Ski touring: the quiet side of Verbier

10th February 2020, by Abi Butcher

The Swiss ski resort of Verbier minus the crowds: the back of Col de la Chaux

The Swiss ski resort of Verbier minus the crowds: the back of Col de la Chaux

I’ve just returned from a brief trip to Verbier, to ski with the famous Xavier De Le Rue (three-times Freeride World Tour Champion, four-times World Boardercross Champion and Verbier ambassador) and then two days of ski touring. Chicken soup for the soul…

We were lucky with conditions. Verbier, like much of the Alps, has suffered with little snow, rain up to above 2000m last weekend and then high winds, so conditions were fairly unstable. As well as its growing chi-chi reputation, the resort is known for its steeps and awesome freeride territory — it’s where the Freeride World Tour was born, out of the Xtreme Verbier which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. Knowing that not everyone can afford a guide, Verbier has for many years had a host of itinerary runs which are effectively ‘controlled’ off-piste runs. They’re marked with yellow pegs, and you know you’re ‘safe’ (as safe as you can be on any mountain run) to ski the powder and more difficult terrain without a mountain guide.

Xavier and our mountain guide Christian (from Guides de Verbier) took us up to Mont-Gelé (3023m) to ski one itinerary, after a few warm-up burns down the piste. Off-piste in Verbier gets tracked out pretty quickly but we found some fresh powder and it was great to finally get back into the steep, challenging stuff after a month away from skiing. (I know, a ski writer’s job is a tough one). My last trip was to Siberia where the waist-deep powder was so light and fluffy it was too easy!


Snowboarding legend Xavier De Le Rue at the top of Mont-Gelé

After lunch in Le Dahu (excellent pizzas and salade de chèvre chaud) we headed up Mont-Fort (3330m), and dipped off skiers left onto a face that did need to be skied with a guide. There was a tricky entrance via a little couloir, which opened out into a nice apron with soft powder at the top, but which quickly turned to icy rubble – debris from an avalanche the previous week.

We didn’t make it down in time to catch the cable car back up, so put on skins to climb up to Cabane du Mont-Fort, a famous mountain hut in the middle of the Verbier ski area which is rammed during the sunny day times. The balcony has spectacular views, the food is quick and simple and delicious and homemade cakes and desserts pretty legendary in these parts. Daniel, the guardian, has been looking after the hut for 40 years and he’s an old hand at feeding hungry ski tourers — this is a stop for skiers doing the Haute Route between Zermatt and Verbier, and it’ll be busy this year as teams practise for the infamous Patrouille des Glaciers in late April.


Approaching Cabane du Mont Fort (left) on skins in the late-afternoon sun

As mountain huts go, this is a pretty cushy one. While some are freezing and you have to take your own food and sleeping bags, Daniel provides bedding, there’s a hot shower and a fab menu of filling food (we had cheese fondue and rosti — when in Switzerland and all that…). The dorms are small (rooms with two and four available) affording a good night’s sleep, and breakfast was muesli and delicious fresh bread and jam along with tea and coffee. Just what you need in advance of a day’s touring.

We left at 0800 and skinned up a cold, perfectly groomed piste, directly upwards to the Col de la Chaux. It took about an hour to climb up and as we hit the top, a huge, quiet, snowy valley opened up in front of us without a soul in sight. As Verbier got gradually busier behind us, we skied down a gentle face, traversed along and began another, gentle tour up to the Col de Momin, with the south face of Mont Fort to our left. It was a climb of about an hour and a half in beautiful sunshine — spring-like conditions that were such a contrast to the pouring rain just a week earlier.


Peace and quiet: skinning up Col de Momin

We were rewarded for our efforts with fresh, untracked powder all the way down to the dam at the back of Verbier. A slightly arduous bit of poling beside the dam was offset by the beauty and silence of the surroundings. We stopped for a swig from our water bottles before setting off back down a cat track, then road, to Siviez (1730m), part of the 4-Vallées ski area that Verbier is linked with. Busy pistes always seem such a stark contrast to the quietness of going off-the-beaten track — as did our lunch rendez-vous in Le Mouton Noir with pals who had been piste skiing all morning. Then back to our comfy, central lodging at the three-star Hotel Ermitage.

I’ve been coming to Verbier for more than 20 years — since doing a season here aged 19 — and it never fails to disappoint. The one thing that did surprise, however, is that the touring skis we were on were from the local Intersport shop, Philippe Roux Sports. The kit – Movement Vertex skis, Fritschi bindings and good-quality Pomaca skins — was all brand new. I took my own Scarpa Gea boots but my friends Paul and James hired, and their Movement boots were equally new and there wasn’t a blister in sight.


Our brand new Movement Vertex skis from Intersport

My impression of rental kit is that it’s worn out, over-used and scratched; yet this completely proved me wrong. The skis were brilliant – for a super-light set up they held well when carving on the piste and coped with crud pretty well when we hit dodgier conditions. I am normally surgically attached to a pair of Volk 100 Eights that I bought two seasons ago, but having flown from Southampton airport in a tiny twin-engined Flybe plane, I couldn’t bring my own with me. If every rental shop has kit this good there would never be a need. So, Intersport, I applaud you!

For more information on Verbier, which just keeps getting better and better, visit verbier.ch

If you’re heading to France to ski this winter, we’ve teamed up with Intersport France to offer Where to Ski and Snowboard readers a brilliant 50% off their rental when booked in advance using the offer code WTSS. Click here for more details.



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