Earlier this month, we took our children to Verbier for their first experience in snow. For an Australian family living in Singapore, the Swiss alpine resort was the source of much excitement.
After a long international flight from Singapore to Geneva and a two-hour drive through the Swiss Alps, we carried our sleeping children inside what would be our mountain home for the next week. The chalet was dark until the electric window shutters opened with the touch of a button and sunlight streamed into the ground floor living room. Through the windows we glimpsed a beautiful setting of deep snow. As the kids stirred, their sleepy eyes grew wide with wonder. They were outside the moment we unbolted the heavy wooden door to the garden, throwing snowballs with cold little hands and squealing in delight. Watching our children’s first freezing experience in snow warmed our hearts and the week only got better.
Why Verbier for a Family Ski Trip?
Verbier is one of the big blue ribbon Swiss ski resorts: it is a vibrant Alpine village located in southwest Switzerland, close to the borders of France and Italy. The place is effortlessly glamorous and characterized by the French language, traditional architecture and spectacularly beautiful views. Hotels, restaurants and shops are concentrated in a relatively compact area, making the streets easy to navigate and explore. Verbier’s perfect position, at one end of the 4 Valleys, enables access to one of the largest ski areas in the world and a huge variety of skiing conditions, from groomed beginners runs to hardcore off-piste itineraries. The village itself is located at 1,500 meters above sea level and the highest summit Mont Fort is 3,330 meters, meaning even with global warming the seasons are long (December to April) and snow is generally plentiful. The secret to Verbier’s success is its broad appeal; you will share a ski lift with Scandinavian ski bums, Swiss bankers, Australian families or British celebrities (Bear Grylls and James Blunt are regulars). The skiing and the après skiing are as diverse as the clientele!
My husband and I were try-hard powder hounds in our youth. The ageing process dictates we ski on piste as much as off piste these days but our shared love for the sport meant we were super excited to introduce our young children to the snow and skiing for the first time.
Getting to Verbier
Verbier is approximately two hours’ drive from Geneva airport or four hours’ drive from Zurich airport. Before we had kids, we would take the train because airport transfers are expensive. However, when traveling with a young family after a long flight, private transport is a worthwhile investment. Over the years, we have enjoyed consistently good service from both Alpybus and Alpine Express.
There is an abundance of family-friendly lodging options in Verbier town, ranging from private chalets to a variety of hotels including the swanky W Hotel, situated in the village epicenter. We rented a chalet and made it homely for the kids by hiring a box of toys and a bouncer chair from Petit Verbier (they deliver!). Petit Verbier is an excellent platform to source babysitters at a semi reasonable price (nothing is cheap in Switzerland!). Be warned though: the babysitting can become indirectly more expensive when you accumulate an après-ski tab whilst off-duty as a parent.
Let’s Hit the Slopes!
With more than 10 ski schools in Verbier, the choice can be overwhelming. We selected the well-regarded Swiss Ski School (Ecole Suisse de Ski Verbier) and our children loved the morning classes. Their group was small and the instructor spoke multiple languages as well as she skied. Having never seen snow before, we were thrilled by our kids’ rapid progress: by the afternoon of day three they skied a blue run with us the whole way down the mountain!
The Swiss Ski School collects children at the main Médran lift station, parents can then conveniently board the gondola and head up the mountain for a morning of skiing. Our favorite morning itinerary started with a warm up around La Chaux and Attelas, then a journey on cable cars up to the top of Mont Fort, a ski down to the challenging Tortin then leisurely back on the piste past Les Ruinettes to Médran, for midday pick-up.
Lunch on the Mountain
There are around 30 mountain restaurants in the Verbier domain, accessible to competent skiers. Restaurants range from self-service eateries to cosy chalets serving Valais cuisine.
For days when you want to ski hard and maximize time on the slopes, the self-service restaurants are the way to go. The meals are a hearty traditional fare, such as pasta, meats, and rostis (Swiss potato dish). All of them are fresh and quick so you don’t spend too much time away from your skis. Beer and wine, including pleasing local varieties, are always available. The atmosphere over lunch is buzzy as serious skiers with colourful clothing enjoy a quick refuel and share stories of their morning alpine adventures amid a backdrop of the spectacular mountains.
But Verbier didn’t become famous for self service cafeterias! For anyone older than 30 the lazier skiing days can actually be a highlight of your trip. A long, long lunch, drinking rosé on a restaurant terrace in the sun, soaking in the stunning views of the Swiss Alps is pretty close to heaven.
There are many excellent eateries with quality table service and a jovial atmosphere. Over the years there have been three restaurants that we continuously return to on skis for lunch:
Le Rouge is nestled at the foot of the piste of the same name. Serving delicious food made daily from fresh produce, the menu will please the whole family as it caters also for children with simple organic options. There is a much celebrated wine cellar and impressive cocktail list to tempt adults. Best to enjoy lunch on the panoramic sun-soaked outdoor terrace, seated on sheep skin downed wooden chairs, overlooking snow covered pine trees.
Le Carrefour, Verbier’s oldest dining establishment, is perched higher on the ski slopes at the top of the Le Rouge lift. The panoramic views from the terrace create a world-class environment to enjoy classic mountain dishes such as meat self-cooked on a hot stone and rostis.
On skis, Chez Dany is just 10 minutes from Les Ruinettes down the Hattey run. The restaurant is inside a genuine chalet where the chefs blend traditional dishes with innovative contemporary cuisine using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The environment is homely and family friendly.
All three restaurants are open after dark and are accessible via snow taxi. A highlight of our holiday was an after-dinner sledge ride down to the village by moonlight!
On days when the kids spent their afternoons off the slopes it would be rude to not join in the après fun. Again the choices for a late afternoon aperitif are plentiful, we often made time for a beer and mulled wine at our favorite spot 1936 which is perfectly situated on the piste between Les Ruinettes and Verbier looking down the valley below. Yurt hurts serve drinks in a funky atmosphere at 1,740 meters above sea level.
On our last day we sat outside on the lounge chairs lazily sipping and watching the sun set over the mountains, reflecting on our holiday: Verbier delivers on so many levels, the size of the mountain, variety of slopes, quality of food and the after dark fun are all world class. More importantly for us though, we found skiing to be a fantastic family bonding activity; the slopes provide a perfect platform to educate children about physical persistence, resilience to the elements, and the absolute beauty of mother nature.
Next month we will lighten the luggage as we are Bali bound for adventures in the sand and surf!