After introducing his stepdaughter to the joys of skiing last winter, Michael Wolstenholme decided to give her another taste of the high life – staying in two neighbouring resorts in Switzerland’s vast 4 Vallées region
Well, that worked. Giving my stepdaughter her first experience of life on two planks last season resulted in one total ski convert. So now we’ve come to Switzerland to give 10-year-old Chloe her second helping of snow. Our destination, the Valais region, is famous for resorts such as Zermatt, Saas Fee, Verbier and Crans Montana. But we’re giving those high-powered centres a miss in favour of a resort-hopping stay in two family-friendly spots: Veysonnaz and its larger neighbour Nendaz.
Here’s how the two resorts match up…
The quiet, traditional, French-speaking Swiss village of Veysonnaz, perched in the mountains above Sion, is made up mostly of chalets but with the occasional hotel – one of which is our home for the next few days. The lovely Hotel Chalet Royal has an upmarket feel, with catering to match. Alas, my step-daughter Chloe does not share my enthusiasm for the half-board evening meal. Maybe I should have known that the impressive four-course ‘fine dining menu’ would be a bit too sophisticated for a 10-year-old whose preferred ‘haute cuisine’ doesn’t extend further than a Rustlers Burger!
Happily we’re given the option to eat at the Magrappe, the Chalet Royal’s sister hotel, just a two-minute walk away at the bottom of the Veysonnaz piste. The Magrappe is a great place to go for an après ski drink or two, plus it offers less formal dining with Swiss ski classics such as fondue and raclette. They also do a mean pizza, which is a big hit with Chloe.
Sitting at 1,400m, Veysonnaz is not ski-in-ski-out resort, but its fairly small size means you don’t have to trudge very far in ski boots to reach the main lift to the ski area. It also takes you to the ski school meeting point, the nursery/beginners area and an array of different route options for those wanting to get stuck into the 4 Vallées’ 400km of pistes.
So, while Chloe has her one-to-one lessons with the excellent Swiss Ski School, I check out the Thyon area where there are some decent runs and some of the marked freeride ‘itineraries’. These are routes that are neither pisted nor patrolled but are ‘secured’. There are also the options of a run back down to Veysonnaz or even the famous adjacent Piste de L’Ours World Cup course! Perhaps not on day one…
It’s a clear day, and the views over the 4 Vallées and its surrounding assortment of 3,500m plus peaks are incredible.
Her lessons done, I’m keen to head out with Chloe but decide against an epic trip to Verbier, which might result in a frantic rush for the last lift home. That’s the kind of stress no family ski holiday needs…
Instead we head up to the Thyon area again and get a few blues under our belts so I can see how much she has improved after her one-to-one lessons. She’s now able to turn and stop at will!
We pretty much have the slopes to ourselves, or at least it feels that way. This is a huge plus for novices like Chloe as it means she isn’t put off by lots of people flying past her.
Although there does not seem to be much of a British ski crowd, the few Brits I do come across are mostly regulars. Curious to find out why they keep coming back, I seize my chance when at lunch my guide introduces me to Chris and his daughter.
So, why Veysonnaz? “It offers cracking skiing, the views are stunning, there’s a huge amount of terrain to suit all abilities, including lots of fairly safe freeriding itineraries,” explains Chris. “It’s also relaxed, queue-free (even at half term) and the cost of everything from a mountain spag bol to the bottle of wine we’re drinking are half what they’d be in Zermatt.” After a few days here, I’d have to agree!
A 20-minute taxi transfer from Veysonnaz drops us off at the swish new Hotel Nendaz 4 Vallées, where we’re staying for the second half of our holiday. The hotel’s health spa is a big hit with both Chloe and I and includes an ice pool for tired ski legs – which is not for the faint-hearted. My record length of dip is 45 seconds versus Chloe’s 10 seconds! There’s also a salt-water floating pool and a heated pool which extends outside for fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.
While Chloe continues her private lessons, I head for Mont Fort where I can explore the ‘ski itinerary’ areas, along with a morning exploring the extensive runs in the Verbier sector.
One of the highlights of Nendaz is the 3,330m Mont Fort viewing platform, which takes about an hour to reach via two large cable cars. Make the trip on a clear day and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Views don’t come much better than this. You can see into three countries and tip your helmet to Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn among an array of Europe’s highest and mightiest mountains.
The next day while Chloe has a half-day lesson I pop over to Siviez, which is most notable for a strange encounter with a local – an elderly lady who has made the journey up from a village way down in the valley complete with bin liners and a spade.
As if it’s the most natural thing in the world, she is busy shovelling fresh snow into her bags, which she’s planning to take down the mountain, melt and bottle for drinking in the spring. Apparently, the result will be a long and healthy life. I’m too polite to ask her age, but it seems to be working so far…
In the afternoon I ski the immediate Nendaz area and enjoy the fast and winding red run back down to Nendaz. The Tracouet area at the top of the lift up from resort is superb for beginners and kids, particularly as it’s in a fairly flat-bottomed bowl – meaning easy and gentle slopes for those just starting, and some nice short blues to progress on. You can also have a go at snow tubing there, which is a big hit with Chloe!
Spoiled for choice
Nendaz is a big change from Veysonnaz, and you really notice the difference in size between this small town and the village feel of Veysonnaz. But the upside to its extra size and bustle for us is that it’s much more modern, with plenty of new developments. Not least is modern infrastructure, such as the short funicular lift from our hotel up to the main Nendaz lift station. It also has more to do, with a much wider choice of restaurants and shops.
We both loved the 4 Vallées and both resorts. Splitting a week between them certainly works – the only tricky bit might be to decide which one to ski first!