Katy’s Blog: A trip to Verbier
I’m extremely pleased that I drove out to Chamonix as by now a fair number of people living here for the season are complaining of “Valley Fever”. My little Peugeot 107 has enabled me to get out when I want and explore some of the nearby resorts. Verbier is just over an hour’s drive away and the Mount Blanc unlimited lift pass enables us to ski there a handful of times without paying any extra. I was very keen to familiarise myself with the resort including the smaller areas Bruson, La Fouly, and Champex-Lac and also some of the après bars, as I’ve been mentioning them on the après ski show for Mountain Radio Verbier. I record this show with a mic and some editing software on my kitchen table in Chamonix.
So a quick drive over, ending with a glass of wine on the sunny terrace of Le Chalet de Flore in Verbier meant I was perfectly placed in the centre of town to do a little exploring. After a quick après-ski drink in “Lounge & Casbah” I headed for a pretty sumptuous dinner at the new luxury hotel La Cordée des Alpes. I was then ‘dragged’ to The Farm club to dance the night away till 3am to some real cheese-tastic tunes. The kind you really don’t hear anywhere in Chamonix as it’s a little bit ‘too cool’.
Despite this I was up early for a day skiing with Warren Smith, whose Ski Academy is based in Verbier. The weather however was pretty cold and bleak with fresh snow but no visibility. So instead of exploring the off-piste I had some much needed ‘back to basics’ work done on my carving technique (or lack of carving technique) and some practice on “pivoting around a ten pence piece” – a method of turning used for bumps and steep gullies which according to Warren is an element of most people’s skiing repertoire that is usually neglected.
Instead of skiing back to town however, I spent the night at the high altitude Cabane de Mont Fort on the slopes of Mont Fort at 2457m. The Cabane is a good base for exploring the off piste or you can beat the lifts and be the first skiers of the day to make the 1000m descent into Verbier. It’s also great if you want a bit of seclusion and lack of distraction from modern gadgets. There is no wifi and little phone signal, so after a much needed hot shower, you can just sit and talk over huge pots of bubbling fondue. I was ready for bed by about 9pm in one of the Cabane’s 15 mountain refuge style rooms.
The next morning after a very solid sleep I skied down and headed over to Champex Lac for a walk around its lake and another dose of cheese – this time with some very delicious raclette. Unfortunately, Champex’s lift burnt down just before the season started and is currently being investigated before the decision to build another one is made. I then headed over to the small and very family friendly resort of La Fouly, an important stop on the Tour du Mont-Blanc in summer. I had great fun swinging up and down its natural black half pipe run – a good opportunity to practice Warren’s pivoting on a ten pence piece technique.
I soon discovered that a ski trip to the 4 Valleys could be far removed from the likes of its James Blunt and Prince Harry associations. That night I stayed at the Montagne Alternative, a collection of five beautifully refurbished old farm barns nestled in the quiet hamlet of Commeire, not far from Bruson. It’s incredibly peaceful and secluded and surrounded by stunning landscapes. The hosts can do absolutely anything you want from arranging sight-seeing trips, biking, hiking or skiing, to cooking all your meals or preparing a raclette in a special room they have created just for the occasion, so you don’t have to live with the cheesy smell.
A trip to Verbier is perhaps not complete without a visit to St Bernard Dog museum in Martigny. I headed over in the morning to see the real life dogs which originate from the Grand-St-Bernard Hospice at 2500m. We’re told that the dogs never actually carried brandy around their necks for recuperation and although they are incredibly strong, they have a very gentle nature. It was also emphasised that it was actually the monks that would do the rescuing, the dogs would just help in the search for avalanche victims, but nowadays they are really too heavy to be practical. http://www.fondation-barry.ch.
That afternoon the sun came out again in time for some more skiing in Verbier, this time I was actually able to see some of the impressive views and enjoy the wide, sweeping and endless runs which pose quite a contrast to the more gnarly runs and off piste of Chamonix!