Verbier: Infinite Playground
by Jonathan Peacock, posted 25 July 2018
Follow JRtB on Twitter @justridethebike
What’s the smart way to get more from your summer mountain biking and activity holiday in Verbier? Jonathan Peacock explains how you get hold of a Verbier VIP pass, where you can use it and why you should choose Switzerland for your next thrill (or chill) seeking adventure.
A two hour commute from Geneva airport and you arrive in the picturesque resort of Verbier. It’s July and the sun is high in the sky, the snow has disappeared after record snowfall at the beginning of the year and there’s a feeling and smell of rejuvenation in the air with the alpine vegetarian growing fast and green. Look carefully and you can see trees felled by the snow falls of the winter.
The snow capped mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop to this Alpine paradise. The roads are tight and like a bike trail they constantly switch back on themselves to deal with the severe gradient. The views like most in the Alps are incredible with aa dramatic depth of field and more points of reference than the snow covered version usually seen in the winter season. Add in the grazing cattle and their cowbells providing some stereotypical context. It is everything you’d expect.
Arriving in Verbier you notice the tranquility, the cleanliness and the chilled vibe. Very little traffic, no hustle and bustle just sun, smiles and a peaceful pace of life. Time to shake it up and ride some trails or [shred the gnar] as my hairy mountain bike friends call it.
I am told that the best way to do this is with a VIP pass. So, first task is to discover what the VIP pass is, and where and how do I get it ?
Becoming a VIP
The Verbier Infinite Playground Pass [or VIP pass] is issued free of charge to all guests staying a minimum of one night in the region and paying the tourist tax [4 CHF] approx £3. Your hotel or accommodation provider will issue you with the pass. A free “Bikers Guide” map is available at the tourist offices or at the mountain lifts departure station. The map boasts more than 800 km of mountain bike trails, cross-country, enduro and downhill across Verbier, Val de Bagnes and La Tzoumaz.
The decision is simply what type of riding do you want to do.
As easy as Green, Blue, Red and Black (and Orange)
The colour coded system allows you to select an appropriate route for yourself and the people you are riding with. A lot like the UK, the bike park will provide great fun. It’s close to the lifts and after exploring the region and working up a sweat on the XC trails the bike park is a true adrenaline rush. The mountain biking signage is limited, but armed with the free map and the simple colour coded trail grading system it’s pretty straightforward.
Green means family friendly trails with wide, smooth, consistent surfaces. Blue are more exhilarating, flowing descents with some technical sections but often with a chicken run [a way around a certain obstacle, if you don’t fancy it]. Red’s are a lot more technical, tighter and often with uneven, rocky sections not suitable unless you have trail ridden before or have basic knowledge of how to competently handle a mountain bike where stopping and getting off isn’t an option. Black, you better have packed your b******s ! Orange, extreme downhill trails. There’s not a hope in hell you’ll accidentally find yourself on these runs as they are reserved for the elite and competition standard riders.
My guide was Sylvain Haederli - from the Verbier Bike Park School - a former national BMX competitor and now extreme mountain biker and guide. He was fantastic. When he isn’t guiding or teaching mountain biking skills he’s out repairing and maintaining the trails for the Bike Park School. His intimate knowledge of the trails is invaluable. I wouldn’t say it is necessary to hire a guide but it is recommended as your experience will be maximised - basically, with so much to explore and limited time to do it, it's a good idea.
In my experience the trails in Verbier were perfectly graded according to difficulty and what I expected. I normally consider myself as a red run rider but in Verbier, the trails are so good, with the right mix of technicality, jumps and general fun the blues were amazing. . This is possibly due to the length of the descents and the amount of concentration time required.
Don't run on empty
There are places to lunch on the mountain including a free brunch experience on the pasture at Sery with your VIP pass. The setting is a traditional farm building with stunning panoramic views. Mountain cheeses, homemade bread, jams and locally produced milk and apple juice. It's a fantastic way to experience traditional Swiss mountain culture. There is also a small supermarket a stone's throw from the mountain lift so there’s no need to worry about packed lunches; just fill your water bladder up, protect yourself from the sun and away you go.
I imagine there could be better places, with longer runs, and maybe more gnarly parts (I’m sure some readers will let us know, especially those willing to take on the black and orange runs), but for adrenaline-fuelled happiness, ease of use, scenery, friendliness and coherence of the trails network, I think Verbier and the VIP are very hard to beat.
Below is a list of the most notable benefits of the Verbier Infinite Playground Pass including:
Free pedestrian access to Mont-Fort (3,330m) and on all open mountain lifts (Verbier + Mont Fort sector)
50% off the mountain lift day ticket for cyclists
Free use of the regions postal busses (including bike transport)
Reduced green fee for Golf des Esserts and Golf des Moulins
50% discount at the aerial walkway in Médran
Free or reduced price entry to tourist offices activities
Free entry to the swimming pools and museums of Verbier
Special offer on Verbier Festival tickets
All images © Jonathan Peacock, 2018
If this has started to wet your appetite, then can we suggest you read Jonathan's 'Top 5 things you definitely need for riding the Alps'
Jonathan Peacock is a personal trainer, ex-semi professional footballer and loves throwing himself down gradients on two wheels in places like the Forest of Dean and Malvern Hills and claims a number of Strava descent records in Gloucestershire