Club Holiday To Verbier, March 2017

Reporter: Andrew Walker

See or post photographs from the trip on the Yahoo! site.

Whatever “It” is, Verbier has it in spades. A playground of the rich and famous (not forgetting Prince William who was there a few days before us and seen dancing in the Farinet Bar, which became an apres-ski haunt of some of our club members), it’s full of luxury chalets you probably can’t afford, even if you knock two zeroes off the price. It’s also got moguls, on an epic scale. More moguls than you can shake a stick at. Depending on your point of view, it’s mogul heaven or mogul hell.

I skied with Brian Richardson all week. We joined Alastair, the SCGB rep, for the first day and then skied either on our own or with other club members.

Verbier is famous for its itinerary routes. To some extent they cut the area in two because you can’t get from Verbier to the resorts of Siviez and beyond without either taking a lift down or one of the two main Tortin itinerary runs, neither of which are pisted.

The shorter one is the Chassoure-Tortin. The edge is a few metres below the lifts, and it’s not unusual to see skiers and boarders look down it, change their minds and walk back either to the col to descend the other side, or to the lifts. You can either ski straight down into the jaws of the biggest bumps, or you can traverse along a usually well-worn and very undulating shelf to reach the furthest bumps which are somewhat less hostile. Once at the bottom of the main mogul field you can follow the pisted route to Tortin or turn right and pick a route under the lift and then down through the trees.

The Gentianes-Tortin route is longer, and if you go the whole hog and start from the top of Mont Fort you will be rewarded (or punished) with a vertical descent of nearly 1,300 metres via bumps, powder fields (untracked one morning after overnight snow) and more bumps.

There’s another way off Mont Fort (short of getting back in the cable car), which is to go down the backside, far away from any lifts and the madding crowd. It isn’t marked or on the piste map, but it is a well-known route. Despite having been to Verbier three times before I had never done it, so on the Monday morning Brian and I decided to give it a go. You do get a sense of being away from it all. The first half is a mix of steeps, bumps, and open powder fields, and on our route a fairly narrow couloir with a rather tricky approach, but which was very satisfying to complete. Lower down, you reach the valley bottom and follow the tracks, which eventually take you round the reservoir of Lac de Cleuson, from which you descend on winding tracks through the tree and out onto the piste just above Siviez, opposite the excellent, cow-themed, La Tetine café where we rewarded ourselves with coffee and raspberry tart.

I had also never done the Mont Gele itinerary runs so we did those, exploring both routes, to Tortin and to La Chaux. The second time we did the Tortin run there were only five passengers in the cable car, and once the other three had set off down the front face we had the rest of the mountain entirely to ourselves, and saw nobody else for nearly an hour. Mind you, for much of the run the visibility was so poor that we wouldn’t have seen anybody further than about 20 metres away.

Despite the mild temperatures and drenching rain which greeted us at Geneva on the way out, and which continued all the way to Verbier, the conditions were surprisingly good. It hasn’t been the best season for snow, and the snowline was higher than usual. It certainly showed on the lower runs, which if open at all were very worn and turned to slush as the morning progressed. This meant that the further and lower reaches of the area were barely worth the trip, and limited the availability of good skiing, although higher up and on north-facing slopes the snow was still in superb condition.

I do get the impression that Verbier relies on its reputation to draw the crowds, and has failed to keep pace with other premier ski areas as far as the lift infrastructure is concerned. There are some rather tired old lifts (especially the sodding T-bars!) which deserve to be pensioned off and replaced, and the lifts from Medran have seen better days, but for me Verbier has once again done itself proud as a purveyor of excellent skiing, and I shall return. My thanks must go to Brian for being a great ski buddy all week. And of course to everybody else, in the club and the hotel, who helped make the holiday so enjoyable.

I couldn’t finish without mentioning the Jumbo cable car and the wonderful lurching swing as it rolls over the top pylons. And so it is that Diana Ross, the Godmother of the Jumbo (as the plaque in each cable car says, “Marraine du Jumbo”), is also the Godmother of swing. Now there’s a thing.