Trip to Verbier, Switzerland - March 2011
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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
The flag of the Valais canton (region)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 La Rotonde).

Please 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 minute.

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 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.

Map of Switzerland

Map of Switzerland. Map provided by

The trip begins
Sunset as I approached Geneva airportOn 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 Geneva 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.

Note: the village of Verbier is located at 1500 meter above sea level (about 4900 feet).

Arriving in Verbier
Verbier at night, view from our hotelWe 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.

Note: 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
View from our hotel in VerbierWhen 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.

Note: 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 lockers.

Ski map of Verbier - click for larger versionBack 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.

Note: 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
Getting ready for the slopes in VerbierCyril 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 theYou get quite a view when taking the gondola from Verbier 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.

Note: 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.

Gard presenting the slopes around VerbierGetting 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 ;-)

Note: 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.

The huge gondola leading to Col des GentianesWe 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?

Note: 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.

View towards Mont Fort, top station is at 3300 metersAt 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 “static” work.
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 shouldn’t drink and ski but I promise, it was only one small one ;-)

Note: 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
Enjoying vin chaude after a day in the slopesWhen 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.

What did I eat a Pergola in Verbier??After a quick shower we just walked 100 meters or so down the street where we had seen an Italian restaurant called La 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 table ;-)

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.

Note: 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).

Nikki skiing in the slopes of VerbierAs 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.

Entrance to Channe Valaisanne restaurant in VerbierWe 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.

Trying the duck at Channe Valaisanne restaurant in VerbierIf 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
Views of the slopes at VerbierOn 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
Enjoying a cold beer after being in the slopesAfter 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 than expected. Nikki and Gard at Mont Fort, at 3300 meterLunch 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 again ;-)

Last night out
Cheese and meat platter at Millenium restaurant in VerbierWe 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 days!

Time to go back home
Our bus from Alpybus to transport us back to GenevaAll 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.

Great self portrait of Gard in the slopes above VerbierBefore 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.

Amazing view from Mont Fort at 3300 metersThe 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!




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