski gloves and goggles to seal any exposed wrists and cheeks from the frigid air as to drink in the magnificent alpine scenery. In the distance, giants like the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc that have been obscured by a heavy cloud inversion and snow for days glitter under a cobalt sky.
We arrived at Geneva airport four days ago where we were greeted by suspiciously green-looking mountains. Though it’s mid-January, winter has remained stubbornly at bay so far. In a series of two efficient, spacious Swiss trains that skirted edge of Lake Geneva, we alighted in Le Chable just after sunset where we were whisked up the mountain in a tiny gondola cabin hat delivered us right into the center of Verbier for a total journey of just two hours. By then, the temperatures had fallen with the night and a light snow started to drift down that hasn’t let up until this morning.
Combined with seriously cold temperatures (it was -19°C this morning when we ascended the slopes before the resort opened to chuck bombs with snow patrol) the conditions have gone from shoddy to a skier’s dream. More than two feet of fresh powder have fallen in the days since we arrived and the Christmas crowds have left, leaving in their wake a scene of giddy powder hounds chortling their way down empty pistes. Verbier is well-suited for experienced skiers, and the quality of skiing is visibly high here, with some of the best-served access to off-piste and freeride terrain in Europe.
It’s our last day on the hill – I’m here with a small group of journalists on a press trip organized by Helly Hansen – and our legs are feeling the four days of practically non-stop fresh tracks. From the top of the gondola at Les Ruinettes, we ride up to Les Attelas at 8,946 ft, which sits beneath the pyramid-shaped peak of Mont Gele.
“The scenery is so incredible, so beautiful. First thing in the morning, you go up there and it’s just so breathtaking. You don’t ever get bored of that,” says Victoria Jamieson, a 15-year veteran of Verbier ski patrol.
Our tour guide for the week is Warren Smith, one of Britain’s leading professional free skiers who made Verbier home decades ago. He runs a successful ski academy out of the village and over the past few days has taken us far and wide over the vast terrain. Verbier is the largest resort in the Four Vallees area, together making up the biggest ski area in Switzerland with over 400 km of linked pistes accessed by 93 ski lifts. Yesterday, we had our most adventurous run of the trip, on Tortin, a popular but challenging itinerary run in a shaded bowl.
Today, tired but tempted by the prospect of just a little more untouched snow, we duck a rope near Lac des Vaux and coast through thigh deep powder before realizing our legs are well and truly fried; it’s time for lunch. In addition to being an expert skier, Smith is a connoisseur of the local restaurant scene, which provides an impressive range of high end restaurants where you can fuel up on the finest of Swiss fare. Our gastronomic guide takes us to Le Mouton Noir, an on-slope eatery where we tuck into relaxed fare of melt-in-the-mouth Croque Monsieur and frites with world class views, all washed down with crisp Vin de Savoie.
In many ways, this high end resort is as much a foodie’s paradise as it is a skier’s heaven, catering as it does to the rich and famous. Both the pistes and the village are heaving with ritzy restaurants whose wooden alpine charm soften the blow of the eye-watering prices of grass-fed alpine charcuterie and steak frites and bubbling pots of fondue. It’s in this regard, as well as the atmospheric alpine scenery, that Verbier stands out as serious competition for the best US resorts such as Vail and Aspen, where you’re more likely to be bored by the stale old classics of rainbow trout and rack of lamb on every menu.
Getting there: Fly to Geneva then hop on a train to Martigny, change to the Saint-Bernard Express train to Le Châble. From there, it's a short lift up to the center of Verbier.
Lift ticket rate: Adult passes from 77 Francs/day
Accommodations: Hotel Montpelier is a relaxed three-star hotel on the bus route to the slopes, with spa facilities.
Where to eat: Le Mouton Noir for relaxed fare with alpine views, Lumi Bar for apres and Le Caveau for fondue.
After lunch and a few more mellow runs, we decide it’s time to return our skis to Verbier Ski Service and keep the party going. Cold beers keep the spirits high at Lumi Bar, where young skiers laugh over games of giant Jenga and local ski patrollers stop by periodically to greet Smith, himself now a local legend. From here it’s a 20 minute walk, all downhill, through the village to Hotel Montpelier where there’s enough time for a stretch or sauna before heading out for one more fondue fest. This time we choose nearby Le Caveau, a stone-walled subterranean hot spot where the waiters shave gooey raclette onto our plates until we beg them to stop.
Maybe it’s the wine, maybe it's the altitude and the exhaustion, but even for our group of seasoned skiers, being here all feels like a warm and fuzzy dream and soon it's time to drift back to our rooms and dream of powder skiing before we begin our journey back to reality. There’s no doubt that this resort is a playground for the affluent – the chairlift poles are adorned with Prada ads – but that doesn’t mean the phenomenal skiing here is out of reach of mere mortals.
Whether you’re dropping $200 a night on a room and $50 a plate at dinnertime or packing a lunch and taking the train over from Geneva for a day of skiing at $85, Verbier’s specialities are ones that should be sampled by everyone who truly lives to ski.
What to pack for skiing Verbier
Though we were fortunate to experience heaps of powder, the temperatures were seriously cold. Layer up with the best ski gear, though, and you won't feel anything but the burn in your thighs. Here's what I wore for skiing Verbier:
- Ski pants: Helly Hansen Women's Powderqueen Bib Ski Pants
- Base layer: Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight Crew Base Layer
- Mid layer: Helly Hansen Varde Fleece Jacket 2.0
- Ski jacket: Helly Hansen Elevation Infinity 2.0 Ski Shell Jacket
- Ski gloves: Helly Hansen Swift HT Ski Gloves
- Ski backpack: Helly Hansen ULLR RS30 Backpack
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.