I’ll admit that when I agreed to go to Switzerland to try skiing for the first time, I was scared. I had visions of coming home in a full body cast after falling off a ski lift or maybe plunging to my death after somehow wandering onto a black slope. But 4 Vallées in Nendaz promised to cater to clueless beginners such as myself, so with my European Health Insurance Card firmly in hand, I boarded a plane to Zurich.
It’s a long journey from Zurich to Nendaz – we travelled nearly the length of the country by train. However the trip was comfortable, with food and drink service to our first class seats, and it was exciting to see the dramatic shift in the landscape as we neared the Alps.
Nendaz itself feels like it’s on top of the world, resting on a sunny terrace about 1300m above sea level. It’s an old village full of traditional timber houses, barns and grain stores. This is a place which revolves around skiing and the majority of homes are only seasonally occupied. Despite this, Nendaz still clings to a sense of community and the locals all seem to know each other.
We stayed in the Chalet Etoiles de Montagne, a five-star lodge which slept up to 12 people in its spacious bedrooms and boasted a huge cinema room and hot tub as well as a personal chef who cooked us an exquisite breakfast and dinner each day.
After one of the best sleeps of my life, I enjoyed freshly squeezed orange juice and poached eggs as I looked out at the chalet’s panoramic mountain views. Within just a few hours, I was strapped into my skis and on those very mountains, shaking hands with my new instructor, Victor.
A charming Swiss man, Victor showed admirable patience as I tripped over my own feet and immediately forgot everything he told me to do. But by the end of our lesson I was slowly creeping down a baby slope without falling on my face, and I even managed a few turns.
Skiing is a lot of fun, but it’s exhausting, so I was relieved to sit down for some delicious fondue and wine at the Combatseline mountain restaurant before catching several ski lifts and elevators all the way up to the legendary Mont-Fort.
We took in the most incredible views of the Alps, including the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc (the perfect spot for a selfie)! From there, the most experienced skiiers can tackle the descent to Siviez, which offers over 1,600m of drops in one ride. But I wasn’t quite ready for that, so I got back on the ski lift.
That evening, we learned how to play the Alphorn, a traditional musical instrument which is the emblem of Nendaz. In the past, Alphorns were used by shepherds to call the cows from the pastures and into the barn at milking time. Their usage almost totally died out but they have since experienced a revival and there are now more than 1,800 Alphorn blowers in Switzerland and around the world.
Our teacher, Alphorn player Antoine Devenes, told me I had a natural talent and shushed everyone else in the group so I could play, so that could be a good option for me if journalism doesn’t work out.
After our music lesson, we tucked into a hearty meal at La Lanterne et le Vieux Chalet.
We paid CHF 68 (€58) for the set menu, which included a mix of sharing dishes over three courses. The friendly chef, Alex, stopped by each table to welcome the diners and tell them about the food, and his passion for his work was obvious.
The highlight was the main course of beef, venison and lamb, which arrived to the table still in flames. The amuse bouches were also very creative and I fell in love with a famous local wine called Fendant, which was light and refreshing.
The next day, we were up early to get back on the slopes. I managed to make quite a bit of progress and felt like I was really getting into the swing of things (at least until I noticed the five-year-old Swiss children running rings around me).
That evening we recharged our batteries at the Spa 4 Vallées, which boasts a biological sauna, Finnish sauna, salt, ice and hammam grottos, a flotation basin and various other luxurious facilities. Outside you’ll find a swimming pool with breathtaking views of the Alps. It was absolute heaven and the perfect end to our stay.
Skiing season in Nendaz runs until the end of April and with 300 days of sunshine a year, you’re almost guaranteed to get pleasant weather. My only real complaint is that we couldn’t stay longer than three nights – I’ve got the skiing bug now, and I can’t wait to go back!
You’ll find lots of helpful information and tips for planning a trip to Nendaz on the Swizerland Tourism website.
Swiss International Air Lines offer flights from Dublin to Zurich and Geneva. All-inclusive fares start at about €82 one-way. For more information visit www.swiss.com or call 0345 601 0956.
The Swiss Travel Pass is a good option if you’ll be doing a lot of travelling around the country. It’s an all-in-one ticket to travel by train, bus and boat from 3-15 days. Prices for second class start at around €191.
The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. It’s €125 for a second class ticket.
Buy a ski pass for 4 Vallées here: http://www.4vallees.ch/en
Book a table at La Lanterne here: https://levieuxchalet.ch/
Book in for a spa session here: https://www.hotelnendaz4vallees.ch/en/
Chalet Etoiles de Montagne is now closed.