Finding somewhere with world-renowned snow but near empty slopes seems impossible. Not so, writes Chris Sayer.
Skiing in Verbier is likely to come with a complimentary headache. Whether alcohol induced or through calculating how you’ve spent all your Swiss Francs in your first bar, packing aspirin seems a fair compromise for the beautiful conditions the resort is so famous for.
But if this is just too bitter pill to swallow, then pleasure without the pain is only an hour away in Thyon. Included in the Four Vallées ski pass, which links Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Verbier, from Thyon there is 400km of world class piste at your fingertips.
Thyon resembles a typical commuter town: close enough to get in the mix of things, but far enough to escape the crowds. The low-key après-ski keeps the late night noise pollution to a minimum, but can still accommodate those happier lubricating their aching muscles in the handful of pubs such as Joyce O’Sullivan’s Irish bar off the Trabanta lift.
One thing that sets Thyon apart from the rest of the area is the considerably lower accommodation costs. For a fraction of Verbier prices, you can enjoy views of the iconic Matterhorn, Grand Dixence dam and the Sion valley. It is a wonder the resort has managed to avoid becoming spoilt.
It’s become a skiing cliché, but Thyon really can provide for all abilities. The slopes are a great place to teach a nervous ski novice, but also provide substantial challenges for a ten-year carver and off piste beast to really play on. From the motorway blues of Trabanta, beginners can set their sights on the looming Etherolla black run, an ambitious goal.
The number of draglifts on the slopes could, however, pose a problem for edgy skiers. It is possible to have a day’s ski without hitting them, but sooner or later the itch to drop off the back of the valley builds up. And for good reason. The domain there is superb despite the limited sun, it also helps to maintain the snow cover for longer periods of time.
It’s obvious that Thyon has worked hard to compete with its high-priced neighbour. New, quality chalet builds coupled with the recent high speed four man chair, Etherolla, helped visitors make the most of the five-star conditions of last year.
It’s not just the chairlifts that have sped up. With Snow Jet recently announcing new flights from Stanstead to Sion, transfer times are as little as 30 minutes long. But if you land in Geneva, the rail transfer to Sion is a must. Skimming around Lake Geneva is a jaw-dropping, and spectacular way to begin and end your holiday.
What will really strike any first-time guests is just how quiet and open the slopes can be, even to the point of stopping to think “Am I missing something here?” You can’t help feeling smug in the knowledge that over the valley they won’t be enjoying edge-to-edge carving on pristine pistes like you are.
Thyon is the perfect place for those who want to enjoy a moderate après scene and really want to improve their technique, or those looking for an intense but relaxing break. Although you can expect burning thighs in the evening, one thing is for sure: you won’t be nursing too many pains in your head, or your pocket.
Chris stayed at the Chalet Emma in Thyon. Prices start at £3102 for a catered week. For more information got to www.mski.co.uk
Getting There: Snow Jet offer weekend flights from London Standsted to Sion airport, with only a 30 minute transfer. More frequent flights from all over the UK into Geneva, with a rail transfer to Sion which takes 2 hours.
Season Dates: December 5 to April 25
Vertical Drop: 2,100m - 1,515m
Terrain: Over 400km with a 4 Valleys pass.
Longest Run: 4km
Bowls: There is a small park with rails and variety of jumps.
Highlights: Verbier style slopes with a fraction of the crowds and costs.
Bummer: Still quite a lot of drag lifts around the resort, but looking as if they will be phased out over time.