Reviewed by Evelyn Spence
Aug 13, 2009
Trace a line formed by Maine's State Routes 16, 27, 4, and 142 and you will encircle some of the state's highest mountains. In the southern part of the circle you'll find the long, impressive mass of Saddleback Mountain, from whose summit drop the twisty, wooded trails of Saddleback the ski resort.
Sugarloaf boasts 138 trails, 15 lifts, and a bustling village at the base.
Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day.
A few Verbier factoids: The British-run Pub Mont Fort sells more beer than any other bar in Switzerland. You can buy USA Today at the grocery store. The 4 Vallées ski area is strung with almost 100 lifts—and in super-deep years, you can ski from the summit of Mont-Fort 8,200 feet down to the village of Le Chable. (Watch out for grapevines near town.) Surrounded by Euro classics like the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, Verbier has enough terrain to keep freeriders busy for years: shoulder-scraping chutes, mile-long mogul fields, and massive, powder-choked valleys. Sure, you’re more likely to meet an English-speaking Swede or a French-speaking German than a true Swiss local—but with 255 miles of skiing, who cares?
Powder Day: If avy-prone Mont-Gelé is open, head to the top of the tram and billygoat the chutes striping the front and back side. Otherwise, continue on to the summit of Mont-Fort, drop 4,200 wide-open feet to Tortin, and zigzag back to Creblet, above Lac des Vaux. You’ll need a guide (Maison du Sport, maisondusport.ch/eng).
Three Days Later: From Attelas, head skier’s left and follow the signs to Vallon D’Arbi—a shaded gully that funnels 4,000 feet into the village of Mayens-de-Riddes.
The Riding: With so much hike-to, traverse-to terrain, Verbier isn’t especially snowboarder-friendly. Stick to Mont-Gelé for vertical or test your reflexes on the body-thrashing boardercross at La Chaux.
Must Hit: With guts—and a guide—hike from the Col des Gentianes to the 50- to 55-degree slivers of Bec des Rosses, the site of Verbier’s annual Red Bull Xtreme snowboard comp.
The Stash: Hike across the summit of Mont-Fort to the north face, where 40- to 50-degree faces like B52 and Poubelle (unnamed on the official trail map) tumble 4,900 feet to the Lac de Cleuson dam.
Backcountry Access: With no ropes, boundaries are a blur. Day-trippers, head east from La Chaux and follow the Haute Route to the steeps of Col du Rosablanche. Overnighters, summit 12,000-foot Petit Combin and ski the west face to the village of Bourg St. Pierre.
Weather: Locals claim that global warming has pushed the jet stream—and its once common November and December dumps—farther north. Hold off until early February, when Atlantic-born storms unload as they bump into the Alps.
Après: Swedish receptionists grinding with royalty in swanky clubs. Wasted Brits slurping Guinness with wasted Americans. In Verbier, the party culture is totally international and utterly unavoidable. Succumb.
Fuel: Get big American–style breakfasts and rendezvous with locals at Offshore. With 1920s–themed lounges, The Kings serves French-Asian fusion dishes such as monkfish bourguignonne.
Up All Night: Sip wine on the deck at Fer a Cheval, then wobble to Pub Mont Fort for shots. Try Club Taratata for techno and twentysomethings; for live music, swing by the Farinet; and for swank, don’t miss Farm Club, where vodka bottles line the bar.
Digs: Try The Bunker (thebunker.ch), “the first atomic proof hostel in the world!” You get a cozy cement room, continental breakfast, and access to a swimming pool for US$42. The Verbier Lodge (from US$320; verbierlodge.ch) has log beams and a sauna—and it’s a two-minute walk from Médran,
Verbier’s main tram.