You know the old travel cliché: if you want to know where to visit, buy a guidebook; if you want to know what’s worth visiting, ask a local. Well, we believe the same applies to skiing, only more so. Think about it: even the best-drawn piste maps struggle to show how mountains fit together, and they often miss out off-piste valleys, where the best powder is to be found, altogether.
TripAdvisor restaurant guides can’t really be trusted, and as useful as they are, Google Maps’ knife and fork symbols can’t ever capture a café’s vibe, or tell you if there’s a cool cover band playing in a particular bar, on a particular night. With that in mind, when we set about compiling a guide to the highlights of Switzerland’s Valais region, we thought we’d go straight to the source. We asked four locals, from a variety of different backgrounds, to tell us what they love most about four of the region’s most storied resorts.
Skiing in Nendaz-Veysonnaz
Nendaz is a large, modern ski resort in the heart of the Swiss Valais region, with superb access to some of Europe's best slopes in Les 4 Vallées, some fantastic freeride, guaranteed snowfall, and skiing up to 3,330m. Lift-linked to its more famous neighbour Verbier, Nendaz is more laid-back and ‘grounded’, making it a good choice for families.
The resort sits between Verbier and Veysonnaz, and is 8km down the mountain from Siviez and Thyon. The modern centre - a mix of mainly chalets, apartments and small hotels - is just up the road from Haute-Nendaz, a rustic hamlet of old buildings and a lovely baroque chapel.
Les 4 Vallées has 410km of pistes, though beginners will probably prefer the ‘local’ Printse area ski pass with its 220km of easier slopes. For experts, the big attraction of this area is the seven marked freeride areas. The views, overlooking the Rhône Valley, are stunning and ample reward for those who take the time and trouble to find this lesser-known corner of the region.
Introducing Amandus Amacker, Nendaz-Veysonnaz
Amandus Amacker, the longest-serving ski instructor at the Ecole Suisse de Ski in Nendaz-Veysonnaz, is universally known as ‘Ami’. He claims it’s just because it’s easier to pronounce, but ask his friends or clients and they’ll tell you it’s because he’s everyone’s best ami. Originally from the German-speaking part of the Valais, he moved to Nendaz more than four decades ago, and never left. His grown-up son, Richard is now fluent in three languages, and a professional skier. Here, Ami senior explains why Nendaz had him hooked from day one.
When was the first time you visited Nendaz? And what were your first impressions? I first came here in 1975, so a very long time ago—I was still young [laughs]. I was doing some work building houses, but my dream was to teach skiing. I came here to work on a house and looked around and said: ‘Okay, here’s a nice place, maybe next winter I’ll try to come back’. In 1976, I came back and they accepted me on the instructor course. Of course, Nendaz was very different back then. When I started, there were just 17 ski teachers in the Ecole Suisse de Ski here, and after ten years that had grown to 40 or 45. And then, in the early 80s they connected everything with Verbier and the other resorts [Bruson, La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon] to create the 4 Vallées.
You’ve lived here for nearly 50 years. What is it you love the most about it now? The people in Nendaz have always been very open and welcoming. I also like the way you have people coming from all over the world, all these different cultures. I get to teach people from all over Europe, from America, that’s just fantastisch. And naturally the ski area—that’s the greatest.
What makes the ski area so great? Well, I am a little bit of—how do you call it—a patriot? [Laughs]. I think it’s the best ski area in Switzerland. Of course, there are others that are good too, but I know everything so well here, so when the weather is good I go perhaps to one side, or when it’s bad, I change and go to the other.
So where do you go when the weather is good? When there’s fresh powder for example? Plan-du-Fou / Prarion is a really good freeride area. It’s a massive bowl, so you can start in the morning on one side, and then work your way around the bowl as the sun moves, to make sure you’re always catching the snow at the perfect temperature. Lots of Nendaz-Veysonnaz is good for freeriding though, because we have a lot of north-facing slopes, which helps the snow stay cold and softer for longer.
Where’s the best run for when the weather’s bad? I think the Alpage piste, because you are among the trees, and so the visibility on the ground is much better than if you go higher up. It’s really hard to ski when you can’t see anything [laughs] but on the Alpage you can see even when the visibility is bad.
Nendaz-Veysonnaz in numbers
Ski area: 410km
Altitude range: 1,371m - 3,300m
Resort height: 1,400m
Where to stay in Nendaz-Veysonnaz
The new Mad Mount Hotel combines minimalist, modern interiors with a welcoming bar and excellent spa facilities.
Where to eat in Nendaz-Veysonnaz
“My favourite place for lunch is Combatseline,” says Ami. “My friend is the boss there, the food is always varied, and really good. And don’t forget the penché - it’s something special.”
Restaurant La Chotte de Tortin
Tortin's new restaurant is located right at the bottom of the Freetrack des Gentianes. This brand-new complex can accommodate up to 200 customers indoors and 200 outdoors in a beautiful alpine setting. La Chotte de Tortin offers typical regional dishes made from local ingredients, available on the menu or as self-service options
Le Mont Rouge, Veysonnaz
Located opposite the upper station of the Veysonnaz gondola, at about 2,200m, the Mont Rouge lets you choose either self-service or a fine dining table service.
Where to après in Nendaz-Veysonnaz
With direct access from the Tortin ski slope, the Yetibar is the ideal place for a well-deserved après-ski after a great day's skiing!
The Edelweiss bar, at the foot of the Tracouet ski slope, hosts live concerts and, of course, has its not-to-be-missed 'Happy hour'.
Must-do’s in Nendaz-Veysonnaz
Fly over the Tortin Glacier on the Mont4Zipline, the highest in the world, starting at Mont-Fort. With a top speed of over 100km per hour, those looking for an adrenalin rush will have a 1.4km descent to enjoy
Like to head off-piste? Ski the Freetrack Col des Gentianes (freeriding on a secured area in Nendaz).
Indulge in some ski touring with the five Movement Tracks, each tailored to a different level, for easy progression.
For families, there’s the Tortin toboggan run, a challenging descent of 300m over a 2.2km course.
Chill and unwind at the Spa des Bisses with its suite of saunas, two pools, indoor Jacuzzi, fitness centre and seven treatment rooms.