Superb early season conditions in Verbier

10th December 2013, by Abi Butcher

The snow was good, the sub blazing and Verbier party people were on form

The snow was good, the sub blazing and Verbier party people were on form

I noticed something last weekend in Verbier: only the good skiers come out early in the season. As I did a few warm-up runs down Lac des Vaux at 9.30am on Saturday morning, testing out the knee I (snapped my ACL on 3 March) and also my new skis and bindings, the slopes were relatively empty. The gentle groomed reds and blues down from Attelas were in fantastic condition, and my fellow skiers were carving them up like a bunch of racers.

For the first weekend in December, there was plenty open. It hadn’t snowed for a week but all the pistes were still very well covered — we cruised around Lac des Vaux for a couple of runs then moved on down to Les Ruinettes then La Chaux. The red from the top of Mont-Gelé was a bit icy as you ventured down the path, but worth it as soon as the piste widened out into great skiing, no trace of ice and still quiet in the mornings. Tortin was open, as was Mont Fort, but I had to pull myself away from the temptation of steeps and bumps — it’s been seven and a half months since my ACL reconstruction and my physio James Vickers had sent me off with the warning to treat this weekend as part of my rehab — ie ski gently. I didn’t go off-piste, but the snow was patchy and wasn’t worth it if I could have.

Great conditions in Verbier: on the way down to Les Ruinettes

To facilitate the gentle skiing, I’ve ditched my much-loved Atomic Supercross FX12s this season, which are so heavy and stiff, much like a GS ski, and swapped them for a pair of Zag Big 2Ls mounted with a Marker F10 touring binding. The Zags are a freeride ski but also brilliant on the piste, light and easy to ski. The Marker bindings come very well recommended for their release qualities — very important just now (I snapped my ACL when I fell in rental skis and they didn’t come off).

But back in Verbier, the sun was blazing, the sky blue and the mountains stunning, making it so easy to remember why I love this sport. I would encourage more people to think about pre-Christmas skiing but that would mean busier slopes. You also need a certain amount of flexibility to make a last-minute decision based on the snow conditions, but these days snowmaking is so good everywhere there will undoubtedly be plenty to ski.

By Sunday afternoon, however, the snow started to get a bit patchy lower down. Early last week the tourist office had told me that the new link with Bruson from Le Châble would be open — but alas it was closed. It is due to open next weekend but without any significant snow forecast I think it will be a little while before the excellent tree skiing in Bruson can be enjoyed via a quicker journey.

The other Verbier news this season is the addition of a brilliant new mountain restaurant called Cuckoo’s Nest, above L’Olympique at Attelas. Done out in the style of a cuckoo clock with wooden cogs and little wooden cuckoos springing out of the walls, the restaurant has fantastic views and superb Swiss food. We tried the traditional cheese fondue and it was one of the best I’ve eaten — thick and warming as we sat on the sun terrace looking over the valley.

One of two sun terraces in Cuckoo’s Nest, at the top of Attelas

In the town, a new late-night bar Twin Peaks has opened in place of the Coup d’Etat, in the style of the bar featured in the film Coyote Ugly. Rock music, tequila shots and dancing on the tables is the order of the day — or night — and even so early in the season it was rammed. Both Twin Peaks and Cuckoo’s Nest have been brought to Verbier by Rob Sawyer, the owner of The Farinet, La Vache and the pop-up Pot Luck restaurant.

Less busy on its opening night of Saturday 7 December was the new W Verbier’s bar/club, Carve. It’s a very different style to other Verbier nightspots — all black leather banquets and vodka displays. It’s worth the walk up to Médran though, Liz Mugler the Spanish DJ was picked in London from a panel of judges after a month-long competition, and she’s good. And going into Carve is interesting, too — you climb down some very steep steps and walk through a bright red entrance tunnel. W Verbier has certainly brought a different dimension to a resort that is fast returning to the top of my favourites list. I had to tear myself away on Sunday evening, secretly pleased the Bruson/ Le Châble lift wasn’t open as it gives me a fine excuse to come back soon.

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