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Ski Safari in Switzerland’s 4 Vallées

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Having missed last year’s ski season due to COVID, I was desperate to get back on the slopes. It was late March, the days warm and bright, and given that the snow was already gone from the bottom of the valley, I was a little concerned about what state the pistes would be in.

I needn’t have worried: the Swiss have got it sorted. 94% of 4 Vallées is covered by snow cannons, all bar one of the runs were open, and the resort management is confident that the snow conditions will last and that they are still hosting World Championship events here.  

The mountain adventure begins as soon as you fly into Geneva or Zurich. Travelling across Switzerland by train, the landscapes steadily become more and more impressive, and at the first sighting of a snow-capped peak, I was grinning from ear to ear.

The 4 Vallées is the largest ski area entirely within Switzerland. Stretching from Thyon in the west to Verbier in the east, the six resorts which have joined together to create this vast ski area have more than 400 km of ski runs and freeride routes.

You can explore them all on a ski safari, skiing between Nendaz and Veysonnaz whilst your luggage makes the journey by road.

The Valais region in which the 4 Vallées lie is agriculturally rich, and from the windows of the train and then the resort bus I saw not only the cows which produce milk for Switzerland’s famous cheeses, but also large glasshouses, orchards, and extensive vineyards. It was a promising sign that the food and wines would be as good as the skiing.

Nendaz sign

Getting oriented

Ski landscape

View from gondola

Haute-Nendaz, the upper part of the Nendaz resort, clings to the mountainside with summits all around. It’s a large and lively village with hotels, restaurants, and bars clustered around the gondola station.

I checked into Hotel Nendaz 4 Vallées and Spa: the heated indoor-outdoor swimming pool is the crown jewel of this fabulously situated ski-in, ski-out property.

My skis and boots were ready and waiting at Neige Adventure, a local rental company with outlets conveniently located in Nendaz, Veysonnaz, and Siviez so you can pick up and drop off in different places at either end of your ski safari.

I like to orient myself before exploring new mountain ranges, and so headed to the very top of 4 Vallées with ski guides Amandus and Donovan. By a succession of gondolas, chairlifts, and slopes, we ascended to Mont Fort, which is at 3,330m above sea level.

If you have a stiff stomach you can zipline from the top, reaching speeds of 130 km/h, but I prefer to keep my breakfast inside me. It was more than enough of an adrenalin kick to look across at Mont Blanc and the other distinctive summits which make up the skyline in this part of the Alps.

4 Vallées has 67 lifts and uncountable permutations of routes across the ski zone, which explains why many of the guests come back year after year.

The resort of Verbier is, without doubt, the most famous part of this ski area, but its popularity makes it busy and drives up prices. Staying further west has a lot of advantages, not least that you can get to the top of the mountains faster in the mornings, enabling you to be first to ski fresh powder which has fallen overnight.

The Nendaz-Veysonnaz ski safari encourages skiers to explore further afield, with two- and eight-night options available. There’s an intricate web of routes – mostly red slopes – between the two resorts, including a particularly long and scenic way along what in summertime is a mountain road. It’s wide, quite flat, and particularly runs through forest, but there are some fantastic viewpoints en route where you will definitely want to stop, inhale the fresh alpine air, and wonder at the views.    

Chosette

Chosettes restaurant dressed in cowbells

For a longer break, I stopped at Les Chosettes, a large wooden building that began life as a cowshed and is now a restaurant decorated with cowbells and cheese making pans. The sun-drenched terrace is initially hidden from view but is accessed via a tunnel cut into the snow. If you have the forethought to put your swimsuit into your backpack, there’s a hot tub surrounded in snow: soak your tired muscles in the hot water, sit back, and sip on a glass of Champagne or a well-earned beer. 

A World Championship run brings you down towards Veysonnaz in the afternoon. The professionals can apparently make it down alive in around two minutes, but if you prefer keeping your limbs intact, it is probably better to go at a more leisurely pace. Surprisingly, it’s not too steep.

Pretty Veysonnaz dotted with little huts

Pretty Veysonnaz dotted with little huts

Pretty Veysonnaz is much smaller and quieter than Nendaz, unless you happen to be staying on a competition weekend. As you approach the village from the mountain there are plenty of traditional wooden mountain huts, almost all still owned by local families, which they use in summertime. Strict planning restrictions mean that the architecture of the huts is unchanged since they were built generations ago. 

Hotel Chalet Royal is immediately opposite the gondola station and from the rooms and the terrace you have what are arguably the most dramatic views in the Alps. The Rhone Valley, which stretches out before you, gets an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, so when you wake up in the morning the chances are that the sunlight will already be sparkling off the snow. When you are tired from a day of skiing and have drunk your fill in an après ski bar, retreat to the hotel’s hot tub on the terrace. Steam rises off the surface of the water and you’ll stay gloriously warm as the sinking sun turns the mountains opposite a delicate shade of pink before disappearing below the horizon and leaving you underneath a canopy of twinkling stars. 

FACT FILE

FLY: SWISS offers more than 160 flights a week from UK airports to Geneva and Zurich, with one-way fares starting from £54.

STAY: Hotel Nendaz 4 Vallées and Spa: the heated indoor-outdoor swimming pool is the crown jewel of this fabulously situated ski-in, ski-out property. Hotel Chalet Royal is immediately opposite the gondola station.

GET AROUND: Use the Swiss Travel System for onward travel to the 4 Vallées: it includes unlimited travel on public transport in Switzerland, plus free entry to 500 museums and exhibitions. 

MORE INFO: My Switzerland

ALSO READ: Summer Fun in Verbier 

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