Skiers admiring the mountainous views in Verbier, Switzerland
Photo by Patrick Nouhailler  –  Link

Verbier

Switzerland

If you asked many keen skiers or boarders to name their top 5 money-no-object ski resorts, then Verbier in Switzerland would probably feature somewhere on the list. Part of the enormous Four Valleys ski area, it boasts over 400 km of runs, spectacular views, legendary off-piste opportunities and is solidly snow reliable, not to mention its extensive range of hotels, top restaurants and legendary apres-ski.

A favourite of the rich and famous - the Beckhams, Richard Branson and the British royal family are all regulars - Verbier is undoubtedly the place to ski and be seen. Even the lifts have a touch of glamour, with one dedicated to soul legend Diana Ross and another to posh Brit musician James Blunt. So with all that in mind, we come to the big question: does the resort deserve its stellar reputation, or is it just a case of following the cool crowd?

Skiing and snowboarding in Verbier

Realistically, Verbier isn't the place to learn to ski; not only is it a fairly pricey way to find out if you're going to enjoy a sport, more than 60% of the runs are intermediate or advanced. For boarders this is great as it means there are few of those long, flat, cross-country style hobbles to contend with, but for novice skiers it can be challenging. If you're just starting out then it's probably better to head somewhere like Bansko or La Plagne and master the basics first.

The real draw of Verbier comes in the fact that it's an off-piste paradise, with freeriding opportunities unrivalled almost anywhere in the Alps. Thanks to the success of competitions such as the Free World Tour, the resort has been attracting top skiers and boarders for years, all chasing pristine powder and steep slopes. Among the highlights are the renowned Stairway to Heaven, although thrill-seekers may wish to try the perilously sheer, heavily mogulled Tortin Wall.

Many routes in this area are marked out as 'itineraries', essentially runs that are halfway between on-piste and off-piste - although they are featured on ski maps as an orange line, they are never groomed and never subject to avalanche control measures. If you're not used to off-pisteing then hire a guide to take you out; even if you are a seasoned pro, it might be worth having someone show you the best secret spots.

In terms of snow coverage, Verbier has a strong record, something helped by its relatively high altitude. The season tends to start in late November or early December, closing down in at the end of April. Their webcams are top notch, and you can check conditions before you travel - try not to get addicted to watching them at work.

The resort

Even if you do get a cloudy day, Verbier town itself is an easy place to while away a day with its envy-inducing chalets, charming cafes, excellent restaurants and pretty boutiques. Stop for a salted caramel hot chocolate and a pastry at La Galerie du Chocolat, then head to Restaurant La Grange for a traditional cheese fondue. When it comes to eating on the slopes, try Le Dahu for a gigantic pizza served with stunning views.

And not forgetting the all important apres-ski - you've got to take the edge off of those achy muscles somehow, right? Good news: Verbier is known as the ultimate shred-hard-party-hard resort, and so there are a plenty of options for a good night out. Head to Bottle Brothers for a pre-dinner cocktails, then over to Farinet for a boogie - you might even spot Prince William showing off his moves in there.

The important numbers:

  • Base height: 1103m
  • Summit height: 3023m
  • Ski area: 412km on-piste
  • Longest run: 15km
  • Cable cars and gondolas: 15
  • Chairlifts: 27
  • >Surface lifts: 46