Was this really a ski resort? It was hard to tell when we arrived at the empty car park just outside Evolène, in Switzerland’s Val d’Anniviers. The usual ski resort paraphernalia – pylons, giant flashing piste maps, noisy bars – was absent. I couldn’t even see any lifts at first. Then we spied a path leading to a lone rickety-looking, two-man chairlift that clunked up through a milky fog, with an attendant overjoyed to see customers.
A long, painfully slow ride led to rolling powder runs of the Evolène T-Bar Resort, which we skied through a blizzard, down to an unspoilt village of centuries-old sun-blackened larch chalets, and pretty La Petite Auberge de Lannaz for a chocolat chaud.
We were to discover several sleepy places like these – mountain hamlet first, ski resort second – on our tour of Switzerland’s highly traditional Val d’Anniviers. Skiers who like to tick off the big-league resorts such as Val d’Isère, Chamonix and Verbier might turn their noses up at its collection of small resorts but, surprisingly, it’s the centre of one of the most important developments in European skiing.
Last winter saw the launch of the Magic Pass, a season lift-pass covering 30 Swiss resorts. Many of these are tiny (the smallest, Mayens de Conthey, has just one lift) and even the biggest ones – Crans-Montana, Grimentz-Zinal and Villars-Gryon – are not well-known to Brits. The scheme shines a spotlight on interesting little spots that might otherwise be missed, while future-proofing them and saving them from closure.