The secret life of the ski resort

Back to Verbier – in a bid to discover what goes on behind the scenes in a ski resort – and to track down the experts who can transform a skiing trip.

Top station of the Mont Fort cable car, Verbier/Nendaz

Top station of the Mont Fort cable car

Have you ever wondered, as you sit on a chairlift, what would happen if it broke down? Who would come to help? How would they get to your chair? And how would they lower you down?

Perhaps you have had similar thoughts riding a cable car up a giddying rock face. Or asked: how did they build that pylon projecting out of the top of the cliff? And how did they loop miles of thick steel cable over the pylons and pull it taut?

Over the next few months, I hope to find out. A few days ago I returned to the Swiss town of Verbier for another winter in the mountains. Last season, I wrote about my time learning to be a ski instructor here. This time, I will dig a little deeper into what goes on behind the scenes in a ski resort with a regular column for Telegraph Travel Online.

Competitor at Xtreme Verbier, Freeride World Tour, being photographed

Competitor at Xtreme Verbier

Take those moving lights that you glimpse on the distant slopes late in the evening, as you head home from a bar. I’ll be finding out how it feels to spend all night alone in a piste basher, grooming slopes immaculately in time for breakfast. I’ll discover what it is like to be plucked off the piste by a helicopter – should you be unlucky enough to need one.

I’ll also be speaking to the world’s top freeride skiers and snowboarders at Verbier Xtreme, the climax of the Freeride World Tour, and will find out what motivates them to throw themselves off 50-foot cliffs. And I’ll meet the people that capture their exploits, and will pass on their pearls of wisdom to budding photographers and videographers.

For those looking to improve their time on the slopes, I will be passing on skiing tips from Warren Smith, one of the most highly respected coaches in the Alps; I will also bring you advice from top children’s instructors on making a family ski trip safe and enjoyable. And I’ll explore the innovative ways people find to make their annual trip to the Alps more permanent by talking to the chefs, resort managers, beauticians and others who make a life for themselves here in Verbier.

Student of Emmanuelle Luisier and Chloé Darbellay, ski instructors, Verbier

Budding champion at the Swiss Ski School, Verbier

For now, I count myself among them.

I spent the summer dreaming of snow-covered mountains, slogging away in London to finance the season. I worked on my fitness – including learning to unicycle to improve my balance, as one of my coaches suggested – and now I am back to train with the Swiss Ski School in preparation for my first dose of instructing other parents’ children.

And I am feeling a little anxious. I have a couple of weeks of compulsory instructor training, in French, and memories are flooding back of my own first ski class as a child, across the valley in Leysin. For a moment, I almost wish my mum and dad were here to make sure I’m wrapped up properly, haven’t forgotten my goggles or lift pass, and have a few francs in my pocket for a hot chocolate.

I am thrilled, though, at the prospect of sharing the pleasure I get out of skiing, and of introducing children to the joys of being in the mountains in winter. And I am looking forward to working face to face with people – instead of communicating through electronic gadgets, as I do at home.

So far, I am not missing much about life in London: certainly not the Underground, nor Oxford Street in December. And I am delighted to be in a place where fresh snowfall does not bring everything to a grinding halt but spreads a bigger smile on people’s faces. As the resort comes back to life, there is a definite buzz in the air and I get the sense that a fascinating season lies ahead. It’s great to be back.

The sun reflected in the clouds, seen from Attelas, Verbier.

Unusual optical effect: sunshine reflected in the clouds above Verbier

  • Further information: the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, and the Verbier tourist office (
  • Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070;; onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (