I have always liked Sion, but one of its main attractions in the winter is how convenient it is for hitting the slopes – you can even see pistes from the city centre. The city is on the main line between Geneva and Milan and, reputedly, has the largest bus station in Switzerland in terms of destinations served (23 in total). From the bus station you can get direct services to Anzère, Veysonnaz and Nendaz (both in the Four Vallées), the resorts of Val d’Herens, including Arolla and even the lifts serving Vercorin (in the amazing Val D’Anniviers). By train, with just one change, you can get to Zermatt, Verbier, Crans-Montana and a bunch of other resorts. Incidentally, my tip for getting quickly to the best of the pistes is to go to Haut-Nendaz Télécabine and jump on the free shuttle bus to Siviez, where you are right at the heart of 412km of piste.
One other useful thing about Sion is that it has a youth hostel right next to the station, although unfortunately it does not open until late March. However, with so many high altitude resorts in the area it still works well for late season skiing. I recently stayed there and, as a result, got to refresh a lot of content at the Swiss Winter Sports web site. Even though it was April, I found some amazing lift-served powder in Les Marrécottes and a resort run in reasonable condition at Grächen.
There is surprisingly little variety of accommodation along the Rhône valley, with most of the beds in the ski resorts themselves. Sion does have a few hotels, though, and also a good variety of bars and restaurants in the old town.
Perhaps I will get one ski weekend in before the season finally closes, presumably in Valais. It has been a strange winter season. Much heralded as being the 150th anniversary of winter holidays, there was little snow before the New Year and lower resorts will have definitely suffered from lower visitor numbers.
On a recent excursion down to Valais, I decided to check out Bruson. You can be forgiven for not knowing of this resort as it is somewhat overshadowed by its neighbour across the Val d’Bagnes – Verbier. However on paper it looks worth visiting. It claims to have 51km of piste and, as of last season now has a gondola lift to replace the old bus service. This means it is now directly connected to Verbier, and to the railway station at Le Châble (which connects to Martigny).
The 51km of piste that appears on most literature about the resort sounds pretty impressive, although the resort itself only claims 40km. Still, even on the lower estimate that puts it alongside resorts like Grächen, Klewenalp or Pizol, all of which have plenty to keep you occupied for a day.
I have to say I was a tad disappointed. Apart from a section associated with a surface lift up at the summit, most of the resort seemed to consist of variations on a single run near the main chairlift. The variations were on a respectable black run which you could join or avoid through interconnecting blue or red runs and some off-piste cut-throughs in the trees, with the section of the black at the top of the chairlift the steepest part. If the snow was better there looked to be some decent off-piste around the surface lift at the summit. Another surface lift connects a couple of lower runs up to the bottom of the chairlift and the top gondola station. The piste map suggests there are a couple of unprepared trails that take you down to Le Châble at 881m and Bruson itself at 1080m, although I suspect you wouldn’t normally take those even if the snow was good except to get back down at the end of a day. Those runs may explain where most of the 40km of runs comes from, because my estimate for the resort would put it nearer 20km.
With typical Spring conditions the snow got progressively heavier as the day progressed, but between the summit at La Pasay (2163m) and the gondola top station at Moay (1640m) it was fine in the morning. Indeed if there is one thing in Bruson’s favour it is that you have, easily reachable from Verbier, well-prepared slopes and empty lifts every day.
It is not especially cheap. The lift pass just for Bruson is SFr47, but the sector is included in the full 4 Vallées lift pass, so if you have the full pass and are based in Verbier, it is worth an outing – especially for confident intermediates who want to practice technique on well prepared runs without wannabe Beat Fuezes whizzing around.
I found three small restaurants with simple fare. The one half way down the main black run had friendly staff, great views from the terrace, some nice wines and a very pleasant home made vegetable soup served with some local cheese. However it seemed to charge Verbier prices for the privilege.
All in all, an interesting day out, but I wouldn’t hurry to return.