Verbier, the home of “extreme” freeriding, also has a softer, child-friendly side. Who better to guide us to the best children’s skiing than Kent Berglund, co-director of Performance Verbier and friend of Max the Snow Worm?
Verbier has a reputation as a resort For serious skiers. Is it good for children too?
Verbier is a resort of many faces. Because it’s such a big area, it’s not only steep and deep; it also has some very friendly, mellow and wide slopes. I’ve been in the resort a long time and raised four kids here very happily.
What are the beginners’ slopes like then?
We have a great beginners’ area close to the chalets, closed off from the rest of the ski area, so you don’t have people using it as a shortcut. It has a magic carpet [a travelator the child can shuffle onto with their skis and be carried gently up the hill] and a button lift for them to progress to. They let you on with sledges too, so the really little ones can do that if they get tired of skiing after a few runs.
Are there good runs to progress to from the nursery slopes?
The whole Savoleyres side of the resort is very mellow, but with some fun terrain, such as natural halfpipes and tree runs. On a busy, high-season day, Bruson (down Le Châble gondola and up the other side) is a really good area. And, as they progress even further and start enjoying jumping and racing, they love to try the blue line in the park or the skiercross at La Chaux. I also like to take them down the Tortin cable car (to avoid the really tough descent); from the base, there is a great blue run with a tipi that serves hot chocolate at Siviez.
Away from skiing, what does Verbier have to offer children?
There’s a great playground in town behind the post office and they are currently building an adventure pool with water slides and so on. And there are different organised activities. For example, there is dog sledding around Les Ruinettes and La Chaux, and kids love those huskies; and they can even do a tandem skydive as young as four (with their parents’ consent, of course)! We also have the longest toboggan run in Switzerland, which is a great activity for the whole family.
Are there special techniques for teaching children?
The first thing I always do when I meet a child I’ll be teaching is to kneel down so I’m literally on their level – I’m not going to talk down to them. I essentially turn everything into a game. I talk about Max the Snow Worm, who might push your skis in a certain direction or we might need to chase him. It’s better than a dry, technical instruction. Our lessons last three hours, but we always stop for a hot chocolate and a rest halfway through, so we don’t push them too hard. When we rejoin the parents, the priorities are always, first, check they’re safe and well, second ask, ‘Did you have a good time?’ and only third, ‘What did you learn today?’.
When does Max the Snow Worm lose his effectiveness?
Around 10 years old, kids are more open to straightforward instruction to improve their skiing. A common problem for children up until their teens is leaning back. A good way of curing that is to go over bumps and jumps, so I tend to vary the terrain for older children. But those little bumpy trails through trees are fun for them too.
Have you ever had any situations where you’ve had to come up with unusual ideas?
We had one client who brought all their child’s friends for a weekend of skiing for his birthday. So we led 12 kids around the mountain on a treasure hunt. They had to follow clues and work out the treasure map to find prizes one of us had gone ahead to place, then work out the location of the big prize at the end. And we filmed the whole weekend, edited a film with a soundtrack and gathered on the last evening in the cinema room at the chalet to screen it.