What can be more beautiful in winter than mountains covered with snow and lots of fresh white powder all around. Add to it hundreds of kilometers of ski (snowboard;) runs and places to go off-piste. Now, for all those of you who love winter sports, this may seem like a paradise, no matter if you’re a snowboarder or a skier;)
4 Valleys is an informal name for a ski (and snowboard;) region in Swiss Alps. You will find 4 main resorts here such as Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon. Most of them are located at an altitude of approx. 1400-1500 and the highest peak in the region Mont Fort rises to 3330 m.. No matter where you stay, you can purchase a pass for the whole area of the 4 Valleys which means about 410 km of slopes. This is really a lot and it makes sense under 2 conditions:
- you’re an advanced snowboarder or skier
- you want to use your time on the slope to the maximum which means starting early and not spending too much time in the bar
Otherwise, a basic pass covering only “your” valley will definitely do. It still means over 100 km of routes to explore.
Verbier (1500 m)
Many professional snowboarders and skiers liked Verbier so much that they decided to move there permanently. Also celebrities and royal family members seem to have fallen under the spell of this picturesque alpine town and come here regularly for winter breaks. They say that princes William and Harry as well as monarchs from Sweden, Denmark and Belgium might be spotted here. Also Richard Branson, James Blunt and many other famous people visit this place frequently. And no wonder since Verbier really is a place to remember, both because of the breathtaking views as well as the conditions for practicing winter sports. You will find here 35 lifts, 33 ski runs and 2 snowparks (covered by the Verbier sector pass). Finally, it is a very well known spot for freeride fans, but I will write more about it later;)
There are obviously many restaurants and bars, a SPA and even a golf course (I guess it’s rather for the summer guests). The prices, however, are… certainly affordable if you’re a royalty;)
La Tzoumaz (1500 m)
If you don’t want to risk bumping into a prince in the street and prefer a more quiet and let’s be honest cheaper place, you can stay in La Tzoumaz. The name of the village is derived from the word “tzoumer”, which in the old local dialect means take a break. And I must admit that it is exactly the place for it. You will find here a 8 seat cable car, 5 chair lifts and 5 drag lifts. There are 12 ski runs in total, most of which are intermediate, however, there’s a very nice and long blue line called Le Taillay that is just perfect for beginner riders. If you stay here you can also enjoy the slopes in Verbier with one pass for the entire Verbier sector (more about skipasses below). It is worth mentioning that unlike Verbier, it is situated on the North-facing slopes so in the afternoon you’ll find better snow conditions here especially at the end of the season. In La Tzoumaz you will also find a skating rink, swimming pool and a 10 km sledge run;)
When to go
The season lasts from mid-December till the end of April, however, for the best snow conditions you should go in February or March. This are obviously also the most busy months (together with the New Year’s Eve period), but still, with so many kilometers of trails, there is no reason to worry about the crowds on the slopes, or lines for the lifts.
Ski runs & lifts
The whole 4 Valleys area boasts over 410 kilometres of slopes and 93 lifts.
Most of the lifts open at 8:45 a.m. and the last ride is between 3:30 and 5:00 p.m. depending on the altitude and the month (the days get longer at the end of the season).
The only slight drawback is that in Verbier not all routes are connected to each other and sometimes to get somewhere you have to use a special bus. This is not a big problem because they run frequently and are free, but for a while you need to jump out of your bindings;)
There is a really cool snowpark in Verbier. It’s exact location is La Chaux (2260 m) and you’ll get there with the La Chaux-Express chair lift.
There are several kickers and rails with different levels of difficulty (from ones suitable for children and beginners to big air) as well as an airbag so everyone can find something for themselves and have fun here. The park is sponsored by Swatch and features a camera system that allows visitors to have their run through the park and on the airbag filmed and then shared on line.
The ski pass for the whole 4 Valleys area covers over 400 km of trails and will allow you to snowboard/ski not only in Verbier but also Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon. A good option for skilled riders who prefer to spend as much time as possible on the slope and not in a bar.
It covers both Verbier and La Tzoumaz sectors which means about 180 km of ski runs. If you choose this option, however, you will not be able to reach the highest peak of the 4 Valleys – Mont Fort (3330 m). The highest you can get with this pass is Mont Gelé (3022 m), which is said to have the best panorama view of the 4 Valleys so don’t forget your camera! Note that if you decide to go up there you will need to take an off-piste ride back down (read more on freeride below).
Savoleyres / La Tzoumaz sector
It covers fewer trails and they are located in the lower parts of the mountains. This could be a good option for beginners who have just started their adventure with winter sports. However, it’s better to check the snow conditions before purchasing it as it might happen that there is not so much snow and the slopes located in the higher parts are a far better option.
You can check the ski pass prices here: https://www.verbinet.com/ski-passes/
There are discounts for children, youth and seniors as well as larger groups. A refundable deposit of 5 CHF is required for the magnetic card.
Verbier is a world famous freeride hub. There are 87 off-piste trails here (according to a guidebook that can be found in the tourist information office). Some of them have really encouraging names like Stairway to Heaven, The Rocky Garden or The Hidden Valley.
What’s interesting is that it is one of the few places where there’s a lift to the top of the mountain with no route down (the before mentioned Mont Gelé, which unfortunately is often closed).
If you’re into heliskiing, this is also a place for you with the nearest landing spots in Rosablanche, Petit Combin and Trient Glacier.
Verbier is also home to the Freeride World Tour Finals – Xtreme Verbier that take place on Bec des Rosses. This is one of the most difficult slopes in the entire Alps with inclination between 55 and 60 degrees.
If you decide to go by car, please note that you might need chains to get there safely.
The nearest airport is in Geneva (app. 160 km) and the second nearest in Zurich (app. 280 km). From Geneva there’s a minibus service during the winter season. Otherwise it’s a bit complicated to get there by public transport. You can catch a train to Martigny but then it’s another (this time regional) train to Le Châble and later a skibuss or cable car;).
The prices in Switzerland are rather high especially in ski resorts during the winter season.
mulled wine on the slope: 5,5 CHF
pizza in La Tzoumaz: 16-18 CHF
If you would like to save some money, you may always go down to Martigny or Sion and do the shopping in one of the cheap markets (Aldi).
Verbier is no doubt worth visiting, especially for those who are into freeride. However, I’m pretty sure that everyone would enjoy this place as there are so many routes to choose from and the views are simply breathtaking!