Winter Sports in Crans Montana, Switzerland
Crans Montana, Switzerland Travel Guide
Crans Montana, located at an extremely sunny south-facing shelf just 1,500m above sea level, has its well-heeled charm (or fantastic skiing when the snow is right). But in these times of diminishing snowlines and global warming, this remains a place to book three days rather than three months in advance. Not that the lack of snow bothers most of its visitors, who come for a little skiing, a bit shopping and a few health treatments in this grand alpine rest home that extends 3km from end to end.
Mountain access to Crans Montana's intermediate-friendly pistes is via four efficient gondolas, at Crans, Montana, Barzettes and Aminona. The gondola from Barzettes goes directly to Les Violettes, from where a 30-person funitel gondola takes skiers up to the area's highest point, the Plaine Morte glacier, at 3,000m. From the top, choices are limited to a few baby tows or a handsome 11km-long red all the way back down to the resort 1,500m below.
Sadly this is Crans Montana's sole high-level run and the rest of the action all happens below 2,500m. When the snow's right, then the combination of tree-lined pistes, stunning views and gentle gradients can produce an intermediate's paradise, but too often the lower runs are affected by slush or go away altogether, despite an impressive snowmaking operation. Speed nuts will want to try their tuck on the Piste Nationale men's downhill run from Les Violettes, while a more tranquil time can be had on the runs below Petit Bonvin.
Complete novices have great nursery areas and start out on the smooth greens around the golf course, moving on up the mountain to the longer blues beneath Cry d'Er as confidence increases.
The toughest skiing in the area can be chanced upon below the Toula chair, home to the area's only black pistes, but hire a guide and you will discover there's plenty of underused off-piste above and below the treeline.
The restaurant at the top of the Plaine Morte glacier offers fine views from its terrace, but the best of Crans Montana's several mountain eateries can be found lower down. Top of the list for food and atmosphere is Plumachit, tucked in among the trees, while Amadeus is a lively bar with snacks and sun terrace.
In spite of its relatively sedate image, Crans Montana is a big boarding destination, aided by the opening of a vast terrain park on top of Aminona. There's also a half-pipe at Cry d'Er, endless off-piste tree-dodging and a gondola and chairlift-heavy lift system.
Everything from swimming pools to skin tightening treatments is on hand at several hotel wellness centers. Retail therapy is also common, especially in Crans where chic boutiques and a casino compete for your francs. Back outdoors there are two ice-skating rinks, 60km of marked hiking trails and a 6km sledge run.
There are a few special places among Crans Montana's 80 restaurants. Gluttons may want to book in advance for dining on a grand scale at the Michelin-starred Hostellerie du Pas de I'Ours in Crans. For something a bit more modest, Le Mayen in Montana dishes out Swiss standards in faux alpine surroundings. There's nothing remotely alpine about Al Zapata, but if you fancy fajitas and Margaritas, then this place makes Mexican pretty well.
This isn't a wild resort by any standards, but for post-slope action you can drop by Amadeus in Montana or the George & Dragon in Crans. Or if you'd like to follow your Mexican with a drop of Cuban, then go for the Punch Bar in Crans. For a more natural high, Friday night is ski night and there's a floodlit piste on Cry d'Er.
Crans Montana has more than 50 generally upscale hotels. Top choice is the five-star pyramid-shaped Crans Ambassador. In spite of the relatively jaded interior, it's well positioned near the slopes with great health treatments, indoor pool, spacious rooms and splendid views. Far more magnetic is the Hostellerie du Pas de I'Ours. Built in handsome chalet style, it offers just nine individually designed suites, plus a Michelin-starred restaurant below. For something a bit more downscale, Hotel de la Prairie is a family-friendly chalet-style three-star that offers a minibus to the slopes.
A Private Apartment Ski Resort at Crans Montana is available 5 minutes away from ski pistes and golf course. Guests can get the same astonishing view of the Swiss Alps. Rates start at $50 per night.
Hotel Olympic is a traditionally styled hotel run by the Bonvin-Clivaz family and is situated in the center of the Crans-Montana resort close to the shopping facilities and the ski lifts. Breakfast and Taxes are included in the rates which start at $58 per person.