The pass is a sweet deal that provides unlimited access for skiers and snowboarders to eleven stellar Vail-owned resorts in Colorado, Utah and California (Vail, Breckenridge, Canyons, Northstar, Heavenly, etc.). But read the fine print about using the pass to “ski the world” and you’ll start to salivate about where else this little piece of radio frequency-embedded plastic can take you.
If you're a skier like me who loves adventure and international travel, the Epic pass is a magic ticket, providing for a whopping 15 days of lift access (five consecutive days at each resort) in the legendary ski regions of Les 3 Vallées in France, Austria's venerable St. Anton, and Verbier-Les 4 Vallées in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. (New for the 2014-15 season, the pass is also good for five days of skiing at Japan’s Niseko United. St. Anton is tentative at press time for the 2014-15 season.)
For me, it screamed “use it or lose it!” So, after a quick search of frequent flier ticket options revealed a nice deal from SFO to Geneva on American Airlines and partner British Air, and some internet sleuthing turned up a great small hotel—the Phenix—for a decent price (including hearty Swiss breakfasts of croissants, fresh eggs, yogurt, muesli and, of course, fine Swiss cheese), I took the plunge and said allons-y! to a late season road trip to Verbier and the Alps.
In late March, I headed out for my ski adventure nonpareil. Seventeen hours of air travel and a two-hour ride on the airport transfer “Alpy” bus travel plunked me in the charming Swiss village of Verbier. Instantly, I was immersed in a lively stew of French-speaking locals, Brits, French, German and Italian Swiss, Dutch and Scandinavians. It sure didn’t feel like home anymore, and it was the start of an unforgettable week of over-the-top skiing in the Swiss Alps.
Skiing the top of the world
Perched on a sunny plateau in the heart of the mountains, with its slate-roofed chalets, Verbier has carefully maintained its charm as an alpine ski village. It's the gateway to the renowned Les 4 Vallées ski area – a vast ski arena with nearly 100 lifts and more than 400 kilometers of ski runs for all levels of expertise. Mont-Fort, the highest point of the ski area (3,330 m), offers a dizzying panorama over the Matterhorn, the Combins and the Mont-Blanc ranges, and you can actually ski from the top all the way to the village—almost 2000 meters of vertical descent.
Verbier is renowned for vast terrain and its off-piste and backcountry skiing and snowboarding (guide services are available). It's Swiss skiing at its best and a must-do, bucket list destination for expert skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. It has something for everyone, from the intermediate runs off La Chaux , Fontanet and Attelas gondolas to extreme steeps off the top of Mont Fort.
The resort is especially popular with the British, Dutch and Scandinavians, who come here in droves to ski hard and then hit the numerous pubs and mid-mountain restaurants that offer leisurely Alpine-style meals and beer breaks and a chance to soak up the Alpine ambiance. Après-ski pubs dot the village and often feature live music and DJs spinning the latest sounds. It's really one big Swiss-style party.
Lodging in Verbier ranges from comfortable family-run hotels to rental chalets, to high-end luxury properties such as Richard Branson’s The Lodge. The W’s wonderful new property, the W Verbier, is situated directly across from the Medran gondola. This upscale lodge pampers guests with supremely comfortable guests rooms and apartments, ski valets, an ultra modern tapas bar, and the gastronomique Restaurant Arola, featuring the Spanish-influenced cuisine of Michelin-starred chef Sergio Arola. The restaurant opened in December 2013, and features the same sleek modern interiors and contemporary menu as his namesake restaurant in Paris such as carpaccio of langoustines, oxtail ravioli and the signature patatas bravas Arola. Other restaurants around the village offer traditional mountain cuisine, like raclette, rosti and fondue—a must for the complete Swiss Alpine experience of a lifetime you'll find in Verbier.
For complete information on travel to Verbier and other destinations in Switzerland, see www.myswitzerland.com.