Skiing Europe: A Baker's Dozen

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Many advanced skiers who've sampled resorts throughout Europe consider Verbier the best of the best. Verbier has earned this reputation for its slopes (steep and challenging), its size (100 lifts connecting four separate valleys), and its setting (nestled among the highest and most scenic peaks in southwest Switzerland). Though Verbier can hardly be called a single-focus resort, it is a destination best suited to skilled skiers. Beginners and novices will find little to ski but short bunny slopes. But, for experts looking for a real challenge, 30-plus-degree gradients through narrow corridors, and unexcelled off-piste thrills, Verbier delivers.

The Verbier resort is the hub of a ski area that comprises the small resorts of Thyon, Veysonna, Haute Nendaz, and Mayens. Verbier proper offers the most modern lifts and longest trails. On Verbier's most expert runs—the Tortin descent from Col des Gentines is one—you'll find gradients of 30 degrees and up, through narrow corridors, requiring quick, perfect turns. Those looking to push the off-piste envelope can sample deep powder and steep chutes on the upper reaches of the ski area. Easier skiing is found in Nendaze and Thyon, where the lifts are a bit slower but the slopes much less crowded, especially on weekends.
Verbier tends to be less expensive in the beginning of January and the end of March, when value weeks are scheduled. During this time you can pay $1,400 for seven nights' lodging in a four-star hotel with two meals a day, a six-day lift pass, and six half-days of instruction; the same package in a three-star hotel costs $1,000. At other times of the year, the most affordable option is to rent a modern, untraclean ski apartment through Verbier's computerized booking system.

Trains run directly from the Geneva airport to Verbier, which lies about an hour's drive from other major Swiss ski resorts and the charming cities of Montreax and Lausanne. For further information, contact the local touristm office (1936 Verbier 1, Verbier, Switzerland. 01141.267.6222).

Situated beneath the Matterhorn, Zermatt is a classic, picturesque alpine village. As no cars are allowed, you arrive in town by narrow gauge railway or horse-drawn sleigh. Zermatt has few equals as a ski destination that will please any level of skier. Beginners can practice on the gentle slopes of the Klein Matterhorn glacier and Gornergrat—real alpine country, not bunny hills. A 12,500-foot cable car ride takes you to the spectacular views at the top of the Klein Matterhorn. From there, descend the glacier (skiable year-round), or cross the ridge and ski down to Cervinia on the Italian side. Zermatt also offers all the excitement an advanced skier could want.

And for advanced skiers? How about dozens of serious chutes and couloirs in the Sunnegga and Gornergrat areas, as well as on the Kumme side of Uterrothorn? Mogul lovers will find plenty to write home about, especially in the Stockhorn and Rote Nasse sections of the Gornergrat. The off-piste options, too, are virtually endless, with deep powder, cornice jumping, and even an overland run to Saas-Fee.

Hard-core adventure skiers may want to sample the Haute Route—a classic backcountry circuit that connects Saas-Fee, Zermatt, Courmayeur, and Chamoix. Skiers must be strong in deep powder and on steep terrain, with the ability to climb 3,000 feet per day on skies. For info on UIAGM-certified guides in the Alps, contact the UIAGM Secretary (Via Suot Chesas 6, Champfer, CH-7512, Switzerland).

Lodging in Zermatt is not cheap. The best hotels—the Mont Cervin and the Zermatterhoff—charge $250 or more per night in mid-season. Cheaper but still excellent are the Hotel Alpenhof and hotel Monte Roas (both under $200). With 10,000 apartment beds in Zermatt, you should be able to find one you can afford. Apartment prices being at $170-235 per person per week, double occupancy add $235 for a six-day lift ticket.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 20 Aug 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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