An Introduction to Climbing
The Swiss Alps can be a bit of an adventure playground for those looking for a more adventurous holiday, for both adults and children alike.
Among the many different activities the Alps are famous for, climbing is one of the most infamous ones in the area. Unlike ‘trad’ climbing in the UK, the alpine area has outdoor bolted routes for everyone from beginners to experts, so with your own equipment or rented equipment, you can climb from dawn ‘til dusk.
There are also mountain guides in the area happy to give lessons to beginners or help more advanced climbers find the best spots in the area, as well as indoor walls where you can have lessons or practice your bouldering and sport climbing skills in a controlled environment.
Facilities and climbing spots in and around Verbier
If you’re based in Verbier for your holiday, there are some great climbing facilities available right on your doorstep for all abilities and ages:
Medran Indoor Climbing wall
The main gondola station in Verbier, also open in the peak summer months usually between 9am – 4pm, features a climbing wall targeted at budding young climbers. It is possible to rent harnesses and the walls are equipped with ‘auto’ belays – so your children can clip on and climb to their heart’s content! The wall isn’t too high and children can wear trainers and just give it a try.
Verbier Outdoor Artificial Climbing Wall
An outdoor artificial climbing wall is located also in central Verbier, just by the Library on Rue de Verbier Station, after the Chez Martin restaurant. The area also boasts tennis courts and mini-golf, so it’s a great afternoon stop for the whole family.
The wall has routes ranging from 4 through to 8 (on the French climbing grade scheme) and although it is only about 7m high it’s a great one for practicing, and also has two auto-belays installed for those without their own rope. Not to mention the view is stunning.
Centre du Sportif
Verbier is due to open a new 400m2 indoor climbing wall as part of its sports centre renovation in July 2017, so that should be up and running and a great place in Verbier to hone your climbing skills or to still get some climbing in on a rainy day – so watch this space!
Le Barme is an outcrop of rock above the Patier area of Verbier that can be seen from many view points in town but can be surprisingly hard to find! Its possible to walk or drive to it if you keep heading up from the Patier area, and the rock itself is approximately a 10 minute walk along a path from the road. Routes here are mostly in the 5s, 6s and 7s, so not much for those looking for super easy climbs but a great place to progress when you’re ready for outdoor climbing and are fully stocked with all your own equipment.
Climbing locations further afield
Located about a 45 minute drive from Verbier, this indoor climbing centre is open from 9am each day and offers over a 120 routes ranging from beginner to expert level with a surface of 1500m2, including both big wall climbing and bouldering. There is a climbing shop, equipment rental and a café. One of the best places around to get climbing instruction or go to practice, it costs about CHF 24 for adults and between CHF 8 – 13 for children under 16 as of 2017.
A hidden gem which has seemingly only been around a couple of year, there is a great little climbing spot just below champex lac with some great routes for climbers. About a 40 minute drive from Verbier again, park just below where the outdoor swimming pool is below town, and follow the footpath for about 10 minutes. The haute route hike between Chamonix and Zermatt actually passes by this rock, so you might also have an audience! Routes are marked and graded here, and it’s a great place for advanced beginner – intermediate climbers. Chamoex lac town is nearby for lunch or to hire a pedelo on the lake. Again, routes are bolted but you will need experience and all your own equipment here.
Chamonix, just over an hours drive from Verbier, is a mecca for mountaineering in Europe.
An old quarry site, this has a wide range of outdoor bolted routes of varying heights. There is a small village nearby but no other facilities, so best to stock up with everything you will need with regard to food and drinks. Some routes are very long so may only be accessible with an 80m rope.
A few tips for climbers just starting out:
- Make sure you hire an instructor or guide if you have never climbed before, climbing can be a dangerous sport due to the height involved and it is important to know how to use your equipment correctly and safely. Instruction can also make it much more fun!
- Always check the grade of the route you are about the climb and ensure you and your belayer feel comfortable with this.
- If climbing outdoors, be fully prepared with letting someone know where you are heading and be aware of emergency numbers – call 112 for emergency services or 144 for ambulance within Switzerland.
- If you’re in the area and planning to do lots of outdoor climbing, there are books available for each area detailing the locations, routes and grades, which we recommend investing in before venturing out on your own.
- If you’re looking to buy or rent climbing gear while in Verbier, both Mountain Air and Xtreme Sports in Verbier have climbing gear for sale and for rent. If you’re looking to buy lots of equipment, Chamonix is probably the best place to head, with a great range of shops for all types of climbing and mountaineering equipment, or there are larger shops nearby based in Martigny.
- For those starting out and wanting to invest in equipment, having good-fitting beginner climbing shoes is the most important. Having your own harness is very useful too and is usually more comfortable than a rented one.
- Always ensure your equipment is rented from a reputable outlet, or if using your own ensure you are confident it is safe to use, and retire and replace it when necessary.