Swiss Village by Intrawest

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BrusonIt’s that good in Bruson. There are only two chairlifts and two brutal T-bars. The groomed piste skiing is distinctly limited, easy enough for an intermediate to exhaust in an hour. But the off-piste excursions are epic in variety and, in my experience, unique in their ability to reinstill the elemental joy of skiing in a soul more than somewhat jaded by hundreds of visits to bigger, “better” and more famous resorts.

At Bruson you have to hike to get anywhere, but when you do you can really go somewhere. Less than 40 minutes will take you to a col from which there are two enticing options: back down into Bruson through a wide bowl of inevitably untracked powder; or over onto the south side via open snow?elds, a steep couloir or forest tracks down to the train station in Orsieres. From here you can either continue on to the ski area of Champex Lac or ride the train back to Bruson’s valley base, which is also an access point to the mega-resort of Verbier.

Less challenging, usually, but even more aesthetically gob-smacking is another southfacing itinerary from another lift. It’s only a 15-minute push on skis through the woods to acres and acres of widely spaced snow-clad larch trees. I have escorted serious experts and barely intermediates alike down these seductive slopes on scores of occasions. They all drool and it’s always a genuine adventure. One time I started at 4:30 p.m. and didn’t get home until midnight, and another time we had to throw our skis over a 15-metre rock band and jump feet-first into the snow pile below. When you do get the route-finding right, a long ? re road delivers you to the train station in Sembrancher, again with links back to Bruson and Verbier.

I haven’t even told you about the “studio,” so dubbed by Canadian ski photog Mark Shapiro because of its stunning steeps and countless cover-shot photo opportunities, or the awesome trees accessed by a long traverse out to the east. But I don’t have to, because someday soon you’ll be reading all about it in an Intrawest website or brochure.

Enter Intrawest. Believe it or not, Euros adore Whistler and consider it the epitome of resort planning. Also every Intrawest village so far has been a considerable ?nancial success. That’s why, one must surmise, CdA got Intrawest to build Arc 1950 at a CdA resort instead of building it themselves, and why CdA has subsequently signed a new agreement whereby Intrawest will build 2,500 tourist beds in the CdA resort of Flaine between 2008 and 2012.

I have seen the artist’s drawings of the Bruson development, which will consist of four hameaux, or hamlets, in traditional stone and wood situated at the top of Bruson’s current chairlift. This development will be connected by a new gondola system running down to the valley ?oor, right to the train station, and up the other side of the valley to Verbier.

New ski lifts and new pistes are planned, too, but overall this is a modest project, perhaps the smallest Intrawest has ever engaged in, with only about 1,000 beds in question. Nonetheless, for those of us who cherish skiing in Bruson, this project is a simple matter of develop or die. The Verbier ski lift company that owns Bruson’s lifts loses $500,000 a year there. Despite the proximity to Verbier’s pullulating pistes, hosting more than one-million skier visits most years, Bruson is almost always deliciously deserted. Even at Christmas I boarded the chairlift without a minute’s wait.

The local government, which includes both Bruson and Verbier, is as keen as local powderhounds to save Bruson. In addition to giving half a million dollars per winter to the Verbier lift company for snowmaking, the local government has pledged at least $12 million to build a new telecabine up to the Intrawest village.

Problems remain, not the least being Switzerland’s law strictly limiting sales of real estate to foreigners. Intrawest investors are typically North American or British, not Swiss. But scores of similar small family ski areas across the Alps are watching this project closely, realizing that such boutique chalet real estate developments could give them a new lease on life.

Doug Sager
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