By NEIL ENGLISH
Picture postcard: The resort of Verbier offers full-on hustle and bustle
Where do you go if you’re looking for the perfect place for some family skiing fun at Christmas? Most Brits head for the famous resort of Verbier, for its wealth of terrain and its high-octane nightlife and full-on hustle and bustle.
However, for many young families all this can be overwhelming, despite the allure of its fabulous slopes.
But there is a Swiss ski resort you can go to – very close by but missed by most of the British Verbier crew – where on Christmas Eve Santa paraglides in and hands out gifts galore to the children and the mood is much more homely and authentic.
The Christmas destination for the discerning skier is Nendaz, located in the heart of the Four Valleys ski area, which includes Verbier on its fringes. It is relatively new to the British market and increasingly referred to as the ‘thinking man’s Verbier’.
Nendaz sits conveniently between Verbier and Veysonnaz and below Siviez, which lies further up the valley at 5,676ft, and the purpose-built cluster of now tired-looking apartments of Thyon, 6,562 ft up the ski slopes. Precious few skiers venture from Verbier over to Nendaz or the other Four Valleys ski sectors, thereby wasting their expensive, all-areas ski passes. Conversely, the bulk of Nendaz’s skiers are well placed to explore the whole area, get to lunch in Verbier if they wish and ski back in time for tea.
Families can have a great time if they stay within the Nendaz ski sector, which enjoys 43 miles of its own groomed slopes, plenty of off-piste and 17,000 tourist beds, mostly in self-catering apartments. Specialist chalet company Ted Bentley added even further value to my Nendaz visit.
Pristine: The slopes and chalets at Villars have opened for the new season
Founded by fellow British ski enthusiast and entrepreneur David Merrifield (Ted is his son), this company has neatly filled a niche in the Nendaz market with a portfolio of four luxurious chalets all managed with friendly but painstaking care to make ski holidays as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
Ted Bentley will ferry you to the lifts in the company’s own bus. Each chalet offers great views and has a soothing hot-tub or sauna and professional chefs to guarantee delicious fare at breakfast, tea and dinner. There are also fine quality wines, many of which come from these parts as the canton of Valais is Switzerland’s largest wine producing region. The ensuite bedrooms are adorned with Egyptian cotton sheets and there are warm robes for all.
If you are travelling with young children, Ted Bentley have their own nanny service and will happily shop locally in advance, at supermarket prices, for nappies and formula milk products so that you can keep the space in your suitcase free for ski gear and other essentials.
For more information on their chalets, see www.tedbentley.co.uk or call 01934 820854. Chalet Alice, sleeping eight, is available on full chalet board from January 15-22, from £695 per person. Chalets can also be booked on a room-only basis.
Return flights with www.snowjet.co.uk from London Stansted to Sion for that week cost from £179 per person. Flights from London Gatwick to Geneva with www.easyjet.co.uk start from £42 per person. Allow approximately £70 per adult for the return train fare to Sion from Geneva.
There is another option for a Swiss Christmas. About an hour’s drive away in the neighbouring canton of Vaud is Villars, which officially opened its Christmas market, ski lifts and slopes for the new season yesterday. And for the first time in its long history the most vulnerable, low-lying pistes have opened with the help of a brand new artificial snow-making system.
To celebrate this expensive upgrade, which is designed to guarantee snow runs in and around Villars, all visitors were invited to ski the opening Saturday for free.
Villars aficionados are already eagerly anticipating the 13th edition of the 24-hour charity ski race which was established and is still supported by Formula 1 motor-racing teams.
Fundraiser: Villars's annual 24-hour ski race
The event involves recreational and semi-professional teams of four to eight people skiing for a 24-hour period in relay, doing as many laps as possible to raise money for excellent causes. Many are British charities, helping the disabled or young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The driving force behind the huge success of the event has been Barbara Pollock, former wife of Craig Pollock, ex-director of the British American Racing F1 team.
Sadly, Barbara lost her long battle with breast cancer in spring this year. In January, when she attended the 12th annual 24-hour event, Barbara said: ‘Regardless of what happens to me, I very much hope this event goes on without me.’ Her legacy lives on in spectacular style.
There are still places to register a team for the 13th event which takes place over the weekend of January 15 and 16.
For more information visit www.bcv24hvillars.com, call +41 2449 54138 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
By NEIL ENGLISH