Crans Montana, Switzerland
Crans Montana ski holidays…
One of Switzerland’s and the world’s leading ski resorts, Crans-Montana sits on a 'balcony' 1,500 metres up above the Rhone Valley.
South-facing Crans Montana is known for its spectacular views out across a large swathe of the Alps beyond from the resort itself and from the ski slopes above.The resort is also known for its sunshine, with south-facing slopes soaking up the rays. The lifts climb to 3,000 metres where permanent glacier cover means the resort has one of the longest seasons in the world. Crans-sur-Sierre and Montana were originally two separate villages, but the natural advantages and resulting popularity of the two led them to gradually grow together and merge some 50 years ago.
As well as being a top holiday destination, Crans-Montana is a very pleasant place to live and has developed a strong year-round community, so has much better facilities, shopping and restaurants than many resorts, because many are not run just in the ski season. Former James Bond actor Roger more was a permanent resident here during the latter years of his life and chef Michel Roux lives here and runs a bistro in the resort. Crans-Montana is a major centre for golf and tennis in the summer and these sports can be practised indoors during the winter.
Crans Montana, Switzerland
SKIING IN CRANS MONTANA
What to expect…
Crans-Montana’s ski area extends to 140km of slopes over 1500 metres of vertical, crowned with ski runs up at 3,000 metres above sea level on the Plaine Morte glacier. Although its main reputation is as a paradise for recreational, intermediate skiers with fabulous long cruisers down from the glacier, served by fast, comfortable lifts back up; there is in fact terrain for every taste and ability.
Crans Montana Expert
"Freestyle skiers are especially well catered for in recent years and exceptional ski touring terrain has also been opened up."
LOCAL SKI AREA - CRANS MONTANA
Crans-Montana's extensive ski area is officially broken into three sectors, although for new arrivals the dividing lines can be hard to define, as they're fully interconnected by fast, modern lifts.
Crans-Montana is regarded as an excellent choice for beginners, firstly because its altitude means there's usually resort level snow and for complete beginners, the gentle slopes of the golf course, away from the main slopes, is a perfect protected learning location. Once the basics have been mastered there are easy-to-use lifts to take you up the main area and long gentle pistes to practise your technique on back down.
For intermediate skiers Crans-Montana's slopes really come into their own with the majority of the runs (about 40 of them) rated blue or red, and many of these wonderful fast, long cruising descents (see 'Best For Intermediates' section).
Various special options are available through the season if you book in advance including getting on the slopes early before everyone else or a torchlit descent or night skiing at the other end of the day.
For good skiers, there are just a handful of black runs, with the most challenging generally agreed to be the 4.5km Toula descent, but there are many off-piste itineraries to explore with a guide. Some of the most popular awesome routes descend from the glacier, with others located off the sides of the Chetzeron area.
Freeride facilities also extended to a 'DVA' park where those wanting to ski off-piste can practice avalanche rescue techniques, searching for avalanche beacons (DVA) under the snow, with guidance from ski patrol staff available.
Freestyle is big in Crans-Montana as well with the huge Adrenaline terrain park access by the Crans gondola one of the biggest and best in Switzerland with loads of exciting features as well as a half-pipe (one of only 5 ‘super-pipes in the world) and a ski/boardercross course. There are lines for both beginners and more experienced park fans.
Ski racing is also big in Crans-Montana with the resort a former host of the World Alpine Skiing Championships (in 1987), the second biggest event in ski racing after the Winter Olympics. It has also hosted the Alpine World Cup Finals (the biggest event of the year) on multiple occasions and every year several FIS and World Cup events are also staged here, in various years including men's and women's downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom. Outside race dates the official racing pistes are open for everyone to enjoy and good skiers will enjoy the women’s downhill course, the Piste Nationale.
Because its slopes are predominantly south-facing they do get full sun – very nice for skiing and sitting on the terrace at lunch, but not always great news for snow conditions. However, the resort's altitude, good snowfall record and extensive snowmaking mean this is rarely an issue in Crans-Montana and you can just enjoy the sunshine.
Finally, one big and relatively new feature on the slopes at Crans-Montana is the resort’s Rando Park, believed to be the world’s biggest ski touring area with 15 marked routes of various level of challenge for all abilities from novices wanting to try touring for the first time through to the most experienced looking to really push themselves. For experienced ski tourers guided trips over to neighbouring Anzère or further afield to Grimentz, Verbier or Zermatt are possible.
WIDER SKI AREA - CRANS MONTANA
Crans-Montana is not connected to any other ski area and there are no multi-resort passes valid for a week or so in the region that can be used at nearby resorts.
The only option worth noting is the Magic Pass season pass which covers 30 resorts, including almost all the major names in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Together they offer a combined total of more than 1,000 km of slopes with 16 snow parks, two Olympic halfpipes and three glaciers. The pass, actually organised from Crans-Montana, becomes worthwhile financially if you are staying for several weeks or are planning multiple visits to the region through the season.
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Approximate transfer times:
- Geneva: 2¾ Hrs
- Milan: 3 Hrs
CRANS MONTANA VILLAGE
One of the leading ski resorts in the world, Crans-Montana has a long and illustrious history, and not just as a winter sports destination.
In summer it is also one of Switzerland's leading golf resorts, having opened its first course in 1906 (Where today's Severiano Ballesteros 18 hole course now stands, used for children’s ski lessons in winter) and hosted the first Swiss Golfing Open in 1939. The resort, located in Switzerland’s French-speaking Valais region is easy to reach from Geneva, including by direct train link to the university town of Sierre/Sion below, from where a funicular railway links up to the resort.
Over the decades Crans-Montana has grown into one of the biggest in Europe, stretching for several kilometres along its sunny mountain terrace of lakes and woodland above the Rhone Valley, with views out encompassing many of the great peaks of the Alps including the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Crans-Montana today is a large, cosmopolitan resort boasting hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, spas and plenty of other things to do. These include the kind of attractions you don’t find at many smaller resorts – indoor tennis courts, indoor golf and a casino for example. In addition, the resort’s tourist office maintains a fairly packed programme of activities and events through the ski season with one exciting festival or exhibition after enough, be it the Choc Altitude celebration of all things chocolate or the high energy Caprices electro dance music festival at the end of the season.
Having opened its first hotel more than 125 years ago, today Crans-Montana is both a leading destination resort and a year-round community for several thousand residents and locals and visitors alike make the most of the many facilities. These are all easy to reach with both extensive cleared footpaths around the resort and an efficient bus service regularly circulating.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
Crans-Montana has one of the best restaurant selections in the skiing world with more than 100 establishments to choose from and more or less something for every budget and every taste.
Essentially there’s everything from fast-food take-outs to Michelin starred spots, the usual cosmopolitan mix away from the ski resort standard that is Crans-Montana’s trademark.
Alpine mountain cuisine dominates of course with numerous establishments serving hearty cheese and meat dishes, with fondue and raclette the eternal favourites. Many establishments offer wonderful views out over the valley below.
But it's certainly not just Swiss though. More than 30 establishments serve either exclusively Italian or at least with Italian cuisine as a major part of their menu and there are another half-dozen specialising in French food.
There's just the one Indian restaurant, Le Darshana, but it's one of the most popular in town, partly for its good food and service, partly the high value. It's also one of a large number of establishments with vegetarian-friendly and vegan options.
Famous chef Michel Roux, of the famous culinary family, has been resident in Crans-Montana for over 10 years and in 2016 established his own bistro here, Restaurant Le XIX, next to the golf course.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there are three Japanese restaurants in the resort – believed to be more than any other ski resort outside of Japan itself. They include the superb Mizuki by Kakinuma within the Guarda Golf Hotel & Residences which has been created in a partnership with Kakinuma restaurants in Geneva and offers Japanese cuisine at the highest level of quality and authenticity. Specialities include grilled Wagyu beef, crisp tempura, shabu-shabu and sukiyaki Japanese fondues. There's also a sushi bar serves fresh sushi and sashimi prepared in front of you.
Crans-Montana's reputation for great dining extends up into the mountains above where there are about 20 different places to eat and take in the view spread right across the ski area.
Because of the resort's reputation for full sun and a great view, many have picture windows and/or terraces looking out across the valley. The options vary between large cafeteria-style establishments at the top of the big lifts to smaller, more intimate and often locally owned mountain huts. Chetzeron, 2,112m up is a good example, serving up fine local cuisine from the Valais region and also boasting a three-level terrace! If you can take the high altitude and high price then the Cabane des Violettes (2,208m), close to the top of the gondola, employs a Michelin starred chef to produce a gourmet menu.
Despite its size, and in common with most swiss resorts, the apres-ski scene in Crans-Montana is generally fairly low key.
There are not many dedicated bars – most are part of restaurants but there are lively spots to be found if you want a good night out and several nightclubs in town too. At the end of the ski day, popular places of congregation include Zerodix at the bottom of the Crans piste by the Cry D’Er lift station. Alternatively, the 7 bar at the base of Violettes has room for 50 inside but many more out on the terrace.
In town, Monk’is is a long-standing claimant to the 'best bar in resort' title offering a good music-mix and drinks selection. It tends to be busy all evening and stays open late into the night.
One of the more unusual dancing venues is the 500 person capacity, Cry d'Er Club, part of the large complex of bars, restaurants and other on-mountain facilities up at 2,220 meters above the resort. This is a key venue for the Caprices electro-music festival staged ion Crans-Montana each April.
There are lots to do in the mountains in winter in Crans-Montana besides downhill skiing and snowboarding.
Cross-country skiing is popular with 20km of tracks for both classic and skating styles. These include a high altitude loop 3000m up on the glacier and a 5.6km loop down around the golf course. You can also hike or run on cleared and signposted routes, or go snowshoeing night or day. There’s also dog sledding, tobogganing, tubing and air sports like paragliding and ballooning.
RESORT ACTIVITIES & NON-SKIERS
Crans-Montana is a year-round community and attracts a lot of non-skiing holidaymakers too, so there's plenty to do off the slopes, aimed at both tourists and locals alike.
Indoor sports facilities include tennis courts, bowling, climbing walls and the Chalet Alaïa huge indoor freestyle facility where you can bike, skateboard or snowboard over indoor ramps into foam pits or bounce to your heart's content on trampolines.
The Moubra Tennis Centre also has badminton courts, pool tables, table football and table tennis whilst there’s also an indoor centre dedicated to golf, which is big in the resort outside the ski season, including an indoor putting green, a gym designed with the golfer in mind and golf simulation practice machines.
For skaters and curlers, the recently renovated Ycoor Centre contains an outdoor illuminated skating rink, a curling hall with three rinks whilst outdoor options include snowshoeing hikes by day and night, cleared winter hiking and winter trail running paths as well as the chance to do some winter horse riding. Sledging and tubing are also offered as are paintballing and there’s a shooting range.
There are several gymnasiums open to the public and half a dozen different yoga classes to sign up for including one dedicated to children. In the air, it is also possible to try ballooning, paragliding or take a scenic plane or helicopter flight.
A number of the resort's larger hotels have a swimming pool and spa facilities which are open to the public and you'll also find a museum, library and the first '3D cinema' in the Valais region.
WHO IS CRANS MONTANA SUITABLE FOR?
Here are the highlights...
Reviewers often bemoan the lack of extensive advanced level skiing at Crans-Montana, which is kind of true in terms of the number of groomed blacks, but not really true if you're prepared to head off-piste and explore the ski touring park.
However, what is widely agreed and accepted is that the resort is superb for intermediate level skiers (in other words pretty well everyone who skis on holiday once or twice a year).
Much of the terrain is rated green or blue and there are plenty of fabulous long, sunny runs, including the famous and fabulous 12km, 1500 vertical metre descent from the Plaine Morte glacier. Great intermediate skiing isn't just about the length of the runs though, there's the variety – of which there's plenty (Wide open slopes above the treeline, classic winding descents down through the trees), as well as the uplift. On that latter point, Crans-Montana has invested heavily in fast, modern, queue-gobbling lifts which means you’re whisked back up the slopes in no time to do it all again.
Some Swiss ski resorts like Gstaad and St Moritz are synonymous with luxury but for Crans-Montana it’s a little different – the same highest standards are available here, indeed there are more luxury five star hotels (seven) than at the afore-mentioned resorts, but overall the clientele is much more wide-ranging and there's something for everyone.
Along with a choice of luxurious accommodation, you'll also find plenty of options when it comes to fine dining, with The Mont Blanc within Le Crans Hotel & Spa the most highly regarded of all, with its Michelin starred chef. Health and beauty are also well catered for with a vast choice of beauty and massage therapists, more than 20 separate businesses in the resort and half a dozen different spa centres too.
You’ll find a great choice of high-class shopping on offer as well, with jewellers, haute couture boutiques and art galleries to peruse and plenty of sports and activities at the luxury end of the market, besides simply skiing. Perhaps some winter horse-riding, indoor tennis or golf or a hot air balloon or helicopter ride.
Crans-Montana makes much of its family friendliness with some justification. The wide, largely flat, sunny plateau on which it sits in a good place for families to easily get around.
There are big pedestrianised areas, easy cable cars to board with a buggy and a regular and efficient bus service circulating. There are also lots of attractions, on and off the snow, for children so it’s no surprise that the resort holds the Swiss Government’s ‘Family Destination’ certificate.
Bibi’s Snow Island (Bibi is Crans-Montana's marmot mascot) is a major winter attraction created on the resort’s famous Seve Ballesteros golf course once it is covered in snow. There’s snow tubing here, a magic carpet lift for both novice skiers and for sledgers. For those wanting to ski or board, ski kindergarten is offered by the ski school from age three up and after Bibi’s Island, Crans-Montana offers plenty of wide, gentle slopes to progress on in the main area. Older children have great terrain park facilities to enjoy and there’s the remarkable indoor freestyle sports centre, Chalet Alaïa.
There are lots of activities laid on by the tourist office as well as family-oriented special events through the season. Facilities like swimming pools, bowling alleys, indoor climbing and cinemas all suit families when off the slopes too and there are attractions like a 6km long toboggan run, tubing or ice skating outdoors too. There's even a centre focussed on Swiss toy trains from the past 150 years which kids and many Dads will love.
The resort's tourist office organises a full programme of events through the season and through each week of the winter.
Crans-Montana is a great choice for mixed groups that include non-skiers. The resort is popular year-round and attracts a large percentage of non-skiing visitors, as well as having a sizable tear-round population of its own looking for activities beyond snowsports, so the result is that there's a huge range of indoor and outdoor sports and non-sports activities and facilities
Another big strength is that Crans-Montana is located in a lovely, sunny location on a wide plateau with spectacular views out across the valley. There are lots of pleasant walks in and around the resort and a great public transport service which connects with gondola lifts up the mountain so in essence its quick and easy for non-skiers to get about, go up the mountain to meet skiers in the party for lunch or just a coffee at a mountain restaurant, or simply sit on a sunny terrace in the resort or up the mountain and soak up the rays.
CRANS MONTANA WEATHER
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MAP OF CRANS MONTANA
Find your way…
Here's our map of Crans Montana showing you the key hotels and apartments as well as some of the main points of interest.