VERBIER, SWITZERLAND - Paradise for nightlife-loving powder hounds with cash.

There is no doubt that Verbier is trying hard to retain its international visitors, improving over the last few years its grooming, snowmaking, ski school and lifts - most recently with the overdue replacement of the Tortin gondola. But major grouses remain. Some are down to the organization of the resort - the kind of slope signposting shown on the left would be comical if it were not infuriating - but others have their roots in the lie of the land.

For experts prepared to hire a guide in order to explore off-slope, Verbier is one of the big names. With its 4 Valleys lift network and a claimed 400 km of slopes; Verbier would seem at first sight to rank alongside the French mega-resorts such as Courchevel or La Plagne for slope skiers, too. But it doesn't; the 4 Valleys is an inconveniently sprawling affair, while Verbier's local slopes are surprisingly confined. Of course, slope skiers can have a satisfying holiday here - but you can do that in scores of resorts from Alpbach to Zell am See. Whether they can match Verbier's famously vibrant nightlife is another question.

What's Great
What's Not-So-Great

+ Extensive, challenging slopes with a lot of off-slope potential

+ Lively nightlife

+ Wide range of chalet holidays

+ Hardly any drag-lifts

+ Fewer queues than there used to be

+ Sunny, panoramic setting, and great views from the highest slopes

+ Good advanced-level tuition

+ Much improved slope grooming in recent seasons


? Overcrowded slopes in certain areas

? Sunny lower slopes will always be a problem, even with snowmaking

? Still some serious queues

? Slope map and direction signposting still inadequate

? Busy traffic (and fumes) in center

? Some long walks/rides to lifts

? The Four Valleys network is no rival for the Three Valleys

? Pretty expensive