I’ve always thought of Verbier as a ski playground for the famous and glamorous. Somewhere a bit ‘up itself’ where Paul and I would stick out like sore thumbs amongst the royalty and celebrities.
That may be true in the Winter when the town is sparkling with snow and the champagne bars are open, but it didn’t seem to be the case when we arrived at the motorhome parking in the valley below at Le Châble. In fact Paul was very keen to turn around a leave the parking area without a second thought. ‘Gypsy Encampment’ was probably the most flattering description he used.
Motorhome parking in Le Châble
It’s true that it is not the prettiest of parking areas. It occupies some rough ground between the smooth tarmac of the main gondola car park and a sports and events centre. And there were a few seasonaire type vans, home built conversions that had seen better days, with washing drying outside and contents spilling onto the ground.
I urged Paul to at least park up and take a walk around. We were here for the downhill mountain biking, something Paul wanted to do, and I really didn’t think the parking felt dangerous or risky, just a little unkempt. We drove around to find a spot that would allow us to park pretty level without needing blocks and locked up so that we could take a wander around.
Our first task was to find the service point. It was located on the opposite side of the river to the car park. So we would need to move to service the van. We decided not to bother for now. We had plenty of water on board and there was a good, very clean and modern, stainless steel toilet unit in the car park so we wouldn’t be filling up our toilet cassette too quickly.
Le Châble has a cable car that takes passengers up to Verbier. It is a bit of a feeder town for the resort and some of the resort has spilled down in return, with a few high end restaurants and some smart accommodation. But it’s not just about the resort, it is a ‘real’ town with year round residents and doesn’t seem to be half shut waiting for the winter season to begin. We had a little wander and Paul started to relax.
The tourist office was closed by the time we had settled in and decided to stay but we found out that, if we paid our tourist tax, we would get 50% off the normal bike pass (52 CHF reduced to 26 CHF each) which would mean unlimited use of the lifts for downhill biking. Given that the tourist tax was 1.50 CHF per person, per night AND the parking was completely free, this seemed like a bargain. Paul was reconciled to the idea of staying for a couple of nights.
Downhill biking in Verbier
The next morning we were up early and ready to go. A quick visit to the tourist office, which is conveniently next to the cable car station, and we had our Verbier VIP passes. A few yards across the car park and we paid for our bike uplift. Then we had the excitement of working out what the bike carrying options would be.
In the cable car station we had to go up some stairs, pushing the bikes up a bike channel. Then we swiped our tickets while pushing the bikes under a neighbouring bike gate. Not too difficult even for a slight awkward person like me.
The first cable car had spaces for two bikes, hanging on the outside of the doors. Another cable car was large enough for us to wheel two bikes inside into a bike rack. Chair lifts had hooks on the side and could carry one bike each, so we could ride up with one bike and be followed by the second. At one point we had to push our bikes up escalators, something that was very weird and made me feel like I was being pushed backwards.
All of this was new to us, we normally get up mountains under our own steam and our only previous experience of uplift was at Bike Park Wales where they used vans towing bike trailers. I had a few issues with my bike on the chair lifts and even the lift operator couldn’t work out the best way to hook the bike on. It took another rider to come to our aid and offer a solution.
We spent a lot of time on the green trail to start with. I thought we might find it too easy but it was steep (so challenging for me) and very rutted after all the dry weather. We went up and down a few times and I slowly got a little better. Paul was racing down on his bike. Without full suspension the ruts were shaking him around. At one point an instructor with a group of beginners congratulated him on doing so well.
We also had a couple of runs down on the blue run (there are two blue runs here but the lift to the second blue run was shut). It was longer and a bit more challenging in some parts but was also a bit smoother. As usual there was no way I was progressing to red, but I enjoyed watching other people hurtling down.
The scenery all around us was amazing with the glacier clad mountains of the skyline accompanying our descents, and there were a few interesting sculptures on the way down too. I wondered if they would be covered with snow in ski season.
We had enormous fun and when we were ready to return to Bertie in the valley below we were cheerful enough that we decided to cycle all the way. We followed the blue run and then tracks down to Verbier and then roads through the quiet resort town (which was also a bit pongy, there must have been a drain problem). We didn’t want to follow the main roads down to Le Châble so guessed at the right turns down through the hillside villages until we found a mountain bike VTT route that seemed to be going in the right direction. It was dry and dusty and very skiddy but it got us down in one piece, both very happy to have had such a great day on the bikes.
Back in the car park of the gondola station we found a bike wash (free) and hosed the dust and dirt off the bikes and our own legs.
After our fabulous day the area went from being one of our least favourite park ups to one of the best. We would have stayed another night but the following morning a police office approached us, disconcertingly popping his head up under our open side window, and told us that they were clearing the car park for a Mountain bike event that weekend and could we please move by first thing the following morning. We dithered a bit and then decided that we would move on. We’ll be back I’m sure, but probably not with the rich and famous in ski season.