'The reality of skiing in Switzerland right now is one of jubilant normality'

·5-min read
verbier switzerland ski holiday season travel - Melody Sky/verbier.ch
verbier switzerland ski holiday season travel - Melody Sky/verbier.ch

While the rest of the world was up in arms about the (now lifted) French travel ban, I was drinking a pint in the Pub Montfort in Verbier with a friend after an incredible day on the slopes.

A metre of early-season snow had provided almost perfect conditions; the sun had been shining and we’d skied from first to last lift — exhausting every last drop of energy pent up from a season without the slopes. My friend, Steve, is a mountain guide from the cult resort of Crested Butte in Colorado. He, too, had made the pre-Christmas pilgrimage to ski the steeps of this world-class Swiss resort. Such is the pull of this special place – regardless of what its neighbours elsewhere in Europe are doing.

While the well-heeled head to other venues, Pub Montfort has long been a mainstay for après-ski and that night it was bustling inside and out. We’d had our Covid certificates checked on entry – as in every hospitality venue in Switzerland – leaving us to soak up the local ale and convivial vibe while laughing at my tomahawk descent down Vallon D’Arbi, a wonderful off-piste itinerary accessed from Lac de Vaux finishing in La Tzoumaz, earlier that day.

That’s the reality of skiing in Switzerland right now – jubilant normality. Everyone is just happy to be doing what they love, unencumbered by the worry of our everyday post-pandemic lives.

verbier ski switzerland holidays season 2022 - Paul Nuki
verbier ski switzerland holidays season 2022 - Paul Nuki

While Covid may have ripped through resorts like Verbier at the start of the pandemic they’re running smoothly now. After all Switzerland is, in my opinion, clean, safe and orderly (you can’t mow the lawn or do laundry on a Sunday); it's home to authentic, often car-free ski villages and brimming with excellent cheese, chocolate and wine. Fans of the mega ski areas won’t be disappointed – Verbier is part of the 410km 4 Vallées network – and it’s family friendly, too.

Right now, that’s a key selling point: unlike the rest of Europe where kids over 12 must be vaccinated or tested regularly, children under 16 are exempt from Covid regulations in Switzerland. There’s been no whisper of a shortage of antigen or PCR tests anywhere, and once you’ve got your NHS pass uploaded to their Covid Cert app you’re good to go. Common sense approaches, such as directing queues outside, have been easy introductions that are barely noticed while skiing. And yes, masks and face coverings are needed on lifts and while walking around indoors, but we’ve all got used to that now, haven’t we?

Despite its popularity among celebrities, royals and the party set, Verbier consistently maintains its pole position on the global circuit as a cult destination and while it might already be good, this place continues to work hard on being great.

This month it unveiled a major remodelling of its Medran base area; the installation of escalators and a new 10-seat gondola to Les Ruinettes, which has doubled capacity on an oft-choked route during busy periods. And while W Hotels & Resorts opened here in December 2013, investment has not stopped at the lower levels, too. My mountain guide friend Steve was lodging at the Mont-Fort Swiss Lodge, a newly opened hostel in Le Châble – a 13-minute gondola ride from town – that costs a budget-friendly CHF70pp (£56) a night for B&B (montfortswisslodge.ch).

verbier ski holiday switzerland - Raphael Surmont
verbier ski holiday switzerland - Raphael Surmont

Pro skier-turned-hotelier Marcus Bratter has never forgotten his roots as a skier and despite in recent years opening the luxury Cordée des Alpes, he has also taken ownership of three three-star hotels in the resort, Montpelier, La Rotonde and Central Hotel, where prices start at CHF80pp (£64pp) for B&B. He reports that Britons have accounted for 50 per cent of January bookings – 20 per cent more than usual thanks to French restrictions.

“I believe there will always be a strong demand for mid-range accommodation in Verbier – if we are not accessible to all skiers, we risk becoming a resort for the old and the rich,” says Marcus. “We are famous for challenging skiing and a formidable party scene and to sustain both requires a young, diverse clientele.”

He has also this season opened Kings Bar where pints cost CHF5 (£4). It sits opposite the Fer a Cheval, where free pizza has for decades been given out to skiers at après.

Even the newly refurbed four-star Hotel de Verbier (hoteldeverbier.com) is affordable. Slap bang on Place Centrale but with possibly the best sound-proofing of any central accommodation I’ve ever stayed in, B&B rates start from CHF227 – £185 per night, per room, which equates to £92.50pp and on a par or less than most decent UK hotels.

Elsewhere in Switzerland, business is also brisk. Nick Parks, an IFMGA British guide based in Zinal, south of the Rhone valley in Val d’Anniviers, is fielding guiding requests from Britons every day in addition to enquiries for his newly opened Chalet PapaGna (chaletpapgna-zinal.com).

“The Swiss take a very practical approach,” says Nick. “There is Covid in the Val d’Anniviers, but there’s an expectation that it will be managed ok.”

travel ski switzerland verbier
travel ski switzerland verbier

I, for one, hope that a whole swathe of skiers who previously viewed France as the only option for a ski holiday will have had their eyes opened to what Switzerland can offer. With Verbier an easy transfer from Geneva, although it is slightly more expensive than some places it offers an incredibly warm welcome and more than a decent bang for your buck. There’s got to be a reason why, by hook or by crook, I’ve returned here every year for the past 25 years.

How to do it

B&B accommodation at four-star Hotel de Verbier costs from CHF227 per night, per room (hoteldeverbier.com); Swiss operates up to 180 weekly flights from the UK to Switzerland from as little as £59 one way. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport and destination, costing from £33 (sbb.ch). A six-day adult lift pass for Verbier Valley is priced from CHF348 (£276) and for 4 Vallées costs from CHF379 (£309). For more information visit verbier.ch

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