Simon de Burton talks to Verbier experts Mountain Air about the best new kit to take to the slopes this season
From its beginnings as a small, start-up company in 1992, Ski Verbier Exclusive has grown into one of the most prestigious and popular luxury chalet operators in the whole of the Swiss Alps – and is probably the only one to have a renowned polar explorer as its founder and CEO in the form of Tom Avery who, among other feats, became the youngest Briton ever to ski to the South Pole in 2002.
And, just as any polar explorer will tell you, it’s essential to have the right kit when tackling the snowy wastes – even if they are the decidedly well-groomed ones of Verbier’s extensive piste network.
For that reason, Ski Verbier Exclusive works alongside one of the town’s leading equipment-hire firms, Mountain Air (previously known as All Mountain Rental), to ensure its guests are properly equipped to hit the slopes. Uniquely in Verbier, the Mountain Air technicians can fit their clients out with rental skis and boots in the comfort of their chalets. But their state-of-the-art store close to the main lift station at Place Blanche is well worth a visit. According to Mountain Air’s manager Joe Bartholomew, three especially innovative items are set to be in high demand this coming season.
The first is very much a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ creation – the revolutionary Elan Ibex Tactix, an ingenious ski featuring a revolving carbon fibre baseplate that enables it to be folded down from its operating length of 163cm to a mere 90cm in just 20 seconds. Not only does the feature make the skis considerably easier to store at home or carry in a car, it makes them safer and more convenient to use – for technical ascents, for example, where skis need to be removed to facilitate a climb.
Salomon, meanwhile, has launched a brilliant new hybrid binding system called the S/Lab Shift that combines the benefits of the so-called ‘pin’ touring binding used by cross-country skiers with the safety and rigidity of a downhill binding. The flick of a simple toe-mounted lever is all it takes to switch between the two, making those expeditions into the back country in search of virgin snow considerably less hard work than most off-piste fans are used to.
Snowboarders are also in for a treat this season, with the new Union Expedition binding system that’s intended to dramatically reduce the time it takes to transition from ‘climb’ mode to ‘ride’ mode. Designed with the increasingly popular ‘splitboards’ available from makers such as Burton and Jones that can be separated, fitted with synthetic ‘skins’ and used to walk up slopes ski-style.
Perhaps the coolest new accessory of the lot, however, is the new Oakley Fall Line XL ‘Prizm React’ ski goggle that promises to solve the problem of lenses being either too clear or too dark, but never ‘just right’. The ingenious eyewear features a battery-powered system that darkens or lightens the one-piece, rimless photochromatic lens with the simple push of a button – perfect not only for changing light conditions, but for maintaining anonymity on those difficult mornings after another night of hectic Verbier après ski activity…
*** Mountain Air can be found close to the main Medran ski lift at Rue de Medran 77, 1936 VERBIER +41 27 776 23 70 www.mountainairverbier.com