My last two days of the season

19th March 2020, by Dave Watts

Dave’s favourite run in the Veysonnaz area – the steep, rolling Piste de l’Ours red, with fab views down to the Rhône valley

Dave’s favourite run in the Veysonnaz area – the steep, rolling Piste de l’Ours red, with fab views down to the Rhône valley

Nicky Holford and I spent the last morning of our ski season in the Veysonnaz/Thyon sector of Switzerland’s 4 Vallées ski area (best known for the major resort at the far end of the area – Verbier). Veysonnaz is a nice little low-key resort (a complete contrast to lively Verbier) with fabulous views down to the Rhône valley and the mountains on the other side. It is based on an old village, complete with church, a couple of hairpin bends below the modern Veysonnaz Station which has the gondola into the skiing and the very convenient Magrappé hotel right next to it, where we stayed.

We didn’t know it would be the last day of the season when we woke. But with news of increased Austrian ski resort closures due to the spreading Coronavirus and with the Swiss government due to make an announcement on the virus that afternoon, we decided at breakfast to change our plans and get flights home that evening (Friday 13 March) rather than the following Monday as planned.

Good job we did – when we are at the airport the Swiss government announced that it was shutting down all Swiss ski areas, so we would not have been able to ski Verbier and Villars as planned had we stayed.

Anyway, Friday morning saw us start on my favourite run in the Veysonnaz area, the Piste de l’Ours (used for World Cup races) – a steep, rolling red run. It was in race condition too – rock hard and icy because of the overnight rain. Not an easy start…

Some of the easy pistes around Thyon 2000

After that we explored the easy blue and red runs accessed from purpose-built Thyon 2000 – the snow here was better because it had been softened by the sun. I loved the long easy black run at the far end too.

After admiring the views by hiking up a few metres from the top of the ancient Greppon Blanc 3 chairlift and a quick lunch at the lovely Les Chottes mountain restaurant, we headed home.

Thanks very much to the Veysonnaz tourist office director Jasmine for showing us around the slopes so efficiently. She was at pains to point out that all the links between Veysonnaz and neighbouring Nendaz (which we had planned to ski in the afternoon) are now covered by snowmaking, and so accessible all season.

The previous day we had explored the little known resorts of Val d’Hérens (the valley between Val d’Anniviers and Veysonnaz) with Doreen and Damian from the local tourist office.

Nicky and Dave looked forward to the Piste des Journalistes on the slopes near Evolène – sadly it was a boring narrow road. The Vendes black and Mt Rouge red were much more enjoyable

First we skied the slopes near the cute village of Evolène which has a narrow, main street lined by rustic old wooden buildings. An ancient double chairlift takes you slowly up to mid-mountain. This is followed by consecutive draglifts to the top at 2680m.

There are really only two runs from there – an enjoyable black that could also pass as a steep red and a genuine red run, both about 560m vertical. Below the top of the chairlift is a winding narrow blue piste on a summer road back to the bottom.

Arolla, 14km up the valley, is in a very spectacular setting with six glaciers at the head of the valley and the border with Italy. Two successive Poma draglifts take you from 2000m to 2890m.

From the top there’s a lovely looking red, starting off down a deserted valley, that goes right to the bottom – sadly, it was closed, presumably because of avalanche danger (there had been many slides in its vicinity). So we had to be content with a narrow black followed by a tough red back to the top draglift (via a another short Poma draglift) and a delightful, easy, wide blue down to the foot of the top draglift. Below the draglift the blue becomes a bit narrower and a bit steeper.

The high mountain scenery of Arolla is spectacular and includes glaciers – the run on the right of this photo is a delightful, easy blue piste

But the snow was delightfully cold, light and powdery. At the top is a basic self-service hut with limited food such as soup and sandwiches, which adds to the high mountain remote feel of the place.

Arolla village is little more than a small collection of hotels, one of which Nicky had stayed in many years ago when bad weather prevented her completing the final leg of the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt and she skied down from hut she’d been staying in to Arolla instead.

So here I am now, sitting in the UK contemplating a truncated ski season. My wife and I were due to be in Zermatt next week but instead we’ll be spending it at home taking in the latest news about the dreaded virus and trying to stay safe.

I wish all our readers a very safe spring and summer too.

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