Continuing the story of a Real Aspen Gal’s journey from Aspen to the Alps, this is, “From Aspen to the Alps Part 2: Verbier Off-Piste”. 14 amazing days seeking a different altitude, chasing snow and navigating between the familiar and the foreign.
Day 7- Verbier Off-Piste –
Welcome to the home of the freeride world championships and the 500 meter vertical stage of Bec des Rosses. I will not be skiing this today and can only gaze at this daunting face in the distance and imagine the brave and brilliant technical skiers and riders here just a few weeks ago. I am anxious to get a taste of the expanse of this terrain. Our skins and packs with beacon and shovel are ready and I’m praying my legs are. It has been awhile since I went uphill on skis. I had forgotten what a joy it is to glide with your own power through the wilderness. My guide is Freie Ferse Mike (“free heelin”“ Mike). He works for the Altitude Ski School as a guide including the responsibility of writing their avalanche report. I am in good hands. Our ski day gathers steam as we get off the Col des Gentianes cable car and begin our skin to the backside of Mont Fort. The Hidden Valley awaiting us is full of untouched powder. Stopping for lunch (cheese, bread, salami) on a rock in the midst of this sanctuary, we must not forget it is called Rock Island for a reason. I am surrounded by snow and a dreamland of peaks, glad to be from altitude, healthy and getting this opportunity. We are specks in nature’s panorama. This type of push into challenging terrain triggers gratitude and brings on a unique alertness. The beauty is heart wrenching. Do not let this silence of the vast ranges surrounding us blanket the fact that this region has been full of the sounds of high avalanche danger just a week previous. Mike’s german-inflected “Halt! Halt!” leads us on as he demonstrates his strength with nuanced, quick turns in this backcountry powder. We luck out with our timing skinning up and down, traversing to stores of fresh tracks all day. Our only run-in with the avalanches is the challenge of skiing out through their super-planetary debris. Note- practice that tight, step turn needed on traverse paths that involves momentary first position in ballet with skis attached. We skin back into the ski area only to face more pomas and lifts and more skinning to get us back home. Our tired legs and grins speak for themselves. Humbling, invigorating and…appetite inducing. So, no rest for the weary, I make it to our dinner reservation at, a gem of a restaurant, Carrefour. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Verbier, known for its mountain cuisine. The steak is served with a hot stone leaving the pacing of the cooking up to you. No pepper allowed as that would be like sharing a nice can of bear pepper spray with the crowd. Good to know! Two gentlemen arrive around 8.30 pm in ski gear and headlamps to share plates of Carrefour’s famous rostis and a bottle of wine after a ski day which I am sure rivaled ours and clearly went past dark. This is the life: great mountains, great food. People who love to push limits and reap rewards are drawn to these climes. Sound familiar? I feel at home in Verbier just in time to head to Chamonix and the Mer de Glace of the Vallee Blanche the following day.
Shopping in Verbier
It has been a magical stop. Shout out to: Attitude Verbier (this boutique meets all your off-piste fashion needs), the McConkey burger at The Shed (remember The Trucker at Johnny McGuire’s?), apres at Le Rouge and W, the attentive gear guides at No 1 Sports, champion of local off-piste cred- Xabi Eyheramendy at Xtreme sports, and to Anton Karlsson (anton.adventures on Instagram) – thanks for the aerial view and action shot. Anton sells skiwear at Mountain Air (including kits by our local Aspen favorites the Strafe brothers) to fuel his photography and ski passions.
From Aspen to Verbier
There are parallels to Aspen left and right. People making a life in a place others call a pilgrimage. Muriel Hertig of the Hotel Vanessa catches me at the train station in time to grab a last hug and a forgotten room key. Maybe holding onto it was an unconscious effort to not have to leave. I vow to return the favors of this new extended family, the insider tips, shared stories and hospitality, to the next visitor in Aspen who approaches me asking in broken english “How do I hire a guide?” even if they look like they would be better off sticking to apres-ski than off-piste. Next up…..a lesson in crampons….and 2800m vertical over 23km of The Vallee Blanche….