My first visit to Switzerland was on Official Lazy Travelers Business; yes, all caps. Together, the wino and I explored this new-to-us-country — Swiss Rail passes in hand, weaving our way from Geneva to Lausanne, up to Bern and back again. We saw a ton in a very short amount of time, but most importantly, we laid our eyes on the winter wonderland known as Verbier.
We had every intention of skiing, but as it was our very first stop, jetlag and the call of raclette got the better of us. We passed out in a cheese coma on the first day, and woke up to borderline blizzard conditions on day two. We waved goodbye from our first-class seats in the quiet car that we had accidentally settled into, feeling only a little ashamed we hadn’t actually skied and vowing to return.
Shortly after this photo, we were asked to leave. Apparently the Swiss don’t like GIGGLING.
(jk, she was British.)
Meanwhile, back home, the hubs was chomping at the bit for his own taste of the Alps. It took 14 months, but when we realized that he would have one week off between winter periods, we knew it was officially happening.
Also, a moment to explain that in his MBA program, “periods” are exactly like “semesters,” but better because I can loudly ask him, “is your period over yet?” in public and he will answer me, often very seriously.
“No, two more days.”
Or, my favorite, “How long was your last period?”
“About two months.”
A bit of schedule finagling, and it was settled: one week in Verbier would help him wind down from eight weeks of intense MBA-ing, and ramp up for six more.
We arrived a day apart while he wrapped up finals. I used this time alone to re-explore the town and totally freak myself out about skiing for the first time in what felt like forever.
Yes, here’s where I confess: until last Tuesday, I hadn’t skied in over two years. Starting in high school and pretty much every year after, the hubs and I made a habit of skiing somewhere in Pennsylvania and New England, at least once a season. I didn’t learn to ski until we started dating, but after a few years, I was pretty comfortable and mostly confident. The mountains were small and my only real technique was “get down the slope in one piece.”
Then, in December 2011, there was an issue with a ski lift that led to crutches and a knee that still kinda hurts when it rains. We intended to return to the slopes in 2012/2013, but since our RTW was kicking off this time last year, a proper trip never really came to fruition and my wariness meant I didn’t push it too hard.
At dinner with our chaletmates on my first night, all of this was running through my head. I nodded along to the chatter of “piste vs. off-piste,” blushing while explaining that I might as well be a first-timer since it had been awhile since I had strapped on anything resembling ski boots.
The one thing making me feel significantly better? Our private lesson with Warren of Warren Smith Ski Academy, scheduled for our first morning. It seemed that everyone we talked to had heard of Warren, and all had glowing reviews about both him and his team. The fact that we had him for two hours to ourselves was more than reassuring.
On my second night, Warren texted me. Due to a booking mix-up, we had to reschedule. Apparently, Prince Andrew and his daughters, Beatrice & Eugenie, had requested Mr. Smith personally for the following morning! If you’re gonna get bumped, it might as well be for royalty. I selflessly offered to join their lesson, but Warren assured me that wasn’t necessary. He promised to take care of us, and I wasn’t too concerned. Plus, my new mission was called Operation: Royalty and it involved finding out if Prince Harry was on the premises.
On Tuesday morning, bright and early, the hubs and I headed to Medran Sports to pick up our skis. It was a quick walk from our chalet, but in the opposite direction of the Medran lift. I figured they’d be near each other, so it was an uphill lesson in how to make an ass out of u + me. As you might imagine, everything in Verbier is on an incline, so the walk to and from Medran Sport, and then to and from the Medran lift — all while carrying/wearing ski equipment — is a work out in itself. Make use of the buses, they are your friends. We didn’t until our very last day because we are dumb.
The staff at Medran Sports was incredibly friendly and assertive, getting our rentals in order with no fuss. I appreciated this, as I need a bit of hand holding in this department — too many questions usually lead to a lot of psychosomatic symptoms. My toes feel squished, but is it the right kind of squished? My ankles are locked in place, but is my foot totally asleep? These are questions no one but me can answer, and I generally panic. Fortunately, the Medran guys moved quickly and efficiently (something I never take for granted now that we live in France), which meant minimal time for me to overthink anything.
Once we were properly suited up, we made our way back to Medran, and then took the lift up to Ruinettes.
Most tentative thumbs up in the history of thumbs ups.
My morning was… rough. We briefly watched one of Warren’s guides, Andy, give a mogul lesson to a group of intermediates. He thought we might be interested in joining, but after he watched me ski for about two seconds (the very first two seconds of the trip, I’d like to clarify), and after I watched what they were actually doing, we both declared a hearty, “HELL NO,” and went our separate ways. Though we didn’t watch for long, I do think that if you’re up to snuff, a group lesson looked like fun. It seemed like a good way to pressure yourself into some friendly competition, and, as a visual learner, I liked the idea of using other people’s techniques to help shape your own.
Unfortunately, I was no match for the mogul tacklers, so the hubs and I skied down a blue trail from Ruinettes back to Medran. It went about as well as you’d expect, given the state of my nerves. I didn’t fall, but only because I never let myself go above .002 miles per hour. At one point, the hubs videoed me and when he showed me later, I asked him how he had been able to edit it to be in slow-mo.
…he hadn’t. In my mind I may have been on a reckless path of destruction, with almost no control as the alpine air whooshed me along, but in reality? I was going slower than most people walk.
You would think this would have comforted me — how can one possibly injure herself when moving at a snail’s pace? Instead, it stressed me out even more. Instead of being nervous I might break my entire face, I was nervous about spending two hours with an instructor who was probably expecting someone with slightly more skill than I was mustering.
Eventually, we confirmed we’d meet an instructor named Cam for a 2 PM lesson. We took the bubble back up to Ruinettes, had lunch, and, most necessarily, a pint. As we sipped our Carlsbergs, I distracted myself by watching the paraskiers and daring the hubs to give it a try.
He refused. Multiple times.
As soon as we met Cam post-lunch, I blurted out, “I can’t get out of pizza pie!”
The three of us hopped on the lift and headed from Ruinettes up to La Chaux, where the trail was much wider and steeper than the one we had tackled that morning. At first I was leery, but after a few quick pointers (namely the importance of arm/pole placement), I could see why this trail was WAY better for instructing than the narrow paths we were meandering down earlier.
Cam was exceptionally patient, friendly, and never condescending — all things I need in a teacher, or else I get defensively salty and start dishing out sass. He also wore neon green & electric blue, which made keeping tabs VERY easy.
Over the next two hours, he gave me constructive feedback with one goal: get me out of snowplow and into parallel. Just by following his checklist of pointers over the next three days, I got my ski legs back. I can only imagine what more lessons would have accomplished.
I mean, obviously I’d be headed for the Olympics! See you bitches in Pyeongchang! 2018!
To clarify, that is not proper form. Cam wasn’t actually there for this photo, or else I think he probably would have wondered if I had even been paying attention at all. I WAS, Cam! I was.
Though most of his attention was on me, Cam also took some time to give the hubs a few pointers, which he spent the rest of the day raving about. Something about squishing a grape with his toe and seeing a troll and punching it in the face with his pole? I don’t really know, but Cam’s metaphors were grade A.
I wouldn’t recommend booking one lesson for two people at very different levels, but I appreciated that Cam divided up his attention as much as he could. I also really appreciate that the hubs was ok with moving along at my pace.
That night at dinner, as we sat around catching up on the day and comparing notes, I was much more relaxed and could actually listen to everyone’s stories without panicking that they’d call me out as some sort of Alpine fraud. Instead, I realized that of the five other people staying in the chalet on Tuesday night, only one was confident enough to go off-piste without the fear of death. The rest of us all had one goal: to get better. We all wanted to comfortably and confidently navigate any beginner or intermediate piste without a second thought, and eventually, someday, tackle more complex conditions off-piste.
This, I think, is what I most loved about Verbier. Over the course of our week, we met more and more people — some beginners transitioning into intermediates; some experts in the middle of a full-scale roadtrip across the Alps, Endless Winter-style. Instead of feeling out of my element, everyone shared words of encouragement and bits of advice as we compared our day on the slopes. It’s not that I ever expected anyone to be explicitly rude, but I also didn’t expect a built-in support system of strangers each day at après-ski.
Verbier may not be built for beginners, but it’s definitely beginner friendly. And, if you have an instructor—even if only for two quick hours—it makes all the difference in the world.
– Thank you to the Verbier Tourism Board for taking care of us during this trip. All opinions are, as always, my own. If you’re interested in booking your own ski holiday in Verbier, some quick info:
Medran Sports // 6 day equipment rental with Medran Sports starts from £82 for skis/snowboard and £38 boots. Concession prices are available, as well as helmets and other equipment. For more information, visit www.medransports.ch.
Warren Smith Ski Academy // Warren Smith Ski Academy offers a range of courses and lessons; a 2-hour private lesson starts form £159, with an additional £19 per extra person. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to tip your instructor, but we happily did because, you know, Americans. It’s how we show gratitude. For more information, visit www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com.