Crans-Montana is a well-established year-round mountain resort, spread out over a broad south-facing plateau above the Rhone Valley in the Valais canton of Switzerland. The resort's ski area extends from the pretty wooded slopes above its northern suburbs, across a sizeable area of attractive mid-altitude terrain shared with the nearby small resort village of Aminona, all the way up to the Plaine-Morte Glacier in the neighbouring canton of Bern.
The community of Crans-Montana is actually comprised of two original villages: Crans-sur-Sierre and Montana; the former lying to the west of a small tarn (the Etang Grenon) that separates it from the townland of Montana, the latter connected by funicular railway with the interesting valley town of Sierre.
Crans is now the defacto centre of the resort; it has an upmarket ambiance and houses an ample collection of chic boutiques, jewellers, and art galleries, along with a wide choice of sophisticated bars and quality restaurants.
Crans-Montana played an important role in modern ski history: Sir Henry Lunn, the celebrated pioneer of British tourism to the Alps, helped organise the first of the now famous Kandahar Trophy series of ski races here on 7 January 1911, the world's first ever official Alpine ski race event.
The Crans-Montana ski area is divided into four main sectors, from west to east: Crans, Montana, Barzettes-Violettes, and Aminona; each sector is accessed from its respective base area by gondola lift, and a free half-hourly ski-bus service runs between the base terminals of these four lifts.
The majority of the area is an undemanding playground for intermediates, mostly comprised of cruise-able reds and a few mid-range blues, with just a couple of low-end black runs; advanced visitors are best advised to hire a guide in order to explore the steep off-piste terrain at Les Faverges, accessed from the south-eastern reaches of the glacier.
There are home-run pistes down to all four base stations, so you can squeeze every kilometre out of the many lengthy runs and return to base at the end of the day without having to download by gondola. The lowest slopes are equipped with snowguns, so have some snow security to cope with their southerly aspect; they are also prettily wooded, which provides shelter and enhanced visibility if needed on poor weather days.
The mid-altitude slopes of the main upper ski area are all above the tree line and reach reasonably snow-sure heights, particularly on the albeit limited pistes at the summit sector on the Plaine Morte Glacier; the superb long red run down from the glacier is by far the highlight of the area.
The scenery is outstanding: the glacier covers an area of ten square kilometres and offers 360-degree panoramas; the views from the slopes in most sectors are also impressive, taking in a chain of major Alpine peaks, including the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc; the slope-side surroundings are scenic too, particularly in the canyon-like area below Les Violettes, which has been dubbed the 'Colorado' zone.
Despite the resort's somewhat staid image, its excellent snowpark makes it popular with snowboarders and freestyle skiers; modules include a halfpipe, SBX course, slope-style zone, jumps, wall ride, and various boxes and rails.
There are beginners' slopes above Montana and Aminona, but the best option for absolute beginners and for children is the separate 'Snow Island' zone on the gentle fairways of the prestigious Golf-Club Crans-sur-Sierre, equipped with ski-tows and conveyor-belt surface lifts during the winter months.
Off the slopes and apres ski
Crans-Montana is a popular year-round conference destination, so the resort has plenty of off-slope amenities and non-ski activities to offer. It's a sizeable place, with sprawling suburbs covering much of the broad plateau on which it sits; the mostly flat ground around the main parts of the town make it a pleasant place to stroll and there are more than 60km of way-marked walking paths and snowshoeing trails in the surrounding area.
Shopping is the main attraction for the many non-skiing visitors; the greatest concentration of shops are clustered in the centre of Crans, with many stylish boutiques offering haute-couture brands, expensive jewellery and top-of-the-range Swiss watches.
There are over 60 restaurants, covering a wide range of international cuisine: traditional Swiss, French and Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Lebanese, amongst others; standards and prices are generally high.
Apres ski is sophisticated rather than rocking, which perfectly suits Crans-Montana's well-heeled primary clientele of couples and mature second-home owners who prefer to relax in one of the resort's cafés or tea rooms, and to have a quiet pre- and post-prandial drink in a stylish bar or a flutter on the roulette and card tables in the resort's casino.
There are however a number of more lively venues catering for younger and young-minded visitors too: the Zerodix next to the gondola base station in Crans is the go-to apres-ski joint at the end of the day, featuring resident DJs and an umbrella-bar party atmosphere; later on in the evenings, the Amadeus and Monk'is are two of the most popular haunts.
There are also a couple of small cabaret-style clubs, Cabaret Aux Noctambules and Harry's Club; plus two larger nightclubs, Xellent and Pacha.