Crans-Montana stretches along the bottom of the ski slopes that are tucked away behind the trees. Two villages – Crans and Montana – are now a hip towns. There’s a growing selection of smart hotels, plenty of lively but cool apres-ski and a boisterous British presence, especially during the City Ski Championships when the resort is flooded with teams for amateur races.
Why go there
There’s a chilled-out feeling here, the effortlessly monied feeling of the best Swiss resorts mingling with the dancing and fizz-quaffing Brits. And it’s pretty, far from the usual resort where the wide open expanse of slopes hits the streets; the fun starts at three gondolas spread across the resort and tucked away – and the skiing ends here too.
A stroll through the shops is a treat, too, but there are more natural places to stroll, along tree-lined roads between the resort’s two halves. There are three lakes with paths and the Lantern Walk path with illuminated trees taking in a golf course (the occasional cross-country skier may whizz past) and lake, with huts selling gluhwein.
There are 50 miles of winter hiking trails, a skating rink, sledging and snowtubing runs, a snowpark with an Olympic half-pipe as well as the chance to try curling on an indoor rink.
The slopes sweep across a south-facing mountainside, gazing across a wide valley where there’s never any danger of the sun being obscured by peaks. There are 88 miles of runs, most of them comfortably skiable reds.
Long, pretty runs through the trees descend all the way down from the Cry d’Er gondola, to the base, off to one side and to the Montana gondola, and across to the Violettes Express gondola. From the top of the latter is the Violettes cable car which purrs up to the most dramatic slopes, from the Plaine Mort glacier at 9,600ft.
There’s a little more skiing via the Le Lac drag lift up here but most go for the Kandahar run, marked black but really a fast red. Breezy reds and blues push towards the area boundary, funnelling back to the main pistes. The Nationale Express chairlift opens up the World Cup race runs, mostly manageable if you’re not actually racing. A nice, unhurried place for family skiing.
City Ski Championships
A rollicking weekend of skiing and partying rather than the closed competition it might sound, founded in 2000 by Britain’s Momentum Ski.
Originally aimed at the world of finance, insurance and the like, that’s still a large part of it with teams from a number of companies, but it’s increasingly open to groups, chums and even individuals in search of a good time.
Celebs include F1 champ Damon Hill, Ski Sunday presenter Graham Bell and BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner who, shot by terrorists is now a champion of disability skiing, while famed German DJ Mousse T (he’s worked with Tom Jones) this year helped with sounds.
The event centres on a giant slalom race for everyone (with Graham Bell commentating), plus a team slalom event, which you can take as seriously as you like.
This year that was augmented by open-air apres-ski parties, open to all-comers, one at the bottom of the slopes at the Zerodix, another at the top of the Cry d’Er gondola, with music from Revival, Britain’s DJ-meets-retro-soul record label. There was an evening celeb Q&A and a prize-giving dinner at slopeside, followed by a night of partying at Cry d’Er Club d’Altitude (tickets available to all) with Revival’s band of singers joining the throng followed by Mousse T’s star set.
Eating and drinking
Top of the tree is Gastronomic Restaurant L’Ours, the home of feted local chef Franck Reynaud, which serves Michelin-starred set menus of between five and eight courses, costing up to near £200. The setting is .aged timbered luxury in the Hostellerie du Pas de l’Ours hotel.
There is, however, Les Bistrot des Ours, more realistic but still with elegant provincial dishes such as chicken with Perigord truffles (£45).
More realistic still is La Cabane des Violettes, a rustic hut high on the slopes where Franck daily supervises a manic lunchtime service to 100-plus skiers crammed on to long tables. Most go for the cheese fondue but there’s rosti, mountain sausage and more.
Luxury: Six Senses Crans-Montana is opening in March (2023), the latest of sleek spa resorts that stretch from Ibiza to Oman. Sultry sophistication on the slopes just above the base of the Cry d’Er gondola. A dazzling reception area, eye-catching spa areas and a breathtaking pool below hundreds of hanging wooden posts. Rooms have giant beds and freestanding baths with views while the Wild Cabin bar and restaurant has a panoramic glamour and the White Tiger with its Japanese cuisine ‘roars’ at 9.30 when a DJ emerges. And it should be good with doubles from £1,400 a night.
Mid-range: Opened in February, the Faern is a contemporary rebirth of long-standing Hotel Valaisia. Sitting at the top end of the resort, all but across the road from the Montana-Arnouva gondola, rooms have lofty valley views. The bar is cool and smart – I saw evening entertainment of a DJ playing well-known pop tunes while a violinist danced across the floor (and the DJ took to the bongos too). The Eteila Brasserie serves modernistic Swiss cuisine, topping out at deer fillet flambéed with Valais bacon-infused gin (£45).
Budget: Crans-Montana youth hostel in a 1930s sanatorium, now a historic monument, with sun terraces, restored furniture and balconies on a plateau near slopes and town. Mountain views from bar, restaurant and lounge, with wifi. Bed in a shared room from about £50 per night Double and family rooms are available.
The X Factor
A combination of Swiss charm and a decent amount of skiing without the sometimes rushed feel of bigger, linked resorts. Yet there’s likely – and stylish – apres-ski at both top and bottom of the Cry d’Er gondola. It’s also easy to access by train from both Geneva and Zurich airports, a 2-3 hour journey through magnificent scenery (and from the latter past Lake Thunersee) to the little town of Sierre.
Just around the corner is a funicular, a century-old ride but completely renewed in 2022, which runs more than two and a half miles (Europe’s longest) from valley up the mountain to the resort, a 13-minute ride with wonderful views as you rise 3,000ft. The funicular is included on a Swiss Pass train ticket.
Getting there: SWISS has more than 150 flights a week from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Newquay to Zurich and Geneva. From £79 one-way including hold luggage and ski and boot carriage.
More info: crans-montana.ch; City Ski Championships 2024 is February 1-4
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