Ski+board - December 2023/ January 2024

Conditions are excellent, the place is buzzing, and one of Switzerland’s largest ski areas and the world’s off-piste capital beckons... Louise Cameron-Hall celebrates her first week as a Ski Club Rep in Switzerland's Verbier.

Bouncing down Tortin’s ‘wall’ – probably the most legendary of the seven 4 Vallées’ freeride itineraries, famed for its 40 degree entrance and for being Europe’s longest mogul run – under blue skies, life is feeling pretty good. Reopened after some hefty slides in the region we’re taking it carefully, hugging the middle markers to ski safe. I’ve urged caution. It’s a 3/5 avalanche risk.

Reopened after some hefty slides in the region, we’re taking it carefully, hugging the middle markers to ski safe. I’ve urged caution. It’s a 3/5 avalanche risk – ‘considerable’ – there have been some huge avalanches across the Alps these past few weeks and this area is prone to them. Otherwise, conditions are excellent. It’s a north-facing bowl, shaded from the sun, covered with a fresh blanket of snow, and the Members in resort are strong: advanced ranging to expert.

Fresh off the 10-day December Reps’ course in Tignes, this is my first week as a Ski Club Rep and I’ve been placed in Verbier. One of Switzerland’s largest ski areas and the world’s off-piste capitals, it’s a resort I’ve skied lots and know well. And it’s buzzing this week. The Freeride World Tour is in town. Called Xtreme Verbier, the annual final is due to take place off the north side of the Bec de Rosses in a few days. (It is later cancelled for only the second time in its 27-year history due to heavy snowfall and avalanches.) 

A newbie, I’m following the Club Rep rules carefully. At the top, we did our transceiver checks (again), planned our route and checked that everyone’s up for it. It might be a regular connector route to the 4 Vallées for anyone who skis here often (at Christmas, my 14-year-old and godson had skied it three times in a row). But it’s a painful 800m descent with a long ski out if you’re not feeling it.

"Throughout the week there are many moments where I have to pinch myself."

"The Toblerone lift is just there,” I’d said, pointing out a swift ride to lunch. All keen to ski, we’d agreed to stick together and take turns in going in front. All week I’ve been clear that I’m a Rep not a guide. To the point that at the top, one had chimed, "Don’t worry, we know, it’s our fault if we die!” Not quite the last words I was after. 

Just after dropping in, one had gone ‘rogue’. Cutting a long, high traverse looking for a fresh line down, he’d ended up hugging a cliff the next couloir over. He was in a precarious spot and so were the people below him. Fortunately, fate intervened. Unable to kick kick turn, he’d stopped, slid backwards, snowflaked (twizzle turned) and traversed back towards us. Now, reunited, we’re in our swing and having fun.

Throughout the week there are many moments where I have to pinch myself. I'd had one earlier that morning meeting up with my group. One had opted for a later start. We'd stopped to have a coffee on the La Vache terrace, with sunny views
over Mont Gele, while we were waiting. When my phone had rung. It was a call from two other Ski Club members we were due to meet up with, who’d headed out on first lift for fresh tracks.

I hadn’t met them before but the last Rep had said both are experts. One is British, one from Jackson Hole, both doing seasons independently. Answering, an American voice, heaving deep breaths, greeted me. "Look up at the couloir above
you. Can you see us?” I looked up to see two dots high above. Quite the introduction. 

I’d arrived in resort a few days before – flight to Geneva, train to Le Chable, Medran bubble up to Verbier – as snow fell
silently through inky skies and the W Hotel (Prince William’s old hang-out) lights sparkled through the flakes. And having arrived at the Reps’ accommodation – a one-bed apartment, once a garage – to a line-up of neon Black Crows outside a row of similar studios.

The next morning, I’d woken early to find some gnarly looking seasonaires, all kitted-up, breakfasting at the tables outside. Others, who looked like couples from Geneva, were already on their laptops. As I’d crunched down to catch the bus
into town - to the call of a Mistle thrush, sweeping pink valley skies reflecting off the tinted windows of a shiny black Landrover hooning past and the whir of a helicopter overhead – skis slung over shoulder, backpack on (freshly packed with the required avalanche transceivers, shovel, probe, snacks and first aid kit), I’d felt strangely like a seasonnaire myself again.