Spread out over a broad, sunny, south-facing plateau above the Rhone Valley in the Valais canton of Switzerland, Crans-Montana wins first prize for mountain scenery.
Its ski area extends from 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.
Crans-Montana is, as its double-barrelled name suggests, made up of two Swiss mountain villages, Crans-sur-Sierre and Montana, that expanded to form a larger urbanised community that has now become a successful year-round conference destination resort. Both villages are accessed via funiculare railway from the valley town of Sierre.
Crans is 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 resort has been awarded the ‘Family Destination’ label by the Swiss Tourism Federation. This is in recognition of the facilities and services offered to families in Crans-Montana, including the large nursery slopes that take up the golf course area in the centre of town.
In January 2019, the Alaïa Chalet, a huge indoor and outdoor multi action sports complex for skiers, snowboarders and skaters, opened up on the outskirts of town. The all-year-round facility caters mostly for young people who want to get into freestyle sports or professionals looking to train in what is recognised as a world class facility.
Crans-Montana - Ski Map & Pistes:
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.
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 snow guns, 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.
Crans-Montana - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
The newly (2018 winter) opened 15 marked ski touring routes, known as the Rando Parc, provide a safe and controlled environment for all levels of ski tourers. With 50 kilometres of tracks marked blue, red or black, they are ideal for first time ski tourers or the more advanced who want to push their limits on the ‘Extreme’ course – over 3,000 metres of vertical climbing.
Advanced skiers and riders are best advised to hire a guide and explore the steep off-piste terrain at Les Faverges, accessed from the south-eastern reaches of the glacier.
Crans-Montana - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
CM is 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 snowshoe trails.
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 more than 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, although there are good value for money options too.
Après 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 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: Zerodix next to the gondola base station in Crans is the go-to après-ski bar 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.
The Moon is the resort's newest bar and is good for cocktails and music, with nightclubs Sky Club and Pacha providing plenty of late night dancing.
Crans-Montana - Ski Hire:
There are lots of good options for ski hire in Crans-Montana. Try Zermatten, Pacific Shop, Rene Ray or Avalanche Pro, all of which offer great ski rental packages.
Crans-Montana - Ski School:
When it comes to learning to ski in Crans-Montana, the Swiss Ski School is a good place to start. Alternatives include Swiss Mountain Sports, and Ultima Ski School.
// HIGHLIGHTS //
Sion (35 mins) Geneva (2hrs)
Sierre (25 mins)