In Western Switzerland the resort of Verbier is favoured for its spectacular and demanding off-piste terrain. The maximum elevation is more than 3,300 metres at the epic Mont-Fort, and if you’re skilled and crazy enough you begin a black run right off the top of this peak.
But while the most experienced skiers will get the most out of Verbier, there’s still enough for newbies, especially as this resort connects with the Four Valleys for hundreds of kilometres of slopes. When the seasons change there’s no end to the adventure as pistes become mountain biking tracks, and you can spot chamois, marmots and other Alpine wildlife in mountain meadows.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Verbier:
Ascending the highest peak in the Four Valleys is no small feat, but rewards anyone who wants to go the extra mile.
To get to the summit from the village of Verbier you have to catch four cable-cars.
These trips get gradually more dramatic, until at last you’re traversing the Glacier de Tortin on the final 400-metre cable-car ride from Col des Gentianes.
After climbing a stone stairway you’ll be at what feels like the top of the world, taking in the glacier and to Mont Blanc and the Dents du Midi in the west, the Matterhorn in the east and the Rhône Valley to the north.
In winter expert skiers can then shoot off down one of the Alps’ most challenging black runs.
Another of Verbier’s limitless peaks, Mont Gelé crests at 3,022 metres and you can reach the summit by cable-car from Les Attelas.
As the tripoint of the Bagnes, Riddes and Nendaz municipalities, this is the only peak that has 360° views of the entire Four Valleys area.
Mont-Gelé is recommended as an excursion if you want to get the lie of the land, and if you’re an experienced skier you can take on a handful of thrilling off-piste runs.
These are shown on the Four Valleys’ official map as itinerary runs.
You have to walk round to the opposite side of the mountain from the cable-car for the “Grande Journée”, which weaves all the way to Tortin to the south.
Verbier’s ski domain is large enough, with a difference in elevation from 1,500 metres up tor Mont-Fort at 3,300 metres.
But Verbier is also part of the Four Valleys, and grants you access to hundreds of kilometres of runs.
The more experienced you are the more fun you’ll get out of Verbier’s immediate area thanks to the many opportunities to go off piste.
But that doesn’t mean that newcomers are left out on the lower, flatter slopes.
The resort has up to ten ski schools, equipped with instructors who have been skiing in Verbier for a decade or more.
4. La Réserve du Haut Val de Bagnes
Created in 1968, Switzerland’s second largest nature reserve is in Verbier’s boundaries and the summer months are the time to enjoy it on foot.
The reserve has that classic Alpine landscape of bare peaks, lakes and lush pasture, and there are hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails.
To glimpse Alpine wildlife take the six-hour Chamois Trail, which wends through the reserve.
As the name tells you, if you go quietly you’ll have a good chance of spotting chamois picking their way along the rocks, while ibexes and marmots also inhabit the environment and regularly sighted from the trail.
5. Mountain Biking
From June to September you can use the Four Valley’s network of cable-cars and ski lifts to access more mountain biking tracks than you could hope to explore in one holiday.
If you come to the resort without your own set of wheels there are a few hire centres in Verbier.
A decent jumping off point is the Verbier Bike Park, which has a vertical drop of around 700 metres and is served by the Ruinettes gondola.
These trails are distributed across four difficulty levels : Green (10%), Blue (20%), Red (40%) and Black (30%), and the park’s pro rider can give you heads up about the big obstacles.
Hardcore mountain bikers can buy a six-day pass for the lifts for unlimited trips onto Verbier’s trails and pit their wits against “enduro” tracks across the Four Alleys.
6. Toboggan Run
If you’re still wobbly on skis or a snowboard, one activity that doesn’t need any training or skill is sledding.
Where families might be separated on ski runs because of different ability levels, Verbier’s massive toboggan run will bring the clan together.
At 10 kilometres it’s the longest in Western Switzerland and descends almost 850 metres from the cable-car stop at Savoleyres down to Tzoumaz.
The trail is well-groomed and twists down the slope so is flat enough that kids will be able to ride by themselves.
7. Via Cordata
In summer you can now ascend the last few hundred metres of Mont-Fort on foot.
A route with permanent anchorage points has been drawn up over the Tortin and Mont-Fort Glaciers and up the rock face towards the summit.
This was devised by local mountain guides, and requires both hiking and climbing.
It’s worth having a guide with you to make sure you stay on course, but the Via Cordata has been planned in a way to make you feel like a mountaineer in a much safer environment.
The route is two kilometres long and has a difference in elevation of 500 metres.
At the summit you could treat yourself to the “Highest fondue in Europe” at the Igloo de Mont-Fort.
8. Mauvoisin dam
There’s a true mega-structure close to Verbier in the Upper Bagnes Valley.
The Mauvoisin Dam is the eight tallest dam in the world at 250 metres high, and with a width of more than half a kilometre, trapping a maximum of 190 million cubic litres of water.
The dam traverses the valley on the Bagnes stream and was built in the 1950s, mainly to generate hydroelectric power, but also to prevent floods and control the amount of sediment coursing down the valley.
At the top you’ll get photogenic views of the reservoir and the waterfalls that feed it down the steep walls of the valley.
And if you’re in a group you can arrange a guided tour of the facility, Monday to Friday free of charge.
9. More Winter Fun
Verbier isn’t just about downhill skiing in winter.
For rugged ski-tourers, Verbier is a vital stop on the Haute Route, a seven day course from Chamonix to Zermatt.
Less ambitious people and cross-country skiers have a wide choice of trails to tackle, varying in length and difficulty.
If this is something that interesting you there are guides in Verbier well-acquainted with the wilder mountain terrain.
Advanced snowboarders will also be pleased with the range of off-piste runs, and for those who want to take the time to appreciate the scenery, snow-shoeing is the way to go.
Beginners can try the Boucle de Champsec and Sarreyer – Les Creux and La Tzoumaz – Savoleyres, which have light gradients.
10. Activities in Summer
There are two golf courses neighbouring the resort.
The larger of the two is the 18-hole Parcours des Esserts, which is at 1,600 metres and unfurls on the high valley-side.
The narrow fairways mean a hooked drive could easily disappear down the slope.
You can also perfect your short game at the par-3 Parcours des Moulins, which has been here since 1969. Climbers can tackle the sheer walls of the mountains, either with a qualified guide, or on a via ferrata where grips and footholds have been installed.
Verbier has three Via Ferrata courses, all in magnificent scenery and open from July to the end of October.
No matter the season, spas are always an important part of the experience at mountain resorts like Verbier.
You can squeeze in a couple of hours at the end of the day as part of your après-ski ritual, or plan whole intensive day of relaxation and pampering.
The absence of big luxury hotels either at this resort or along the valley at Bagnes make most of these spas small, intimate places to go for massages, saunas and bathing in heated pools, whirlpools and jacuzzis.
The majority are open to non guests, although you will have to book in advance.
There are more than 25 in Verbier and Bagnes, but Bains de Saillon to the north is the pick for families.
Amid vineyards on the right bank the Rhône, this complex has a number of heated pools, hammam, sauna and children’s area.
12. Fondation Gianadda
East of Verbier, Martigny is a simple drive through awesome mountainscapes and has a few things to hold your attention for an afternoon.
The undeniable highlight is the Fondation Gianadda, a sizeable exhibition hall constructed in the 1970s.
This stages regular temporary art exhibitions, and to give you a sense of the standard, there were shows for Munch, Hodler, Monet and Cézanne in 2017 alone.
There’s also a permanent collection of vintage cars, as well as artefacts from when Martigny was a Roman settlement.
For many visitors the best bit of all is outside, where the sculpture garden has pieces by Rodin, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Chagall, Joan Miró and many more 20th-century artists.
13. Verbier Festival Academy
For two weeks at the end of July and start of Augusts, Verbier hosts a feted classical music event.
For 50 budding soloists the Verbier Festival Academy is a learning experience, bringing them into contact with luminaries as varied as Martha Argerich, Lera Auerbach, Julian Rachlin, Piotr Anderszewski and Anoushka Shankar, all of whom have attended the festival since its inception in 1994. For the public it’s a feast of music at a packed programme of concerts across the two weeks.
In 2017 Lera Auerbach, Evgeny Kissin and András Schiff were among the many soloists and ensembles to perform at the festival.
14. Swatch Xtreme Verbier
An event of a very different kind unfolds in March when the Freeride World Tour rolls into town.
Verbier’s reputation as an off-piste destination of the highest order is underlined by this competition in which the world’s best freeriders test their skills on the steepest slopes, cliffs and gorges.
The Verbier stage of the tour is held as the most challenging and technical and takes place on the Bec des Rosses, which has a vertical drop of more than half a kilometre.
As one of the big annual events in the resort, Swatch Extreme Verbier pulls in crowds of up to 6,000. There are also concerts, DJ and autograph sessions to check out.
15. Bagnes Cheese
Zerbier is in the Bagnes Valley, and if you order a raclette or fondue at a restaurant this will invariably be made with local Bagnes cheese.
It’s also delicious on its own, and is made from cow’s milk and has a semi-hard texture with just a few holes.
Raclette, melted cheese, normally served with pickles and cold-cuts, is a real speciality of the Bagnes Valley.
And the dish is such a source of pride that the village of Bagnes stages the “Capital of Raclette” festival towards the end of September.
There’s a big cheese market, selling the many varieties produced in Valais, as well as a parade for the region’s feisty Herens fighting cows.