Sunny Side of Skiing at Crans Montana

Crans Montana has long been considered one of the top ski areas in Switzerland. This commune is part of the ‘Best of the Alps’ grouping which includes other prestigious resorts like St. Moritz, Lech Zürs, St Anton and Cortina d’Ampezzo. Comprised of 2 separate townships, Crans and Montana, the town is a lively and vibrant community with the ski areas all built around it. As a top ski resort, the town counts several celebrities as its past and present residents so it is an attractive town to visit in its own right.

Crans Montana at dusk
Crans Montana at dusk

GETTING THERE

To get to Crans Montana, the easiest way through public transport is via Sierre. There are direct buses from the Sierre main railway station, or visitors just need to take a short 1 minute walk to the funicular station which has regular services every half hourly. Ticket prices cost about CHF31.20 for set of 6 rides with the SBB Half Fare card or CHF62.40 for visitors without the half fare card.

View on the ride up
On the funicular to Crans Montana
Bus to Crans Montana
Bus to Crans Montana

Visitors could also drive up to the town of Crans Montana around the winding roads and unless there is heavy snow, the roads should be quite clear of ice and obstruction. This makes the ski resort easily accessible even for those staying overnight in the cheaper town of Sierre. Even for day trippers staying in the valley towns, it is very easy to get to Crans Montana.

Bus drop off for escalator to Arnouva
Bus drop off for escalator to Arnouva

Parking for skiers who drive over is available at the Barzettes base which has the most direct access to the cable cars. There are more parking spaces at Arnouva and Crans but they are more indirect access to the pistes. Parking is quite expensive (CHF2 per hour) if you are going to be skiing for the whole day, though they do have weekly and monthly parking passes for sale.

Car park at Barzettes
Car park at Barzettes

CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS

As a very established ski resort, Crans Montana has an excellent lift infrastructure with 2 main cable cars from the village. One of them is the Crans-Cry d’Er cable car departing from near the town of Crans, while another is the Arnouva cable car that deposits skiers to the Arnouva base. The latter is closer to the tourist office and the funicular station so that is where most day skiers taking the funicular would start from. However to get to the Arnouva cable car, there is a set of escalators and some stairs. The Crans-Cry d’Er cable car is also not immediately next to the main town centre so do not expect the usual ski-out in many of the ski resorts.

Cable car to Cry d'Er
Cable car to Cry d’Er
Top of Arnouva
Top of Arnouva

From the Arnouva cable car, the Arnouva-Cry d’Er high speed 6-seater chairlift brings skiers to the top of Cry d’Er which forms one of the focal mid-mountain areas in Crans Montana. This chairlift is has a bubble cover making for a comfortable ride when the winds are strong. Over at the top of Cry d’Er, the Nationale Express chairlift links Cry d’Er with Barzettes while the base of the Bellalui chairlift is accessible from the back of Cry d’Er Club.

At the top of the Arnouva-Cry d'Er chairlift
Arnouva-Cry d’Er chairlift
Nationale Express chairlift
Nationale Express chairlift

From Barzettes, the Violettes Express cable car brings skiers to the Cabane des Violettes which is the second mid-mountain area in Crans Montana. It is also here that the Funitel departs for Plaine Morte. Whatever it is visitors should definitely take a ride on the Funitel as it brings them to the highest lift-accessed area in Crans Montana and the view along the ride is jaw dropping in itself.

On the Violettes Express cable car
On the Violettes Express cable car
Riding on the funitel
Riding on the funitel

Several other chairlifts can be accessed from Violettes, with the 6-seater Cabane de Bois being the connection back to the Funitel for skiers who descend from the Plaine Morte.

Cabane de Bois chairlift
Cabane de Bois chairlift

Another 4-seater Toula chairlift will allow skiers to get to Aminona and Petit Mont Bonvin ski area from the bottom of Les Marolires. The Toula chairlift is similar to the Nationale Express in that both are 2-stages chairlift with an intermediate stop. Over in the Aminona area, there is the 4-seater La Tsa chairlift at the end that serves mainly easier blue pistes in the Aminona sectpr.

On the Toula chair
Toula chairlift
Top of La Tsa in Aminona
Top of La Tsa in Aminona

Amongst the ski resorts I visited on this trip, this one has the most impressive ski lift infrastructure as there is no need for T-bars to access the summits with plenty of chairlifts and cable cars covering several faces of the mountain resort. One thing to note is that the starting point of the ski area is not always easily visible for day visitors who visit Crans Montana for skiing. This is because most first time visitors would likely take the Arnouva or Crans-Cry d’Er cable car and their entry point is via an escalator that is not immediately visible or require a 5-minute walk from the streetside.

Chetseron T-bar
Chetseron T-bar

COST & VALUE

One day ski passes cost about CHF69 (~$70) when purchased online while 7-day passes costs CHF209 so there is plenty of value purchasing multi-day passes here compared to other ski resorts in the Alps. For single day passes, prices here are similar to the top resorts in the Alps like St. Moritz or the Arlberg region. However taking into account the comparable ski acreage and lift infrastructure I think it is worth it.

Ticket office at the bottom of Arnouva
Ticket office at the bottom of Arnouva

Crans Montana is indeed more expensive to ski compared to Saas Fee or other ski resorts in Valais but it is easy to get to since the funicular is close to the main railway station in Sierre. Though skiers visiting for the day should add in the cost of the funicular train ride as well which can add up to your cost of skiing here.

Ticket counter at Barzettes
Ticket counter at Barzettes

BEGINNER RUNS

The place where beginners start their lesson is mainly in Arnouva as that is where the easy blue slopes are located. There is another spot in the village comprised of T-bars and magic carpets by the golf course but I would not cover that here since that is more for first time skiers who have never skied before. Ski school lessons are mainly held in the Arnouva base there there is another magic carpet for first time skiers.

Ski base at Arnouva
Ski base at Arnouva
T-bar for blue slopes
Verdets blue piste at Arnouva

Aside from the T-bar at Arnouva, the Chetseron T-bar also serves beginners going from Cry d’Er to the Chetseron Design Hotel. This run is spectacular for viewing the sunset.

Cry d'Er and Chetseron
Cry d’Er and Chetseron

The majority of easy blue pistes though is over at the Aminona sector, in the areas served by the TSA chairlift. However to get back to the base village, skiers have to go through the red pistes so access is limited to beginner skiers who have no problem with tackling easy red pistes.

Wide La Tsa piste
Wide La Tsa piste

Thus most beginner skiers are restricted to skiing mainly around Cry d’Er and Aminona though there is a snow park that has been designed for easy riding and skiers who are new to snow parks.

Snow park at Cry d'Er
Pistes around the Snow Park at Cry d’Er

INTERMEDIATE RUNS

Red pistes makes up the vast majority of the runs in Crans Montana so intermediate skiers can find plenty of fun throughout the mountain. The longest intermediate ski trails here would most probably be from the top of Violettes to the base at Barzettes. This whole run can be broken down to shorter runs as they could stop by the Cabane de Bois chairlift in between to go back up or choose to go down all the way towards the cable car at Barzettes.

Le Geiger piste from Violettes
Le Geiger piste from Violettes
Cabane de Bois piste
Cabane de Bois piste

While most of the red intermediate runs are quite do-able even for those progressing, there are some parts that can get quite bumpy and pose a challenge to skiers by the end of the day. This includes the red runs at the bottom of Barzettes and the lower parts of Arnouva.

Toula red piste
Toula red piste
Cry d'Er piste in the sunset
Cry d’Er piste in the sunset

My preference for long and wide red pistes meant that I really enjoyed the red Bellalui piste. This slightly banked ski area seems quieter and there is easy access to Cry d’Er and the Bellalui lodge from the piste. Not to mention, the view from the Bellalui piste is beautiful with views of the Lac de Tseuzuier.

Bellalui piste and chairlift
Bellalui piste and chairlift
Zabona piste
Zabona piste

The red runs from Chetseron back to Crans is also enjoyable in the morning when it is not as choppy though there is a somewhat steep black section at the start of this piste when starting from the Chetseron hotel.

Upper Chetseron piste
Upper Chetseron piste
Toula ski area with Cabane les Taules
Toula ski area with Cabane les Taules

EXPERT RUNS

Crans Montana has several black marked runs with the most significant being the long Kandahar ski trail from the top of Plaine Morte to the base of Toula chairlift. While this long run is the only way out of Plaine Morte, it is more of a hard red piste and stronger intermediate skiers should have no trouble going down here. It is also my favourite piste in Crans Montana due to its length and fantastic views throughout the piste. To get an overview of this piste, skiers can observe it from the Funitel and if they are not that confident, they can always take the Funitel back to Violettes.

Traverse at Kandahar
Traverse at Kandahar
Lower Kandahar piste
Lower Kandahar piste

Some of the other black pistes includes the Col du Pochet route from the back of Bellalui towards Violettes. A portion of this piste is under the shade which can result in a steep and icy condition which explains why it is marked black. Slightly narrow pistes makes this a harder piste even so it should preferably be attempted by advanced skiers and riders.

Skiers on Col du Pochet
Skiers on Col du Pochet

Other black pistes includes the ski trail running from the right (east) side of Cry d’Er along the ridge towards Barzettes and the black piste from Chetzeron towards the base of Crans-Cry d’Er cable car. These are slightly steeper piste that should pose no problem for skiers who can carve and have a good technical grasp of skiing and boarding.

Black section at Upper Chetseron
Black section at Upper Chetseron

BACKCOUNTRY & TERRAIN PARK

As a venue for many skiing and snowboarding competitions, Crans Montana has an Olympic sized half-pipe right in the middle of Cry d’Er. There are even 2 T-bars (Snow Park and Merignou) setup to handle the skiers going for it in the well equipped terrain park.

Half pipe at Cry d'Er
Olympic sized half pipe at Cry d’Er Snow Park

With a world class terrain park, freestyle skiers and boarders would have a blast in Crans Montana.

Terrain park in the sunset
Terrain park in the sunset

In addition to a great snow park, Crans Montana has designated freeride areas with lines marked in yellow. These lines are meant to allow skiers to hike up on touring skis and descend as they wish. They even organize complimentary introduction courses to ski touring, with reservations to be made at the tourist office beneath the Arnouva escalator. Freeride areas in Crans Montana are mainly around the Aminona area, though there are plenty off-piste skiing opportunities to be had around Plaine Morte.

Off piste areas at Plaine Morte
Off piste areas at Plaine Morte
Black piste from Plaine Morte
Overview of the Kandahar piste from Plaine Morte

The second stage of the Toula chairlift also opens out access to a bowl at the peak that offers an amazing view while providing a safer spot to try freeriding down the mountains. Having ski lifts to access freeride areas might blur the idea of backcountry but it sure is convenient to access these areas and with clear markings, they are definitely safer for the skiers enjoying their time here.

Toula freeride piste
Freeride ski area at Toula Superior
Black piste at Col du pochet
Black piste at Col du pochet

ON-MOUNTAIN LODGES

Amongst the numerous lodges located on the mountains, the most prominent should be the Cry d’Er Club Altitude which is a posh venue that hosts the aprés-ski with a live DJ. The club also has a full service high-end restaurant, a self-service brasserie, a bar and a large outdoor deck to enjoy the sun Valais is known for.

Cry d'Er and Nationale summit
Station at the top of Cry d’Er

Another luxurious dining venue on the mountain is at the bottom of Chetzeron, where the Chetzeron Hotel and Restaurant is located at. There is a full service restaurant with a nice outdoor deck at this Design Hotel and this spot is usually quieter as there is only a T-bar back to the top or ski-out towards the black piste towards the village.

Restaurant terrace at Chetzeron
Restaurant terrace at Chetzeron

Other large dining venues with more acceptable price ranges would be the self-service cafeteria at Violettes and the summit restaurant at Plaine Morte. Both the station at Violettes and Plaine Morte have specific rooms and seating for skiers who brought their own lunch box.

Self service counter at Violettes
Self service counter at Violettes

For skiers seeking Valais specialties, check out the numerous mountain lodges like Buvette de Pépinet beneath the Violettes chairlift and along the Cabane de Bois piste, Chez Mattia across from the Verdets T-bar, Buvette Violettes or Merbé beside the mid-station for the Crans-Cry d’Er cable car. These individual lodges are charming spots for lunches and skiers can expect to find dishes like Croûtes and cheese fondue.

Lunch at Buvette Pèpinet
Lunch spot at Buvette Pèpinet
Violettes station
Violettes station

Skiers could also enjoy meals and breaks at the large Arnouva restaurant, La Vache Noire in Aminona and at Bellalui. The coverage of ski lodges is extensive enough such that wherever skiers might be at, there is no need for them to move to find a place to break for lunch.

Restaurant Bellalui
Restaurant Bellalui
Inside the restaurant
Inside La Vache Noire

In addition to the numerous mountain lodges, Crans Montana has also prepared tables with benches at several sunny spots so skiers can enjoy their own picnic with a view. This is great since Crans Montana does receive a fair bit of sunshine skiing days.

Picnic tables beside Marmottes run
Picnic tables beside Marmottes run

FOOD & BEVERAGES

For what is renowned as an expensive ski resort, dishes here can be quite reasonably priced. A simple classic raclette dish is CHF5 at the Les Taules huts while basic pastas at the self-service cafeteria at Violettes is around CHF14-18. Light bites like hot dogs and nuggets (CHF8-14) are served alongside mains like burgers (CHF 22).

Raclette at Les Taules
Raclette at Les Taules

One of the recommended dishes here is to go for the croûtes at Buvette de Pépinet and this is a lunch spot that skiers probably need to reserve beforehand as it can get crowded on weekends. Basically a thick toast that is served with a generous topping of molten cheese and other toppings like ham and eggs, this is a comfort food to enjoy while skiing. Prices range around CHF20-25 depending on your toppings.

Croûte jambon fromage
Croûte jambon fromage

Other than that, skiers could enjoy dishes like cheese fondue at Plaine Morte or have a nice meal at the terrace of the Chetzeron Design Hotel. If you have plenty of time and cash to spare, the latter is definitely one of the nicest place to have lunch at on the slopes.

Plaine Morte restaurant
Plaine Morte restaurant
Enjoying the sun at Chetzeron
Enjoying the sun at Chetzeron

LODGING OPTIONS

Crans Montana has been renowned as a ski resort frequented by celebrities and thus there are no lack of premium accommodation options with hotels like Le Crans and Crans Ambassador. Chetzeron, which is a Design Hotel located right beside the Chetseron T-bar is probably the best choice in terms of ski-in/ski-out hotels with prices to match.

Chetzeron Design Hotel
Chetzeron Design Hotel
Range Rover Sport hotel shuttle
Crans Ambassador Hotel Shuttle

While more of the premium lodging can be found in Crans, there are some mid range options like Hotel du Lac, Valaisia, Olympic and Central around Montana. There are also plenty of apartments that families could rent in the town so there are no lack of lodging options.

Hotel Olympic
Hotel Olympic in Montana
Sunset in the Bibliothèque
Apartments in the centre of Crans

For skiers on a budget, Crans Montana’s easy access from the town of Sierre means there are plenty of cheaper hotels and B&Bs in Sierre. Though skiers staying in Sierre need to consider the added cost of renting ski lockers and daily roundtrip funicular tickets.

Lights on in the city
Night lights at the Town of Sierre

APRÈS-SKI

Skiers in Crans Montana can expect plenty of action in the mountains with the Cry d’Er Club Altitude being the main site for après-ski drinks. This club has a large terrace suitable to dance any energy left after skiing with great music from the DJ. Having a view of the mountains with a remarkable sunset tops it all off to make for a near perfect spot for lounging as well.

Club Altitude Cry d'Er
Club Altitude Cry d’Er

There is also the Zerodix bar at the base of the Crans-Cry d’Er cable car for skiers seeking the more traditional après-ski bar. Smaller tents can also be found in between Cry d’Er and Arnouva where skiers can drop by for a drink or two before returning to the base.

Zerodix bar
Après ski at Zerodix
Amadeus 2006
Amadeus 2006

Crans Montana, though, offers alternative forms of après-ski activities as there are ice skating rinks, curling arenas and a casino at the Montana side of town. With several restaurants and shops around town, skiers could do a bit of shopping, a bit of ice skating and a bit of gaming when the sun sets, and that is what separates this ski resort from a traditional ski town.

Shops in Montana
Shops in Montana
Ice skating rink and Casino at Ycoor
Ice skating rink and Casino at Ycoor

SUMMIT VIEWS

The best views from Crans Montana need not always be from the summit. However the view from the Funitel ride and at the top of Plaine Morte is beautiful with plenty of snow up there, even if it is somewhat windy at times. This is even more so considering the summit here tops out at slightly less than 3,000m when many of the top ski resorts in Switzerland have peaks topping 4,000m.

Panorama at Plaine Morte
Panorama at Plaine Morte

For me, the nicest views here are when skiing on the piste around Cry d’Er especially in the sunset. The south-facing slopes here means the snow gets melted fast and it can be a downer for hard core skiers wanting only the best powder snow. But for the photographer in me, this is one of the most beautiful sunsets to have while skiing.

Panoramic sunset from the piste at Cry d'Er
Panoramic sunset from the piste at Cry d’Er

One thing for sure is that the lift installations here does provide plenty of nice spots to enjoy the scenery around the mountain and either from the Chetzeron Hotel in Crans or the Violettes station or the La Vache Noire restaurant in Aminona, there are plenty of decks with seating to enjoy this scenery even while taking a break for lunch.

Pair of Funitel above the Alps
Pair of Funitel above the Alps

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Skiers and snowboarders concerned only with the snow quality and powder maybe would not rate this place highly. Though I have to note that even when there was little to no fresh snow during the week I spent in Crans Montana, I still rank this place highly.

Cliffs around Zabona
Cliffs around Zabona

Firstly, this is one of the most accessible large ski resort by public transport. Getting here from Geneva International Airport probably takes less than 3 hours due to the convenient train system in Switzerland. In my mind, there is little to no competition for skiers to access such a large ski resort from an International Airport with more connections to the world. That is a huge plus for accessibility.

Funicular railway
Taking the funicular from Sierre to Crans Montana

Second, the vast terrain for skiing here makes it enjoyable for skiers and snowboarders of varying ski levels. Freeriders and freestylers would also find their own piece of haven. While skiers who are picky about food can certainly find something to fit their preference since there is a town with plenty of restaurants at the base of the ski resort.

Grand-Place
Shopping at Grand Place

And that brings me to the final point, Crans Montana allure to me is the town itself that is habitable with real residents and boarding schools forming a part of this community. While it may have a bit of a reputation for being expensive, there are still affordable places to stay at for the middle class. It is not entirely for the top one-percent, even though many of its residents are obviously well-heeled. With the well-heeled skiers, it does mean that it has good facilities to match and that sure makes the skiing feels more supple and gourmet Michelin-starred restaurants does make the après-ski that much more satisfying.

Centre of Montana
Centre of Montana
Cry d'Er sunset
Cry d’Er sunset

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