St. Bernard dogs, ski lifts, amazing slopes, vin
chaude, fondue and raclette, the Alps, cantons, banking, fine watches,
CERN, milk chocolate - this is a ski trip report from Verbier in the
region of Valais in Switzerland.
A short summary
This trip report will focus on the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took
to Verbier in Switzerland from March 8th to March 12th 2011. It was only
a short trip in connection with winter vacation in Norway and for once
we decided to go for a winter destination instead of a beach destination
;-) So the main focus of this trip was skiing and enjoying some good
food with friends. The trip report is split into section and this first
page will focus on the stay in Verbier and on the next pages you will
find more photos from our stay and review of the hotel we used (read
review here Hotel
get in touch if you have any questions or
comments. All pictures are taken by Nikki and Gard with our Canon EOS
450D and Canon IXUS.
Prelude and planning
We have never been on a skiing vacation before but Nikki went for a ski
course in Norway in the beginning of 2011 and when some friends
mentioned that they were going to Verbier we decided to tag along. I
sorted out my ticket and I bought it online on the
SAS homepage and I
had to pay about 3500 NOK (625 USD) (round trip from Stavanger in Norway)
– quite expensive but that is how it goes when you book in the last
This was just a short ski trip so we didn’t buy any
guidebooks – we just checked out the Verbier homepage. As we were
booking late it was not easy to find a hotel – on the
Verbier homepage it actually seemed like all hotels were fully booked. But Nikki
is an experienced traveler and after she searched around a bit she found a room
available on Hotel La Rotonde via booking.com and the price was
270 Swiss Franc per day (about 290 USD) – again quite expensive but this
is Switzerland after all.
We also booked transportation from Geneva airport
to Verbier using AlpyBus and it was 60 Swiss Franc (65 USD) per
person from Geneva to Verbier.
The trip begins
On March 8th I went to the airport outside Stavanger – I say I as Nikki
was flying via Oslo due to work related reasons. Check in was pretty
fast but I asked it was possible to upgrade from economy to business and
how much points it would cost in points but no one was able to answer.
Later on I got the answer - on European flights it is only possible to
upgrade from Economy Extra to Business with Eurobonus points. But it was
not a problem as the flight from Copenhagen to Geneva in Switzerland is
only about 2 hours. I like watches and it is fun to arrive at
airport as there are lots of large ads for very good watch brands. I had
to wait a couple of hours for Nikki at Geneva airport and I used the
opportunity to get a bit of snack and get online (Geneva airport offers
free wifi) and I also used the opportunity to locate
AlpyBus – our
transportation to Verbier. Nikki arrived about 9.30 in the evening and
SAS managed to misplace her luggage on the way - but soon we were on our
way in a small van from Alpybus together with only 1 other passenger.
The ride to Verbier took about 1 hours and 45 minutes and cost about 60
CHF (65 USD). It was pretty much dark all the way so it was not easy to
see anything – the drive was mainly on highways until you get to the
road leading up to Verbier itself.
the village of Verbier is located at 1500 meter
above sea level (about
Arriving in Verbier
We were dropped off in Verbier close to midnight and we got instructions
from the driver on how to find the hotel. Verbier is not all that big so
it only took 10 minute to reach the hotel even if I was dragging along
my big Samsonite suitcase. Luckily there were no snow in the streets and
that made it easier when it comes the suitcase – people that we talked
to said that they had never seen less snow in Verbier. I guess every day is a party day in Verbier – when
we walked up the streets towards the hotel we saw lots of people in
costumes so I guess there was a carnival somewhere. The small town was
quite charming with what seemed to be typically Swiss chalets with snow
on the roofs. Check in to Hotel La Rotonde was fast and you can read my
opinon about the hotel on the following page. The location of the
hotel is great – located just a few minutes’ walk from Medran cable car
station and also within meters from restaurants and bars.
The currency in Switzerland is Swiss Francs and in
March 2011 100 Francs (code CHF) was about 108 USD.
Good morning Swiss Alps – organizing skiing
When we got up the first morning it was quite a treat to look out the
window for the first time – the weather was perfect with a sun shining
from a cloudless blue sky and the view was breathtaking. We had a view
of the town (or village if you like) of Verbier and in the background there were
majestic and snow clad mountains.
For breakfast we met up with our friends Cyril and Isa and after a quick breakfast at the hotel we went out of the hotel and just
down the street to Xtreme Sports – a shop that sells all sorts of
outdoor equipment and they also rent out skis. I decided to go for
regular carving skis (if there is such a thing) and the rent was 130 CHF
(140 USD) including skis, boots and poles for 3 days. Note that it is
also possible to rent equipment and then change it into something else
if you are not happy with the skis. The service was good at the store
and we were out of there in no time. Poor Nikki was still missing her
suitcase so it was not really an option for her to go skiing.
Just a side note – when we came home from Verbier
we were watching TV and they showed an old episode of
Top Gear. As usual the team was racing against each other and in this episode they
ended up in a small village. We were joking that it looked like Verbier
and all of a sudden Jeremy parked his car infrom of Xtreme Sports where
we rented our skis so it was actually Verbier.
there are toilets and lockers at the Medran station
– this means that you can park for shoes there if you don’t want to walk
around in hard downhill shoes. But I think you have to pay for the
Back to the trip report ;-) We got into our gear
pretty fast and walked the short distance to the Medran cable station –
it is only 300 meters from the hotel – but it is slightly uphill so
still a bit of a challenge if you are not used to walking in stiff
downhill boots. The first thing on the agenda was to buy a ski pass and
there of course various option. I went for the full package including
the four valleys (Les 4 Vallées) and that cost 215 CHF (230 USD) and
gave me access to everything the cable car to Mont-Fort at 3300 meters!
As you can see from the ski slope map (click on it to get a much larger
PDF version of it but note that it is a large file) the route network is extensive and I found
it a bit confusing to read and get oriented but I guess that was because
I was traveling with Cyril who took the role as the guide as he had been
in the slopes for a few days already.
there is also a gondola from the valley below – so
if you want to cut the cost I guess it will be cheaper to get a place to
stay there and take the gondola from Le Châble.
Time to hit the slopes
Cyril and I was ready for the slopes – after buying the ski-pass you get
a credit card size ticket that you keep on you and as you come to the
lift gates it will let you pass through if your ticket is valid. We had
to line up for a few minutes at Médran cable car station but the line moved quickly and soon we could jump into a 6 seat gondola. The skis
were placed in frames on the outside of the gondola and we could just
sit back and enjoy the view. The lift went up very fast and it was
actually a bit spooky hovering far above the tree tops in this tiny
contraption. But I guess you just have to trust the Swiss eye for
details, maintenance and a long tradition of building gondolas in the
mountains. Within minutes we were at Les Ruinettes at 2200 meter (7200
feet) and we changed to yet another gondola: the Chaux Express – it was
basically the same type and it took us to Fontanet at 2482 meters (8150
feet) and then down again to La Chaux at 2260 meters.
use the time on the way up to apply some sun screen
in the face. If the sun is out you get exposed to a lot of sun and you
might end up with a bad sunburn.
Getting of the lift in La Chaux was just
breathtaking – the sun was shining from a blue, blue sky and there was
not a cloud in sight. The slopes looked perfect, there were not long
lines to get into the lifts, there were places where we could sit down
to have some food and drinks and the high mountains sort of framed
everything into one perfect little package – just awesome in other words.
Being from the west of Norway I’m not used to such huge facilities (at
least not in Sirdalen). I was very glad that I had bought goggles with a
dark glass as the light was intense to say the least. We started out
easy by taking a chairlift called Chaux 2 to test out some blue slopes –
even for a Norwegian born with skis on it is important to warm up ;-)
in this area the routes are split in blue (easy),
red (intermediate) and black (difficult). But also be aware that it also
depends on the slope condition – a red soggy route can be trickier than
a black route which is in perfect condition.
We tried out the blue slopes a couple of times and
the red slope that also leads back to La Chaux. In this area you will
also find the Swatch Snowpark area where snowboarders can have some fun
with jumps etc. But it didn’t take long before Cyril decided to bring me
along to the more serious slopes – we headed back to La Chaux to get
into the gigantic gondola on the Jumbo route to Col des Gentianes at
2950 meters (9680 feet). I say gigantic about the gondola as it was
transporting like 120 people up at the time! It was quite a thrill ride
by the way – who needs roller coasters when you have a gondola going
over mountain tops at full speed?
bring along a small bottle of water so that you can
drink a bit – even if it is cold you can get dehydrated. And even if
gravity pulls you down the slopes, skiing is still hard work and left me
(at least) all sweaty.
At Col des Gentianes there is a restaurant (even
with an outdoor area) and the gondola station if you want to go even
further up!! We decided to take the red Gentianes route back to La Chaux.
The first part of the route was quite difficult in my opinion – exposed
to the sun and warm weather the slope had gotten quite soggy with lots
of “moguls” and it was tricky to keep control. But the last part of the
slope was beautiful as it is not too steep but very, very long. When I
came back to La Chaux my thighs were on fire as I’m not used to such
It was great after that to just take it easy and head back to Les
Ruinettes to enjoy some lunch. There are lots of stuff to choose from
when it comes to lunch – I just enjoyed a baguette and an ice cold
Heineken. Yes, I know...you shouldn’t drink and ski but I promise, it was
only one small one ;-)
Verbier is located in the canton of Valais and it
is a is predominantly French speaking region.
After lunch the air went out of the balloon so to
speak. It was just great to sit in the sun, watch people in para-gliders
take off into the horizon and just relax basically. In the end we just
skied all the way down to Médran using the blue and red slopes. It was
actually quite fun to just glide through the woods on the narrow paths.
Time for after-skiing and dinner
When we came out at the Médran station, people had already started
seeking for places where they could still be blessed with some rays of
the sun. We decided to just head back to the hotel and sit down at the
restaurant located in the hotel itself – we decided to go for something
that seems to be a local delicacy – the vin chaud. Well, it is not
something that you only get here of course. Hot, mulled wine is served
in many places around Europe in various ways. But it was great to have
it here...with the sunset, the amazing view of the mountains and with
Nikki and friends.
After a quick shower we just walked 100 meters or
so down the street where we had seen an Italian restaurant called
Pergola. We called in advance to make sure that they had a table for us
– the menu was quite extensive from what I remember. I went for fried
mozzarella to start with that was quite good. I’m a bit ashamed to say
that I have no idea what I had for main course – I think it was meat but
as you can see from the photo it is all hidden by the rocket on top ;-)
But the vegetable “muffin” was quite good. The tiramisu to round it off
was not bad either. The meal was 130 Swiss Francs (140 USD) for the two
of us (including half a bottle of wine). One guy had obviously started
the after-party a bit early as he was just walking around being a happy
drunk and actually the waitress had to lead the way for him back to the
Another day in the slopes
I’m not going to elaborate on what we did day by day and minute by
minute in the slopes – it involved a great deal of skiing of course.
When we took the gondola up the second day we shared it with a guy and a
big St. Bernard – you know, one of those dogs with a small barrel around
its neck and used for rescue back in the old days. Well, this dog was
just for show I guess as we saw the guy up on the mountain taking photos
of skiers with the dog.
if you want to have some refreshments in the slopes there are
places to buy that. At La Chaux there is an outdoor restaurant where you
can buy vin chaud, sodas, beer etc. A small beer is about 5 CHF (6 USD).
As Nikki’s baggage finally arrived, we rented skis
for her too on day two of our stay. But note that the slopes here are
not that easy and even in the blue slopes there are some hills that
might be a bit intimidating for a beginner.
After skiing we did our best to keep up with the serious after-skiers.
We even saw people late at night that were still walking around with
their ski boots and matching outfit. I guess there is no time to waste
when you are there for the ski and party ;-)
We had an ice cold beer in the sun at Big Ben pub before we stopped by
Fairnet. Fairnet seems to be a very popular place and split into
different sections. We only stopped by a pre-dinner drink but it was
actually hard to get a table as many had placed a reservation.
We decided for dinner at
Channe Valaisanne – a
place that focuses on serving authentic Swiss food. The decorations
inside and outside are quite elaborate (it even includes a couple of
cows outside - no, not real ones of course ;-). We were met by a tall, blond and
if I can be bold enough to say it; a front heavy woman
dressed in what I guess is some sort of replica of a Swiss national
costume. The menu includes stuff like raclette and fondue but I decided
to go for the snails as a starter. I guess I might as well have gone for
a cheese dish as my escargots was drowning in a cream cheese sauce anyway.
you are not aware of the local delicassies I can inform you that Raclette is both a cheese and a dish. The dish
includes heating the cheese and then scraping of the cheese onto the
plate. Fondue is sticking pieces of bread into a pot of melted cheese.
I went for duck as my main course and that was OK but it was weird that
the only option was having French fries on the side. One great thing
about the restaurant was their nice selection of Swiss wine – I’m not
sure it is as good as French and Italian wine but it is always good to
try something new. But the service in the restaurant was not that great
– all of a sudden we couldn’t get a hold of our waitress (the only one
there) as she was taking a smoke break, the service was kinda slow and
the dessert I ordered never came. In the end the price was 140 CHF for
the two of us including some wine.
Last day in the slopes
On the last day of skiing, Cyri and I took the gondola to Fontanet to
start with and we just slid down the hill to take a chairlift to Attelas
at 2727 meters (8950 feet). From here we had an amazing trip down
covering both red and black slopes – as it was still early in the
morning the slopes were perfect. It was so awesome skiing down and just
see the shadow of the snow that was spraying up in the air as I was
turning. We actually skied all the way down to 1700 meters – in other
words 1000 meters of elevation difference. How incredible is that? So
what did we do when we came down? We took the chair lifts back up again
of course and did it all over again ;-)
View from the top
After the amazing skiing experience we followed the slopes all the way
down to Medran as it was the easiest way to get back to La Chaux. The
plan was to take the Jumbo gondola to Col des Gentianes to meet up with
the wives for lunch. As we came there a bit early we had nothing better
to do than relaxing in the sun outside with a glass of cold beer – it
was heavenly after the skiing. I was actually soaking wet from the
skiing once again – obviously I dress wrong or maybe it was just hotter
Lunch at this place is not much of a culinary adventure
but was can you expect at 2950 meters? After lunch we took the Mont-Fort
gondola to Mont-Fort at 3330 meters! (10925 feet). There is a coffee
shop here as well but we mainly went there for the incredible view. From
here you have a view of a vast area and you can even see Mont Blanc.
Down from this area there in only a black slope that looked difficult so
it is not advisable to hit the slopes if you don’t know what you are
doing. I decided that it was better for me to take the gondola back down
Last night out
We decided to have our last dinner at
Millenium restaurant located right
underneath our hotel. I guess it was still main season as we had to book
a table and we could only choose between two options: 7 PM og 9.30 PM. I
started out by having a platter of cheese and ham from the region and it
was great – I love this kind of combination. But being a difficult
customer I asked for a bit more info about the hams and cheese that I
was eating but the waitress did not have any idea – it was just "from the
region". The meat dish I had was very good – served with a nice piece of
foie gras on top – yummy. I have to try making that at home one of these
Time to go back home
All good things come to an end and our short ski
trip to Switzerland came to an end on March 12th. When we checked out of
the hotel the weather had changed – it was cloudy and hence the little
village of Verbier looked very different. We had booked the
Alpybus also on the way home and we were picked up at Parking du Catogne –
the bus was a lot larger this time as we were more passengers. But at
least they were able to fit all the passengers and baggage in there and
soon we were on our way. The drive to Geneva airport takes about 2 hours
and the route took us past Lac Léman and the cities of Lausanne and
Montreux and along the highway you can actually see the vineyards
producing some Swiss wine.
Check in was uneventful – it was excellent to see
that they had managed to make one machine for checking in at several
airlines – not like in Stavanger where there is one machine for SAS, one
for Norwegian, one for KLM etc. We flew SAS back to Copenhagen together
and from there back to Stavanger in Norway.
Before I start writing about my conclusion you might want to keep in
mind that this was our very first ski trip and hence we don’t have that
much to compare it to. First of all: we were extremely lucky with the
weather. The people that we spoke to said that there was unusually
little snow in Verbier for that time of the year but it was not a big
problem as Verbier is located on 1500 meters and the ski lifts takes
you up to over 3000 meters. Due to the sunny conditions and “warm”
weather the slopes did get a bit wet as they day progressed – but the
advantage of the sunny weather is that you can sit outside and enjoy a
nice cold beer and the sun was actually warming us.
The hotel prices is Verbier is steep I guess – I
don’t feel that we got that much for the money in terms of hotel but
maybe this is a general “problem” when it comes to the alps? But Verbier
is a nice, small village which seems to have avoided major development
and it was quite a cozy village centre. And even if the village is small it can
still offer a good selection of bars and restaurants. All in all it was a
great trip – beautiful weather with great slopes. Thanks to Isabelle and
Cyril for the company at happy hour and dinner and thanks to Cyril for
being the guide that dragged me along to all of the slopes ;-)
If you have any questions or comments feel free to
get in touch. Happy skiing in Verbier in Switzerland!