Trendy Verbier. For young hotshots as well as perennial beginners

A GREAT many Swiss families - people who are careful with money - have bought vacation chalets in Verbier; so there must be a lot to be said for this ski resort - and indeed there is. Situated in the southwest corner of Switzerland, in the Canton du Valais (where French is spoken), Verbier is only a three-hour trip from Geneva, a lovely, cosmopolitan, prosperous city.

The route runs along vast Lac L'eman (Lake Geneva); on its Swiss shore one passes vineyards, the handsome towns Lausanne and Vevey, the famous 19th-century resort Montreux, and the medieval Ch^ateau de Chinon (Chinon Castle), built right out into the lake. The view of the opposite, French side of the lake is spectacular - the French Alps, largely left in their natural grandeur in this stretch.

Verbier is not a village; it is a large, successful resort (with 22,000 beds in hotels, chalets, and apartments), well known in Europe but not widely known in North America. It does not cater to mass tourism, but several organizations offer advantageous packages for individual travelers, as does the resort itself. Verbier's flat rate for one week includes hotel (various categories), half board, all-lift pass, and ski school.

Situated at 4,875 feet, with its skiable terrain extending up to 10,816 feet, Verbier is high enough to have ample snow falls and a long season - December through April.

But on its sunny plateau, protected from fierce winds, skiers are rarely exposed to the numbing cold, the blinding snowstorms, or the dangerous whiteouts (dense white fog hiding the relief of the trail and the consistency of the snow) common elsewhere.

Such conditions may occur in the top sections of Mont Fort and Mont Gel'e (both about 10,000 feet), which are the domains of the strongest skiers. For them, there are also acres of moguls (bumps); miles of black-labeled (expert, dangerous) runs; and many areas for off-piste skiing in virgin snow, which is forbidden at many ski resorts.

Good skiers can also go on weekly excursions over the Super St. Bernard pass to Italy.

Oh well, all that is fine for people who can ski in deep snow, which most of us can't, because we have spent all of our ski lives on groomed trails. I am a perennial intermediate, because I don't make enough progress in one week a year of skiing to advance. Skiers such as I go to ski school classes 3a or 3b in Switzerland. About 30 percent of the 200 miles of marked trails is for intermediates, another 30 percent for beginners, the rest for very advanced skiers.

Verbier offers 85 uphill conveyances: 12 cable cars, 6 gondolas, 25 chairlifts, and 41 surface lifts. Personally, I would not undertake the full run (I find it confusing and exhausting), but have done parts of it with the ski school.

It's particularly nice in spring - before Easter - when the resort is not completely filled and the snow is not hard. That's also when you have the most hours of sunshine - nine to 10 hours a day.

Ski schools in major resorts like Verbier have from 80 instructors (in low season) to 180 (in high season). Among so many, there are bound to be some who are very good and very nice, some who are adequate, and a few who are rough like staff sergeants.

In keeping with current trends, Verbier offers a lot of activities besides skiing: a mountaineering school that teaches climbing on rock and on ice; skating, curling, ice hockey; a toboggan run; para-gliding and hang-gliding schools; tennis, squash; horseback riding; folklore programs; color slide shows of flora and fauna; and concerts and theater.

Because Verbier attracts a lot of young hotshot skiers, there is, of course, night life - with four nightclubs.

Most people, however, get tired enough after a good day's skiing and some relaxing time spent in an indoor swimming pool or sauna to make turning in early sound like a good idea.

If you go

For information on packages that include hotel accommodations, half board, a ski pass, and ski-school instruction, contact your local travel agent, or the Verbier Tourist Office, CH 1936, Verbier, Switzerland; tel. (26) 7-71-81.

For Swissair flights and hotel packages, dial 800-424-3424.

For Swiss charter flights to Geneva, call 800-872-8800, or contact the Swiss National Tourist Offices in New York (608 Fifth Ave., 10020; tel. [212] 757-5944), Chicago, San Francisco, or Toronto.

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