Switzerland’s Crans-Montana boasts lots of sunshine and gorgeous views
By LEAH LARKIN | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: November 13, 2014
Sunshine and snowy slopes. A perfect combination. If you like basking in sunlight while whizzing down the mountains on skis or boards, Crans-Montana is for you.
This Swiss resort claims the sun shines “300 days a year on the Haut-Plateau (high plateau).” Its south-facing slopes occupy a high plateau above the Rhone Valley and offer a fantastic mountain panorama.
Two mountain villages, Crans-sur-Sierre and Montana Vermala, began marketing themselves as one resort about 40 years ago. In town, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.
Its three main ski areas are linked and offer 140 kilometers (87 miles) of marked terrain.
While the sun is a treat, it can wreak havoc with snow. I spent a few days in Crans, as it is often called, late last March. The slopes at lower elevations were bare. Even high up we often had to walk over patches of dirt to reach more snow.
“This is the barest I have ever seen the mountain,” said ski instructor and guide Guy Frere-Cook. “You may have to give up good snow for good weather.”
However, when the snow falls “with powder the off-piste is fantastic,” he added. When Mother Nature fails, snow cannons can blanket one-third of the resort’s slopes.
Frere-Cook, who is British, has been teaching on the Crans slopes for 10 years.
“I did not intend to stay so long,” he says. But, Crans-Montana “has the real feel of a real town. You are part of a real community. It’s not just a winter resort. It’s a brilliant resort.”
Because it was late in the season and the snow was thin, he and I were the only customers at Cabane des Taules, a funky eatery on Piste de la Toula where we stopped for a morning break. Tricky maneuvering was required to find enough snow to reach this delightful spot where local Pierre Chauveaux offers outdoor treats: raclette (melted cow’s milk cheese) and polenta au fromage (cheese polenta), as well as Johannisberg, a regional wine. I had to try the polenta (yummy), and he insisted I try the wine, even though it was early in the day.
“The Swiss drink lots of wine,” Frere-Cook said. “I was shocked to see people drinking before noon.”
He gave his tip for a Crans ski day: “Ski in the morning. Stop at noon and have a nice lunch with a couple of beers. Enjoy being in the mountains. Don’t worry about skiing anymore.”
I like it. After a morning of fast skiing and covering much of the resort, I did just that. But first, the long, long run from the highest point, the Plaine Morte glacier at 9,840 feet, down to the valley, a 12-kilometer (7½-mile) jaunt. Another must was the Piste National downhill course for some speedy cruising.
Lunch at the restaurant at the Cabane des Violettes gondola station was the stuff of ski brochures. The 125-mile broad panorama from the terrace encompasses all the major Alpine peaks that reach 2,500 feet. My ski guide was right. I was more than happy to lounge in the sunshine, ponder the mighty mountains and write off afternoon skiing. Of course, had the snow been better …
Crans-Montana is a red run resort, perfect for intermediate skiers. There are some beginner (nursery) slopes at base level. But, to reach the easiest slopes on the mountain, you first need to ski slopes that are a bit more demanding.
It’s not just Frere-Cook who is smitten with Crans. The resort is also said to be popular with wealthy Russians who have bought chalets and apartments in and around the town. They, and the other upper-crust residents, can shop at all the designer boutiques in the resort, which has a reputation as a shopping mecca. Big names in fashion, watches and sports equipment line the Crans-Montana streets.
Getting there: Crans-Montana is 114 miles from Geneva (closest international airport). It can be reached by train from both Geneva and Zurich. However, check with local military-based ski clubs to see if Crans is on their schedules.
Costs: A one-day ski pass costs 63 Swiss francs (about $61).
Accommodations: The hotel, Le Mont Blanc Paisible (montpaisible.ch), offers comfortable rooms, many with breathtaking views, and is within a short walk of Les Violettes gondola station. The hotel has a restaurant and offers ski packages.
• Crans-Montana website: www.crans-montana.ch;
• Cabane des Violettes, www.cabanedesviolettes.ch.