‘IT felt like I was being crushed by a giant wave of snow’, says Xavier De Le Rue, recounting a close encounter with a huge avalanche – and death.

He’s a three-time Freeride World Tour Champion, one of the world’s best big mountain snowboarders, and my guide for a two-day ski touring and off-piste adventure in the uber-cool Swiss resort of Verbier. ‘But don’t worry’, he adds, ‘you’ll be fine’.

Gulp. My skiing is rusty and I’m a little anxious about what lies ahead. But the array of high-tech safety gear I’m wearing is putting my mind at rest.

Xavier survived that tsunami of snow by deploying his airbag, a large balloon – housed in a backpack – that inflates at the pull of a cord, thus making the wearer larger so they naturally rise to the surface, rather than being buried alive.

I have my own airbag on my back, as well as a shovel, probe, and an avalanche transceiver that will emit pulsed radio signals if I need rescuing. ‘Do you have any special devices that can make me a better skier?’ I ask, hopefully. ‘Pardon monsieur, non.’

Five minutes into the off-piste action and disaster strikes. Perhaps my pre-skiing nerves weren’t unfounded, after all?

We stop at the crux of a sweeping, snowy ridgeline and one member of our five-strong group innocuously bends down. There’s the sound of an ACL-tearing, knee-buckling ‘pop’ and our unfortunate comrade is rendered immobile.

Exclusion from the skiing is immediate, replaced instead with an emergency helicopter ride to the hospital.

Maybe the ligament was just ready to give way – but I take it as a stark reminder of the dangers of this type of skiing.

Away from the managed slopes of the resort, the risks of injury, avalanche and disorientation are much higher and any rescue operations are significantly more complicated.

Despite the drama, I get through the morning of acclimatisation skiing unscathed, bar a few embarrassing but non-serious crashes.

As the centrepiece of Switzerland’s largest ski area, the 4 Vallées, Verbier provides access to 410km of slopes, 80 lifts rising to a highpoint of 3,300m at Mont-Fort, and 11 marked off-piste routes.

I’ve barely scratched the surface but I still feel exhausted – and decide to reward myself with a hunger-satiating pizza at Le Dahu. I need sustenance for the expedition ahead. We will spend the next day-and-a-half out in the Alps, ski touring over high passes, sleeping in a remote mountain hut, and carving up fresh powder on the off-piste downhill. It’s how all the cool kids spend their time in mountains these days.

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Verbier is known for its fusion of glamorous après-ski and opulent luxury with high-octane, sporty adventure; a combination that attracts a youthful, energetic crowd.

But, in recent years, a new discipline has gained hipster status – ski touring. Forget the nightlife or haute cuisine, this new trend is all about back-to-basics: strapping grippy ‘skins’ to your skis and slowly gliding uphill, step-by-step, into the wild, rugged backcountry for some escapism and freedom.

And that’s exactly what I experience, as I plod slowly uphill through fresh, undisturbed snow, led now by Gilbert, of Les Guides de Verbier. ‘Try not to lift each ski off the ground’, he tells me, ‘but instead slide your toes along the snow – it’s easier and will use less energy’. Half-mesmerised by the horizon of razor-edged ridges and spiky summits, I’m struggling to concentrate on my technique.

What I lack in technical know-how I make up for in outdoorsy grit, and we arrive at our home for the night in good time.

Cabane du Mont-Fort is a rustic mountain hut with simple bunkrooms, hearty meals (cheese fondue, anyone?), and a tranquil ambience that feels a million miles from the hustle and bustle of swanky downtown Verbier.

I spend the evening on the terrace, watching the setting sun paint a swirling, marbled masterpiece of pinks, oranges and yellows over a distant Mont Blanc. From here on my bench in Val de Bagnes in southern Switzerland, close to the borders of France and Italy, I can gaze over superlative mountain scenery in three countries – a natural spectacle the manmade delights of Verbier will always fail to match.

The following morning we march uphill, initially over a groomed piste before striking off over untouched terrain aiming for Col de la Chaux at 2,940m.

The cloudless sky is azure and there’s barely a breath of wind – it feels like spring. We wind downhill through delicious powder before re-skinning our skis and ascending yet again to Col de Momin, which just tops 3,000m.

I stop and rest – and remove my fiery orange SunGod goggles to ogle the surrounding landscape.

Layers of snowy peaks tower majestically into the blue sky, their dark flashes of exposed, craggy rock starkly contrasting the softness of the ubiquitous white. It is alpine beauty and drama that makes my soul sing. No wonder ski touring is the hippest new trend.