Comparing the Swiss ski resort of Verbier with the French resort of Val d’Isere is a clash of titans. Verbier, world famous for snow-sports and sophisticated mountain culture and voted the best ski resort in Switzerland. Val d’Isere, with the most lively apres scene in France, a strong sports pedigree and a vast and varied ski area. Both resorts are the pride of nations and both attract a range of visitors from high profile and celebrity skiers and boarders. In this article, we take a look at most aspects of theses resorts in comparison, we don’t expect to find a winner but we hope to explore the differences, the pros and cons and help you understand what you’ll get from a trip to Val d’Isere or a chalet in Verbier.
Verbier vs Val d’Isere Summary of Ski Stats
Ski Area Comparison
Size of Verbier Ski Area (4 Valleys)
Size of Val d’Isere Ski Area (Espace Killy)
Ski Area Altitude Comparison
Annual Snowfall (19/20)
Nearest Airports & Transfer Times
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Comparing Val d’Isere and Verbier Ski Areas
Verbier has some of the best skiing in Switzerland. Known for outstanding backcountry skiing and home to some of the most exciting stages of the Freeride World Tour, the off-piste of Verbier is as famous as the pisted ski area itself. The piste starts in the resort and rises up to 3330m at Mont Fort from which you can get one of the best views of the Alps from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. In addition to the groomed pistes Verbier offers itinerary runs, like Vallon d’Arbi, the Tortin, Mont Gelé and Mont Fort. These are loosely signposted off piste runs famous for giving you a fantastic all-mountain experience but do not go alone. There are nursery slopes in the resort and some lovely intermediate skiing around Les Ruinettes or across to the slopes of Savoleyres with winding runs through the trees down to La Tzoumaz.
Val d’Isere offers a wide range of pistes for beginner/intermediate skiers without lacking plenty of reds and blacks to challenge the more experienced through to the real experts. The Face de Bellevarde black run, known just as ‘La Face’, was made famous by the Olympics but is still, to this day, a legendary 3km black run back into the resort and a ‘must’ for advanced visitors. The ski area reaches back from peak to peak up to Pointe du Monte and the glacier there. In the other direction you can link up to Tignes and the rest of L’Espace Killy, there you can explore yet more challenging blacks and reds and reach an altitude of 3453m at La Grande Motte by the Vanoise glacier. There’s a massive off-piste scene with plenty of backcountry to explore with guides and a fair bit of heli-skiing going on in and around the valley.
The ski areas of Verbier and Val d’Isere have plenty in common and may appeal most to similar sorts of skiers and snowboarders. We could write entire articles comparing the legendary off-piste runs of Verbier, home to the Freeride World Tour and the famous itinerary runs and Val d’Isere with huge powder fields and classic off piste routes like The Pisteurs Couloir and Le Fornet Trees. Both have impressive ski areas with plenty of varied routes, especially for more advanced skiers. Verbier has a more centralised layout in some ways, whereas Val d’Isere is more stratified along the valley. In all honesty we couldn’t conclude one ski area is simply better than the other, both are spectacular winter sports destinations.
Comparing Apres Ski in Verbier and Val d’Isere
Verbier’s apres-ski is legendary. For decades it’s been seen as ‘the place to be’ for winter sports stars, celebrities and people of wealth and influence. The nightlife is both energetic and sophisticated and like most great apres resorts, the party starts on the piste. Perhaps the main piste-side venue is Le Mouton Noir, at 2200m this restaurant combines fine dining with a relaxed party atmosphere. They describe the entertainment as ‘a creative mix of cabaret, music and live entertainment’, a totally unmissable part of any ski holiday in Verbier. The resort has quite a selection of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants to choose from. For a beer at the end of a good day in the snow the Pub Mont Fort is a classic and Farinet if you want a party. As the evening goes on there’s more than enough choice. The famous Farm Club dates back to 1971 and tops the list of places to be seen in Verbier but be prepared for a bar-bill to match the glamour of your visit.
If there’s a French resort to rival the apres ski scene of Swiss Verbier, it’s got to be Val d’Isere. Today Val d’Isere is known almost as much for its party scene as its skiing. The famous Folie Douce sometimes called the ‘highest club in Europe’ puts on a show for most of the day with live entertainment playing out to the crowd from the roof of the venue. On the pistes but close to the resort is another Val d’Isere favourite, Cocorico. This party bar is the place to be for seasonaires, so on the Wednesday night off the party gets turned up to 11. At night Val d’Isere is alive with bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs, most venues are in fact a mixture of these. Chief of the clubs is the famous Dicks Tea Bar, opened in 1979 the club has hosted all kinds of famous DJs and celebrities over the years. When out at night, prices in Val d’Isere range from high to very high and especially in the most famous clubs.
The apres ski scene in both of these resorts is amongst the best in the world but they do have a different character and that means that it all comes down to taste. It’s hard to argue that Val d’Isere approaches Verbier for sophistication and a classic apres ski experience but it’s very much up for debate which one throws the biggest party. Even before the season has started Verbier hosts events like the Polaris festival and being a relatively centralised resort, it manages to have a focal point and a vibrant fringe. Val d’Isere on the other hand is perhaps more extrovert and youthful in its approach to apres. It pulls in enormous crowds and hosts some of the biggest D.Js, the Folie Douce is perhaps the most successful piste-side bar brand in the world. When choosing between the apres ski scene of Verbier or Val d’Isere you’re certainly at the forefront of apres-chic but with slightly different flavours.
Comparing Resort History & Culture in Verbier and Val d’Isere
Verbier is an ancient mountain settlement. There was once a castle, built in the 12th century but later destroyed and whose stones may well be making up old walls as part of modern conversions. Verbier is a genuine mountain town and the modern ski resort that came afterwards has always been built into and around the ancient buildings, they’ve rarely been flattened to make way for progress. In the 1950’s, visionary developers started a series of events with a single chairlift that gradually lead to the growing of a vast ski area and an international resort destination. The development of Verbier was always bound by strict requirements to build with traditional timber and stonework, only a few floors and to a traditional Swiss design. Today despite the success, Verbier is glamorous but also tasteful, traditional and delivers that real Swiss mountain culture that made it famous.
Val d’Isere is a classic ski resort with a long history. The site has been settled as far back as Roman days and beyond. It was one of the few resorts operating pre-WW2. Post war, with a few Austrian ski experts teaching the locals until, in 1936, the first Ecole de Ski Francais was founded there. Post war, the resort began to grow apace becoming a winter sports destination hosting international competitions and attracting further growth and investment. The 1954 International Ski Congress lead to a spurt of investment including the opening of the Bellevarde cable car. By the 80’s, Val d’Isere was a thriving resort, they built France’s first ever mountain funicular and the valley started to fill up with tasteful, traditional chalet architecture. In 1992 it hosted the alpine skiing events as part of the Albertville Winter Olympics.
These are two resorts with rich histories and strong ski cultures. In our view Verbier wins as a classic resort, a place of sophistication and a pinnacle of world ski culture. You could argue Val d’Isere is more modern and on-trend with the youthful extreme sports crowd and has plenty of its own ski vintage but when it comes to history and culture Verbier stands out.
Choosing between these two resorts is a happy predicament, both have so much to offer and are truly excellent in their own ways. Everyone has slightly different criteria when picking a resort for their next ski venture, in reading our comparison you may already be leaning toward one or the other after understanding their different personalities as resorts. Verbier does it with a little more style and sophistication and Val d’Isere does it with the biggest party atmosphere. Perhaps Verbier is the king and Val d’Isere the upstart pretender to the throne, or is Verbier just a little less on-trend and exciting than Val d’Isere? We’ll leave the final decision to you.