Travel review: Verbier

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 5:46pm

To get some measure of how good the skiing is in Verbier you simply have to meet Australian mountain guide John Falkiner. Falkiner has skied all over the world; when I share a ski lift with him in the resort he has just come back from British Columbia and is about to leave for Kashmir, and he regales me with fascinating accounts of his travels with the Australian and K2 freestyle ski teams, not to mention employment as a stunt skier in a James Bond spectacular or two.

And he chooses to live in Verbier. Falkiner has been there for nearly 40 years, in fact, simply "because the skiing is so good. Sure, it can get tracked out in hours after it's snowed but if you know the place well enough you can always find fresh powder".

I don't know Verbier at all and I find fresh powder as soon as I stumble out of the gondola at the top of the 2,727-metre Les Attelas peak. Twenty centimetres of sparkling powder has fallen overnight and is being rapidly gobbled up by Verbier's mix of enthusiastic piste bashers and hard core backcountry skiers. Powder addicts from all over the planet descend on the resort every winter for its off-piste skiing - you encounter Scandinavians, French, Britons, Australians, Canadians, Americans and many other nationalities in the lift queues.

But you don't have to be a freeride junkie to get your kicks in Verbier - there is something for everyone of any level. The resort is part of the 4 Vallees ski area, linked to the resorts of Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon with 410 kilometres of slopes. (The nightlife is also legendary if you have energy left.)

I am escorted to the off-piste Tortin area by Adrenaline Ski School instructor Adrien Truwant, where we spend the morning floating down steep upper slopes then across gently angled alpine meadows.

The backdrop is as spectacular as the skiing since the region has more 4,000-metre peaks than any other region of Switzerland, not to mention the Mont Blanc massif almost within touching distance.

By 1pm we are ready for lunch at what is arguably Verbier's best mountain restaurant, La Vache. Investors in this pleasing mixture of modern and rustic include former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio, popular crooner James Blunt and former world superbike champion Carl Fogarty. Well-heeled Britons have been a major presence in Verbier since the resort's formative years in the 1950s and '60s, and prices tend to reflect this - my appropriately named "Blunt Pizza" costs 24 Swiss francs (HK$200).

The sun shines on for more afternoon off-piste action before weary legs dictate that we descend to enjoy another Verbier speciality - top accommodation at the resort's newest hotel, Cordee des Alpes.

Owner Marcus Bratter opened the Cordée just before Christmas with the intention of combining the region's mountaineering history with modern international design.

The lovely larch and pine exterior offers a modern take on alpine style, while the rooms feature warm and welcoming decor such as old wood cupboard doors, hand-applied stucco wall finishes, hand-planed wooden plank floors and hand-knotted Nepalese carpets.

I have space to scatter my ski gear randomly around my large lounge before lighting the fire for that essential cosy alpine touch. After a brief snooze on the king-sized bed I face the tricky decision of whether to enjoy a bath or shower in my large and appropriately luxurious bathroom or head off for a massage in the hotel's Spa Cinq Monde.

It's a no-brainer, really, and as I luxuriate in my one-hour Indian Ayurvedic massage and feel the tightness drain from overwrought quads and calves, I begin to see exactly why Falkiner likes Verbier so much. The king of ski resorts is also renowned for its high-end hotels and the Cordee des Alpes is set to be another jewel in its crown.