This is question we get asked a lot in our ski school.
“Is Verbier good for beginners?”
People ask our team in the office when they’re booking ski lessons, and they ask our ski instructors all the time.
We think that, when you look at it, there are usually three reasons that people ask:
The first reason
Firstly, people want to make sure they’ve picked a decent resort to learn in.
After all, being new to a sport and usually new to the geographical area (ie. up a mountain) means that you have absolutely no idea what is ‘normal’.
And you don’t want to get it wrong – for yourself or for someone who’s coming out.
After all, learning to ski feels tricky at times – but is it tricky for everyone? Is it tricky for me for a reason? Would a different resort and different terrain make it less tricky?
The second reason
Next is Verbier’s reputation.
Verbier has massive reputation as an ‘advanced’ ski resort.
People are always talking about famous off-piste routes, itinerary runs, famous peaks, the Freeride World Tour. The list goes on.
So when you hear all of this, and you see the promotional adverts with people skiing fast and off-piste, it’s easy to imagine you’re turning up at the wrong place…
The third reason
Finally, when we get asked the question it’s often by people who actually know Verbier very well – but are themselves advanced skiers.
You might think that means they could already answer the question.
But once you’ve become a good skier, it’s very hard to clearly remember what it was like to learn.
That’s especially true if you no longer visit the beginners areas or spend any time on the easier slopes any more…
IS VERBIER GOOD FOR BEGINNERS? HERE ARE OUR 4 IMPORTANT FACTORS
1. Is it perfect terrain? (Is anywhere?)
To answer this it’s best to tell you about how beginners lessons work in Verbier.
Verbier has a beginners area at the top of the village, a short bus ride from the main lifts.
Most of our lessons start at the Medran lifts (where you get access to the majority of the higher and more advanced ski areas). So we hop on the Number 2 bus and five minutes later we’re ready to go at Les Esserts.
The slope has two parts – a gentler shorter side that is serviced by the magic carpet.
Then there is the longer, undulating slope that is steeper and runs along the side of the drag lift.
The top of the magic carpet is too steep to go to straight away, so all beginners lessons start on the flat area at the bottom.
How flat is it? Well, in the summer it’s a putting green on the golf course.
From there you can gradually progress and when you are ready (having mastered a controlled snowplough) you can head to the magic carpet.
And after learning how to steer your skis on that slope you might be ready for the drag lift and the longer slope.
So is it perfect?
Well, it’s perfectly good.
But if you gave us a bulldozer and we didn’t have to stick to planning law, most ski instructors would iron out the undulations, make it more consistent and regular.
We’d make the area wider and have more flat space for you to get started on.
Plus, as it’s at the top of the village but at low altitude (1,500m) we’d teleport it up the mountain a few hundred meters. Because if the snow is late in December or if the spring is hot, Les Esserts can rely on artificial snow to get you started.
But after 20 years of teaching there I, personally, have had time to think about (and over-think about) how it could be made better.
And most instructors in most resorts would be able to point out the short-comings of their home beginners area. It’s easy to criticise
However changes are coming – see below.
2. Terrain isn’t as important as timing
Like anything, if you do too much too soon you can get into trouble.
It’s vital to make steady progress – and not dive in to a new area that might be more than you are ready for.
Verbier is a great resort – but it has plenty of places that can trip you up if you aren’t ready.
After becoming capable on Les Esserts we usually progress to a blue run up the mountain – like Savoleyres or Lac des Vaux, depending on conditions.
However both these options are a big step up from Les Esserts.
So we always encourage learners to hone skills on Les Essertes and make sure they’re completely comfortable with their newly acquired skills before they move on.
3. Location, location, location…
Bigger factors in learning to ski are the conditions and the snow – so the position of the beginners area.
Verbier has – as mentioned above – got extensive snow making systems.
That means if snow is in short supply, the lift company get the snow cannons running on cold nights, stockpiling snow on the beginners slope.
So before you worry about Verbier being good for beginners you have to ask what are the alternatives?
Many resorts have beginners areas at higher altitudes. So snow is more certain.
But get above the treelined and the dreaded white-outs can make skiing far more difficult.
Equally there are many resorts with lower beginners area – but if it isn’t supported by good snow making you can end up with a rather ‘agricultural’ introduction to skiing.
In Verbier our beginners area gets a lot of sun – it’s tough on snow and makes it pretty warm come April, but it also means you aren’t spending a day shivering in the shade.
You can always warm up when the sun comes round, and the cafe next door is rather convenient for the odd hot chocolate.
4. It’s not about ‘where’ – it’s about ‘who’
Ultimately where you are doesn’t matter as much as who you are with.
If you are in expert hands then all the decisions are made for you at the right time.
When do you go up the magic carpet?
When are you ready for the drag lift?
How long do you stay there?
When is it time to get on a bubble and go somewhere new?
All these questions are vital – so asking an expert makes life a lot easier.
So your choice of instructor is really, really, really important.
Naturally, we are prejudiced, but we know that an experienced, well trained and highly qualified instructor who knows the terrain inside out is the most important factor in learning to ski.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Verbier or anywhere else, if you have the right person by your side (or in front of you, to be precise) you can conquer anything.
So, is Verbier good for beginners?
Short answer – Yes.
Is it the best? Probably not.
But if you’re skiing with the right people then it doesn’t matter you in the best resort or the second best resort or anywhere else.
But there’s more thing…
There are changes afoot.
The new Savolyeres lift is approved and construction is expected in the summer of 2024.
This news lift will have a midpoint where you can get off the bubble – and that’s where the new beginners area is planned.
It’s’ a wider, flatter area with a consistent pitch and it sits on a plateau about 200 meters higher than Les Essertes.
So it really sounds like it will be pretty prefect for beginners.
Plus, when you stop for that hot chocolate, the views will be absolutely amazing…