Fresh mountain air, gleaming white pistes and charming hospitality await in the ski resort of Crans-Montana, located in the canton of Valais in the Swiss Alps. Mt. Blanc’s snowy peak can just be spotted from the distance.
The municipality, which was created through the fusion of the two centres of Crans and Montana, is perched high above the vineyards of Sierre at around 1500m. It is one of the few ski resorts where you don’t need a car to get there: simply catch the two-hour train from Geneva Airport to Sierre and hop on the funicular that takes you directly to the resort in just 30 minutes – it’s that simple!
During the 18th and early 19th century, the people of this region lived a difficult existence. Cut off from the rest of the world, farming and winemaking were the two core industries, and each summer families would make the long and arduous journey to the mountains to put the cows out to pasture.
Today things are very different and the locals live a prosperous existence. Crans-Montana and the surrounding villages are home to 16,000 people, but this can increase to 50,000 in the winter ski season. This is no chocolate box style resort, but rather a buzzing town full of boutique and designer shops, 30 hotels, 96 restaurants and sports facilities including an extensive indoor climbing wall.
It is also one of only two resorts in Switzerland with the family destinations label, and skiers of every level will find plenty to keep them amused. It’s a popular resort with Italian and Swiss skiers, along with the Brits.
Crans-Montana contains its fair share of quaint wooden chalets, but there are also modern concrete structures. The streets are lined with pretty twinkling lights, and in the summer they host a street art festival and decorate the plain concrete walls that are dotted around the town – there’s even a mural of James Bond star Sir Roger Moore, who had a house here for the last 20 years of his life.
The skiing at Crans-Montana is entirely interconnected, so provided you are at least an intermediate skier you won’t need to catch any buses. The lifts, which run from 08:30 to either 16:00 or 16:30 are modern and comfortable, and thankfully there’s barely a T-bar in site – it’s mostly made up of chairlifts and gondolas.
While Crans-Montana is quite spread out, there’s a choice of three gondolas to transport you from the resort into the mountains.
The resort is divided into four adapted areas: the family area, the fun area, the glacier area and the nature area. The glacier is the highest point for pisted skiing, at around 2700m. Crans-Montana also has the second biggest snowpark in Switzerland, and while it looked terrifying to me, there were plenty of winter sports enthusiasts pulling off some impressive tricks.
There are 61 ski runs covering 140km of pistes graded blue, red and black – in general, the black runs are on the gentler side. If you’re looking for a challenge, the Woman’s Downhill run is one of the steepest in Europe – it’s a thrilling run with perfectly pisted snow, and twists and turns through the pine trees with some steep drops.
When you’re done for the day, ski down to Zerodix at Crans-Cry d’Er for a beer or glass of wine with your ski boots on. This is probably the liveliest après ski bar in Crans-Montana.
Why go there
The views: Simply put, Crans-Montana offers breathtaking views from every angle. The glacier is a must-visit, and can be easily reached by cable car. The mountains and surrounding area are thickly covered with snow, and you might even spot a Chamois. I felt compelled to stop and take my phone out to snap photos on a near-constant basis.
The events: Crans-Montana hosts some fantastic events throughout the winter season. This includes the Women’s World Cup downhill (taking place 22-23 February 2020) and big electronic festival, Caprices Festival, which is taking place this year from 16-19 April. We were lucky enough to watch a non-official World Cup race for the men’s slalom, which took place in the evening and including British racer Dave Ryding.
The wine: Grapes were first made into wine as here as early as 800 BC, and wine makers here are true connoisseurs. Swiss wine is rarely exported, and most of the local vineyards produce less than a few hundred thousand bottles per year. Sample a glass of Fendant wine as an aperitif, followed by a large glass of local pinot noir – you won’t regret it!
The X Factor: Take a break from downhill skiing and try your hand at ski touring: you can rent specialist skis and boots which allow you to detach your heel from the bindings so you can go uphill. Once you attach your “skins” – a sort of sticky carpet attached to the bottom of your skis – you’re ready to go. There’s a picturesque 4km ski touring trail up to Colombire through the pine trees, which ends at Columbire Le Hameau, where you can tuck into a delicious plate of mac & cheese Swiss style.
Luxury: Le Crans Hotel & Spa is an exclusive hotel with only 15 rooms and 3 suites, an indoor and outdoor pool, spa facilities and a one-star Michelin restaurant.
Mid-range: Valaisia Hotel 3* is one of Crans-Montana’s wellness hotels. The spa has a heated saltwater pool along with a whirlpool, sauna, steam room and cold plunge pool. There’s also a large characterful bar with excellent music. The rooms overlook the valley and it’s just a 3-minute walk to the gondola.
Budget: Bellalui Youth hostel was established in a clinic built in1930, and has been transformed into a modern youth hostel whilst still respecting the history of the building. You can choose from a shared room (4-6 beds), family room or double room.
Food in the mountains: Food in Switzerland isn’t cheap, but it’s very good quality so at least you’re getting your money’s worth. My favourite restaurant on the slopes was Cry D’er at the top of the Blue gondola, which comes complete with stunning mountain views, delicious food and friendly service. If you’re dining in Crans-Montana itself, Mosaic serves some stunning desserts, such as their Dome au Chocolat with mango and passion fruit.
Weather: We skied here in early January, and every day consisted of blazing sunshine and barely a breeze – I could have done without my thermals which is unusual for this time of year.
Language: Crans-Montana is a French-speaking region in Switzerland, but many of the locals also speak English.
Currency: The currency is Swiss Francs (CHF) – some restaurants only accept cash so make sure you carry some with you at all times. Currently £1 = CHF 1.27.
Getting there: SWISS offers more than 150 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick and many international airports), Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh to Zurich, Geneva or Sion (seasonal). One way fares start from £74 to Zurich and £83 to Geneva including all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of hold and hand luggage.
TOP TIP: SWISS will transport your first set of ski or snowboard equipment and boots free of charge in addition to your standard free baggage allowance subject to availability (excluding hand luggage only fares).
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This includes trains from Geneva/Zurich/Sion as well as the funicular from Sierre to Crans-Montana.