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Verbier Polaris Festival – a dance party in the Alps

“Checking out the Polaris Lights Festival in the small ski resort town of Verbier.”

Even in the darkness when you cannot see anything of the mountains except yellow dots and little churches, the Alpine village of Verbier with its mere 3000+ permanent residents has something special about it.

The Polaris Lights Festival kicks off the ski season in style in one of the most premium places for snowsports in Europe. For freeriding especially, Verbier is considered one of the best in the world. Freeriding is the art of going ‘off-road’ down the mountain because for some people, flying down an icy mountain with nothing to stop you except sticks that are glued to your feet is just not scary enough – they want the thrill of dodging rocks and trees along the way, too.

Picture 7 - extra

The four-day music festival is now in its fourth year. For an intimate venue in the Alps, the lineup was a strong mix of electronica musicians: a blend of people you’d find in the biggest clubs in Ibiza as well as some alternative yet well-respected artists. Even though I am not the biggest fan of House music, I can always appreciate listening to a DJ set from Massive Attack.

Party

Before joining the Verbier Polaris festivities, we stopped by Le Carrefour, right by the festival entrance, for some local wine and ham and mushroom Rösti (Swiss for a deliciously greasy giant potato fritter) served in a rich and creamy sauce. The fact that there are some vegetables in makes it a healthy, nutritious meal, doesn’t it?

The main domed tent was pitched at the top of the town, overlooking the view below. The nicest thing about the music space was that it wasn’t overly dark or too loud. The sound levels were heavy enough for people who wanted to feel the music and the strobe lights from above still dazzled. The fact that the bartender could hear everyone’s orders clearly and that we could see who we were talking to on the dancefloor almost felt like an added luxury. There was also a separate bar in a wooden hut outside for those who wanted a quieter spot.

After a long night and little sleep, the perfect remedy is to, of course, surround yourself with razor-sharp knives and hot cooking oil. Not. But I did it anyway. 

A short walk from our hotel, Mountain Thyme Cookery School provides an alternative option to outdoor activities with cooking courses for both adults and children that cover a variety of different cuisines, using locally sourced ingredients from the Valais region.

Picture 4 - Mountain Thyme Cooking

The friendly Cat and Amy who run the school are so brilliant at what they do. After making a pick-me-up mocktail, we made some courgette koftas and croquette Valaisanne with garlic aioli. Good luck if you think you’ll have the self-discipline and not devour all the Swiss cheese before adding it to the recipe.

Whether you enjoy cooking food or prefer just eating it, Verbier is full of deliciousness waiting to melt in your mouth. One person in our group tried to ‘eat healthily’ during our trip. She gave up after the first meal.

My personal favourite dish was Raclette because if there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that everybody loves cheese. Even vegans are trying to make the stuff using almond milk. Those poor vegans.

Raclette is a traditional meal which involves a never-ending supply of slowly melted cheese. You can eat it with various pickled foods and potatoes if you need to take a break from gorging on endless cheese. The restaurant De Caveau is styled like a little wooden cave and it is the best place in town to eat Raclette.

But ultimately, people are here for one thing. No amount of food and thumping bass (or more food) can hit the same level of adrenaline boost as soaring down some powdery hills – or gracefully falling down the side of a cliff every ten minutes. My falling was very graceful. The snow and weather conditions on the slopes are so good that it’s also probably one of the best places in the world to consistently fail to stay upright and still enjoy yourself.

Picture 8 - extra, my fat face

Verbier’s Four Valleys

Verbier’s Four Valleys is the biggest ski area in Switzerland, meaning there are a lot of options for people of all abilities, including cross-country skiing, a snowpark, and of course an amazing array of off-piste spots. The free-riding is so renowned here that Verbier hosts the final of the Freeride World Tour for the best skiers in the world.

Even though I was a novice, I did not feel out of place. What added to this was Verbier’s low-key atmosphere (not so much when it comes to price). On the slopes, there were plenty of families with younger children skiing. This gave me the perfect opportunity to compare my talents with five-year-old kids for maximum embarrassment.

Our ski guide, Rob from New Generation, was great at both instructing some of us* while suggesting routes to others who were more capable to explore. He was especially good at lying to me about how well I was doing. I appreciated that. One of the big upsides of my skiing skills (or lack thereof) was that even without every slope being open on the first day of ski season, the easier runs were soon far less crowded with people.

*By some, I mean just me.

Picture 6 - Skiing with friends

There are vibrant bars downtown as well since Verbier is well-known for its Après ski (after-ski social activities). Unfortunately, I can’t remember any names of the bars we went to but, as mentioned, the town is small and I’m sure you will find them.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Where is it? Verbier is situated in Switzerland’s Valais Canton, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Geneva airport. If you are looking to get there by public transport, you can take a train straight from Geneva airport to Martigny (pronounced like Martini, with emphasis on the last syllable). From Martigny, you can hire a taxi to Verbier.
When is the Polaris Lights Festival? The Polaris Lights Festival happens at the start of the ski season, usually early December. This year, the festival was one week earlier than usual as Verbier had another festival dedicated to Santa the week after. If you dress up as Santa, you get a day of skiing for free. The town simply cannot miss out on that great deal (or perhaps blatant health risk).
For more information, check out: https://www.polarisfestival.ch/
How much will it cost? Let’s be clear. Switzerland is not exactly known for its cheap holidays. Verbier is one of the most popular destinations in the country because it is considered by many as one of the best. Bear that in mind.
Where can I stay? For being as close as possible to the Medran ski lift in Verbier, the W Hotel is Verbier’s luxury ski resort and is one of the most noticeable points in the town from its decorative lighting. They have an internal spa along with an indoors/outdoors pool downstairs and an impressive bar set-up. They also have their own ski room for your equipment, although they did forget to tell us about it at check-in. Walking through the lobby with our ski gear was a bit awkward.
Where can I find more information about the skiing in Verbier because I am a seasoned pro and know how to not constantly fall over like a muppet? Well good for you. Each area in Verbier (there are four Valleys, I know that much) has its own pros and cons. Some areas that require a short bus ride from Verbier to the ski lifts offer you the luxury of skipping the crowds who head to the main site. But for more details on which places are best for you, check out: https://www.verbinet.com/ski-area/
Any good ski rental services? I rented all my ski gear from Ski Services, located in the town centre, a short walk from the main ski-lifts in Verbier. They were extremely friendly and helpful with everything, and pretty much everyone there was fluent in at least two languages. https://www.skiservice.com/en/ski-service-verbier

So you want to go for the cooking lessons? Check out www.cookinthealps.com for more information.

Blake Anderson James

Blake Anderson James started moving between countries from the age of fourteen and has been inspired by travel ever since. He spent a season living and travelling through South East Asia; he has explored South America and journeyed through most of Europe. He is an adventurous soul who enjoys activities such as scuba diving and anything that his body and budget will endure. If his humour is not evident enough from his writings, look out for him in the flesh because he loves to practice stand-up comedy whenever he gets an opportunity.