Destination Verbier: Get your ass to Switzerland
So there I was, sipping on a Carlsberg while listening to a cover band bust out a string of hits from the likes of ACDC, The Stooges and The Black Keys. The musicians were dressed in drag, and as they belted out the chorus of “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the tambourine player jumped off stage with a liquor bottle in hand. He started pouring booze down people’s throats as they looked up towards the ceiling. Just then, the roof retracted and it started snowing inside the bar. Was this some sort of dream? No. This was Sunday evening at the Apres Ski Bar in Verbier, Switzerland.
Perched on a hillside, about two hours east of Geneva, this small mountain town has everything you could want from a ski destination, including a raucous après scene like the one described above. Brits, Scots, Frenchies, Aussies and even a few Swiss people make up a large part of the community here. Some of them have carved out a nice little life for themselves while others are simply here for the season, to pour some beers, beat me in darts and ski as much of the amazing terrain here as they can. But whether you’re a full time resident, a “seasonaire” or just in town for a few days, you’ll be hard pressed to ski it all.
Verbier is just one of the four valleys that make up the Les 4 Vallees ski area. The other three are Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon. The base of Verbier is situated at 4,921 feet above sea level and the highest point of Les 4 Vallees, Mont Fort, is at 10,925 feet. One gondola, one chairlift and two tram rides from the base, the peak offers a spectacular view of the Alps that includes the Matterhorn to the southeast and Mont Blanc to the southwest. Between all four valleys, the area has close to a hundred different lifts, gondolas and trams that zig zag across the seemingly endless terrain and provide access to some of the best skiing in the world. Each lift ride offers a different perspective as you gaze at the couloirs and bowls of peaks that you can ski in almost every direction.
With the sheer size of the resort, it takes a couple days to get your bearings. After that, I found it was pretty easy to get around, though there was always a new zone to stumble upon. Just under Mont Fort, at Col Gentianes, you have the option of heading toward any corner of the resort and can get a prime view of the Bec des Rosses, which plays host to the Freeride World Tour finals: Xtreme Verbier (taking place this weekend). If you’re not quite ready for the tour, you can take a high traverse that accesses a hike called “Stairway to Heaven.” A 15 minute climb (straight) up this bootpack gives you access to a number of wide open powder fields along with a perfectly steep couloir that I felt compelled to jump into. Not a bad decision after the snow gods blessed the resort with a spring dump of waist deep snow. I love it when a plan comes together.
From the top of the bootpack, you can also plan a line off the backside of Mont Gele which is accessed by another tram. The second tallest peak in the resort offers a variety of terrain that will likely leave you with a shit-eating grin on your face. I could go on for days about all the different peaks and valleys but rest assured, if you like it steep and deep, you’ll be in your element here.
When you’ve had your fill of skiing, or rather when they shut the lifts down on you, it’s time to head down for some après. There are a number of places on the hill, like the 1936 Bar for example, with live bands or DJs that will likely have a generous crowd of Euro-tastic individuals frolicking around when the weather is nice. Great people watching. Once you’re off the mountain, Hotel Farinet’s aptly-named “Apres Ski Bar” is your best bet. Located in the center of town (just a five minute walk from the Medran gondola plaza), it hosts live music every day of the week, has a retractable roof (refer to the scene described above) and boasts a bartending staff that’s not afraid to get loose. Don’t be alarmed if the bartender tells you “Your mum is on the phone.” Just be sure to hold the receiver of the rotary phone close to your mouth or you might end up with whiskey all over your shirt. These factors and more, make it easy to see why it’s the go-to après spot among locals and tourists alike.
The Swiss franc is currently stronger than the US dollar which makes Verbier a little on the pricey side. Lucky for you, I used all the money in my bank account researching how to do it wrong so I could tell you how to do it right.
Geneva is just over two hours away and your best bet for flying in. Once you’re there you can take a shuttle (www.alpybus.com) to Verbier for about 60 Francs or a train (www.sbb.ch) to Martigny for 44 Francs and another short train ride to La Chable. From there you can take the gondola or a quick bus ride up the hill to Verbier.
Hotels in Verbier-proper (top of the hill) can cost upwards of 1,000 Francs(!) The farther down the hill you go, the cheaper it gets. Hotels in Verbier village, a 20 minute walk or free bus ride from the gondola, can get you down to about 200 Francs for a room that you can squeeze a couple people into. All the way down the hill, in the town of Le Chable, there’s a B&B called Max and Millie’s that offers dormitory style rooms at a minimal cost. There is a gondola that runs to town but it closes in the evening so if you want to spend your night in Verbier, you’ll need to take an expensive taxi home or find a friendly seasonaire to show you back to their place.
You can buy a ticket for the entire Les 4 Vallees for 70 Francs or a Verbier-only pass for 65 Francs. Spend the extra 5 Francs so you don’t ski down to a lift only to be shut out. They also offer small discounts on multi-day passes
The prices at most sit down restaurants will catch you off-guard at first so be careful where you go. There are two relatively cheap take-out windows in town where you can get sandwiches, fish and chips, etc. One is in the Medran gondola plaza and the other is near the center of town, across from The Loft bar (also open for late night munchies).
If you do feel like sitting down, some relatively cheap options include Fer a Cheval for pizza or Relais des Neiges where you can get some traditional Swiss fondue and escargot. When in Rome…
As mentioned above, Hotel Farinet’s Apres Ski Bar is the best bet for apres on any given day. As day turns to night, the Mont Fort Pub (just up the hill from the gondola) and The Loft (center of town) are great for socializing, cocktails and darts. Once you’ve decided you REALLY want to be hungover the next day, head to Twin Peaks, Farm Club or Casbah for music ’til 4 or 5 am. Farm club wins for having a live sax player to supplement a killer DJ set. Farm club also loses for charging 70 Francs for a round of two shots and two beers. Bring a flask to alleviate that and be sure to have some women in your posse to get you by the bouncers.