Ski instructor course 7: How to ski Verbier on a budget

Ski Switzerland without breaking the bank? It can be done – if you follow some tips from the experts

Hot chocolate and apple tart at the restaurant La Chotte de Grands Plans, Verbier

Sweet temptations at La Chotte de Grands Plans, Verbier

Is there such a thing as inexpensive skiing? Is Switzerland as dear as people say? And can you visit Verbier, one of the world’s most expensive resorts, without suffering a financial haemorrhage?

These are important questions for any skier, and after three weeks in Verbier, our group of would-be ski instructors is coming up with answers. Especially the school-leavers, who will enter full-time education this autumn, and are in training for years of penury.

So, according to the three gap-year students in my group – Becky Rosenberg, Ollie Paul and Tom Kinnins – the answer to the questions are: yes; not necessarily; and yes. But you have to know a few tricks…

First, save valuable beer money by making up picnic lunches, which you can eat in the self-service restaurants – provided you sit amongst people who look as though they have paid for lunch. For ingredients, head to the supermarket Migros and its “M-budget” range in eye-catching green packaging. A 290g packet of ham, for example, costs £2.30.

Skier on the Attelas slope, Verbier, looking towards FontanetBuy in bulk and decant. A 1.5-litre bottle of sparkling mineral water costs 18p; a pack of six 1.5-litre bottles of own-brand cola costs £2.50, enough to fill 27 of the 33cl bottles they sell at the self-service. A giant bag of crisps weighing 350g (equivalent to 14 normal packets) costs £2.30.

The Co-op also has an equivalent range called Prix Garantie, easily identifiable in shocking pink packaging. A 100g table of chocolate, for example, costs from 27p; a 500g sack of cornflakes, 98p.

So much for student/ski bum cuisine. To wash it all down, head for the supermarket Denner, where a crate of Löwenbräu lager (24 half-litre cans) costs £16.50. You can get a bottle of Swiss red wine from £1.90 (for a Gamay), French red from £1.65, and a bottle marked “Vin blanc” that could have originated from anywhere on the planet for 98p.

When it comes to drinking out, our school-leavers recommend lateral thinking. Dance on the bar during après-ski at Farinet, and before long one of the bar staff will pour a shot into your month. Ollie recommends “minesweeping”, especially later on in the evening: with many punters buying beer in jugs, you will find that your glass tops up quite easily. Tom had a particularly good night on Saturday: he paid for one beer (£3.60) and ended up drinking 11.

Becky found that giving the barman a peck on the cheek got her a drink. She also recommends asking middle-aged men “when they’re quite drunk” – for a drink, that is, not a kiss. “It’s great,” she says, “they never say no.” Another hot tip from Will Scott, the tireless nightlife reporter for buy bar staff a drink, and you’ll get it back in shots.

Instructor Charlie Tate (left) with trainee ski instructors, Verbier

Charlie Tate (left) with our group of trainees

I too have come across good deals – you just have to look for them. My favourite pit-stop up on the slopes, for example, is La Chotte de Grands-Plans, where you can eat a three-course set meal for £15, seated outdoors on sofas in front of a spectacular mountain view. Tacked on to the café is a long shed that in summer houses 160 cows in smaller cubicles; in winter, one of the cubicles becomes a ski-through bar, where for just £3 you can down a dose of cocktail named Tamiflu without even unclipping your skis (vodka, curaçao and grenadine, in case you were wondering).

Not that we have spent week three of our course just eating and drinking. We kicked off with a weekend of first-aid training (blog nine), followed by days of technique training with Charlie Tate, our new instructor. He drills us on our short-radius turns, having us ski down steep slopes in a narrow corridor at controlled speed, and has us work on our giant-slalom turns, doodling huge, carved twin-track Ss across the piste.

On a couple of days Charlie videos us, and we are all relieved to see that we are kicking some of our bad habits. In our upper-body posture, for example: Tom has stopped pumping his hands in and out, so that he can no longer be compared to a “camp and tipsy accordionist on a monoboard”. Will no longer skis with arms outstretched – although I will miss the sight of him sweeping across the piste like a high-speed alpine version of Rio’s statue of Christ the Redeemer. And I no longer appear to have a coat hanger stuck in my ski jacket, nor do I pump my arms up and down like a toy robot. Not all the time, anyway.

At one of the evening video-analysis sessions, Warren, the boss, gives us a pep talk. We now have just two more full weeks of tuition ahead. “You need to be super-intense about changing your skiing. You need an attitude of do or die: nail those bad habits, otherwise you’ll reinforce them. From now on, every single turn will count. In terms of ambition, it’s time to put a rocket up your backside.” Week four, here we come…

Snowboarder near Chalet Carlsberg, Attelas piste, with Mont Blanc in the distance

The views, of course, come for free