Harrods Aviation: The Gateway
Autumn / Winter 2021
As a record-breaking Arctic explorer and mountaineer, Tom Avery has skied through some of the most extraordinary terrain on Earth. He is one of just a handful of people to have completed the Polar Trilogy – full-length journeys to the North and South Poles, and a coast-to-coast crossing of Greenland – with his North Pole and Greenland expeditions the fastest ever recorded. And as mountaineer he has climbed – and often skied back down – extreme peaks on every continent.
Yet for more than two decades the 45 year old Briton has kept coming back to Verbier, the exclusive ski resort set high in the Swiss Alps, where his life of adventure began in 1999 as a ski guide and driver.
“For me I guess the quality of the skiing is key to Verbier’s appeal,” Tom tells us. “Some of the steepest lines in the Alps are in Verbier and you’ve got glacier skiing too, but it covers all abilities: you can bring the kids to Verbier for their first lessons. There’s a huge ski area and Verbier is a wealthy resort so they’ve invested a lot in their infrastructure. The lift system is right up there with some of the best in the Alps. It’s also very high and their snow-making technology is great, so it’s a very ‘snow-sure’ resort. Even with the uncertainties around global warming, Verbier is in really good shape.”
“But there’s so much more to it than just skiing,” he continues. “It’s not just a ski resort. It’s a year-round place; a real mountain village. There are lot of very successful people who choose to own property here or visit, but it’s very understated and very private, which they like. Compared to some other resorts, it’s just a little more grown-up and sophisticated.”
“And then there’s the views. Almost every chalet in Verbier has one because it’s built on a perfectly sloping, south-facing plateau with this extraordinary panorama looking towards the north faces of the Mont Blanc massif and the Grand Combin, which are obviously the most dramatic with more snow and glacier cover than the other side. Its geography is just stunning.”
In addition to his expeditions and his career as a speaker which has seen him address the World Economic Forum in Davos, Avery established Ski Verbier Exclusive. The business manages a portfolio of 16 high-end chalets on behalf of the families who own them, servicing them when the owners are in residence and making them available to rent when they’re not. His flagship property, Chalet Chouqui, boasts Verbier’s largest indoor swimming pool, an outdoor hot tub with spectacular views of the Grand Combin, a cinema and nine bedrooms.
Palatial even by Verbier’s high standards, it rents for up to CHF250,000 in peak season, and it’s little surprise that the clientele such properties attract chose to arrive by private aviation. For them, Verbier has another attraction. Jets can land at Sion airport in the valley below, leaving just a 40 minute transfer by car to your chalet, when other resorts might demand a three-hour drive up from Geneva or Lyon airports.
“Verbier is known for its skiing, but actually quite a lot of people do very little skiing at all and want to base themselves in the chalet,” Tom explains. “So it’s quite convenient having facilities like the pools and cinemas in the chalet itself. A lot of our clients are entrepreneurs or work in financial services who might be based in London, say, but will spend quite a bit of time in Verbier, perhaps working from the chalet on Zoom while the family’s out skiing.”
“Apart from skiing you can enjoy in-chalet spa and massage treatments, go dog sledging, snowshoeing or parapenting, where you strap yourself to an instructor and jump off the side of a mountain with a big parachute. And for apres-ski there’s something for everyone, from ski-bum hangouts to private members’ clubs like Chalet Blanc, and some fantastic restaurants. Every year a new bar or restaurant or nightclub or will pop up, and our concierge service will know about them and get you in.”
If you can’t quite fill the vast Chalet Chouqui, which can sleep up to twenty, Tom and his team have more modest options. The two bedroom, self-catered Hickory chalet-apartment has recently been refitted in classic Alpine style with reclaimed timber, and benefits from the concierge services Tom’s team offers to guests in all their chalets, including a 24-hour driver service. The aim is to maximise your time on the slopes, ideal if you’re booking one of the smaller properties for an opportunistic ski-break after meetings in Geneva. Hickory rents for between CHF7,500 and CHF18,000 per week in season.
But however long you stay and however grand your accommodation, you’re likely to come back. “People become very loyal to Verbier,” Tom says. “For us, about two-thirds of our guests have stayed with us before.” Tom lives with his family in the English Cotswolds, but gets out to Verbier as often as he can, and likes to meet his guests while he’s out there. Get the timing right and you might get not only a chalet but an experience money can’t buy: hanging out in the mountains with a legendary explorer.