The Valais Canton of Switzerland isn’t short of incredible ski resorts. Down here, you’ll find the expansive Verbier and the 4 Vallees, not to mention the iconic Matterhorn. But with the sheer amount of high altitude peaks and snow sure terrain, you’re actually spoiled for choice.
Crans Montana is one of the best options for skiers and snowboarders looking for something a bit different in the Valais Alps. We headed over to Switzerland to check it out, so how did we find Crans Montana?
Crans Montana: The Essential Stats
- Ski area: 140 kms
- Highest point: 3000 m (Plaine Morte)
- Resort altitude: 1500 m
- 55kms blue(easy)/70kms red (intermediate)/15 kms black (hard)
It should also be noted that the black runs in Crans Montana are not particularly challenging, but the resort does offer lots of off-piste skiing and snowboarding and freeriding potential.
In fact, as we’ll find out, there is more than just groomed ski slopes here, with plenty to keep advanced skiers and snowboarders occupied.
And on a powder day, this could be one of the best value ski resorts in this part of Switzerland?
Where is Crans Montana?
The ski resort of Crans Montana is located in the Swiss region of Valais, which is the French speaking area sprawling along the south of the country. It’s about 170 kms from Geneva or 180 kms from Bern, with the resort sitting above the small town of Sierre.
Sierre sits on the main train line from Geneva Airport to Brig, or just off the main expressway 9 which also connects Geneva to Brig and eventually winds its way into Italy and up into the rest of Switzerland.
There are actually a couple of great ski resorts accessible from Sierre, including Val d’Annivers and Anzere (which is just across a valley from Crans itself).
Getting to Crans Montana
Getting to Crans Montana is pretty simple, and this is one of the main reasons we chose it. We wanted a ski resort with an easy transfer, not too expensive, and a good size ski area.
From Geneva Airport, the train runs to Sierre in just under 3 hours, and you then take the funicular railway up the mountain to Montana Gare. The ticket for the train from Geneva to Crans Montana includes the funicular ride up, and costs around CHF40 one way (which is about £35 as of December 2023).
Once in resort, shuttle buses are free (and regular) so it’s easy to get around.
This is just as well as the villages of Crans and Montana are spread along the plateau above Sierre, with smaller towns such as Barzettes and Aminona making up the rest of the ski resort area.
Where to stay in Crans Montana?
Because Crans Montana is spread out across the base of the mountain, there are several different entry points including the main gondola at Crans/Cry d’Er, the Montana gondola at Arnouva, and the Barzettes/Les Violettes gondola.
The village of Crans is the well-heeled part of town, and this is where you’ll find the designer stores and upmarket restaurants.
Montana is seen as the slightly more affordable part of the village, as well as the areas of Barzettes and Aminoa. With that being said, it’s all very close together, especially the two main towns of Crans and Montana. And the free buses do make everything more accessible.
However, if you want to be central and avoid waiting for shuttle buses, or having to walk up a hill in ski boots, try to stay either close to the Cry d’Er lift (in Crans) or the Arnouva lift in Montana. These lifts are also where you’ll find some of the poppin’ apres at the base stations too, specifically Cry d’Er in Crans.
Despite it’s premium vibe, there are actually several affordable options across Crans Montana, including some decent hotels, hostels and apartments.
Apartments Rue Central
We stayed in Crans, around 5 minutes from the Cry d’Er gondola, in a relatively affordable apartment which was well equipped for self catering. Our apartment was directly opposite the Coop supermarket, above a cafe and near several good restaurants and shops. Despite being on the main road, it was pretty quiet, and the balcony out back made a nice spot to sit and admire the views of the mountains in a sun trap.
To add to that, Crans Montana has some pretty impressive views, wherever you are. The south facing aspect of the town means that stunning backdrop is everywhere, with views of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn (in the distance) on a clear day.
The apartment also came with a parking space, which we didn’t need, but was a nice touch. And because it was so close to the gondola and the supermarket, we used it as a base for lunch time refuelling which also saved us a few pennies – those meals on the mountain sure are expensive in Switzerland!
Check out our apartment: Apartments Rue Central on Booking
Budget accommodation in Crans Montana
Other budget accommodation options in Crans Montana include:
What is snowboarding like in Crans Montana?
Our party was entirely snowboarders, and we’d heard great things about riding in Crans Montana. We were also pretty excited about the varieties of runs, from high altitude runs, down through the tree line as well as the great snow park and night skiing opportunities.
During the build up to our arrival, it snowed a lot. Like constantly for about two weeks. While this was obviously exciting from a potential powder perspective, there were also very few lifts open. In fact, between early December 2023 until our arrival date on the 13th December, only three lifts were open at any point.
So we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t get to see much of the mountain.
On the day we arrived it snowed. Hard. It was a proper winter wonderland in Crans itself – with a good couple of inches falling on our balcony overnight.
Heading up to get our lift passes on our first morning, sure enough, only one lift open. The Crans-Cry d’Er lift was basically the only option for the first day. BUT…
That actually didn’t matter.
Coming out of the Cry d’Er lift station brings you to several options. One, to skiers left, takes you along a short runway which pops you out on top of a wide red piste. To the right, another red with a slightly steeper intro curving around to join the bottom of the other run.
Both of these then lead down through a wooded run to the mid-station lift at Merbe, with an option to continue back to base or ride the gondola back up to Cry d’Er. As it stood, the run back to base was actually closed, but that didn’t stop anyone from doing the run.
If this doesn’t sound like much, then it’s the options for off-piste that really made this one lift day shine. Even with limited pistes, there was more than enough off-piste powder to ride that literally everyone we met in the gondola rides back up was stoked.
We hit the section between Cry d’Er and Merbe probably five times before lunchtime, barely hitting the same line twice and riding so much powder it was basically a free for all. A snowboarders dream basically…
We bumped into a guy who skis the area regularly, and he’d been charging down the closed pistes and enjoying pretty much all the powder snow he could get his hands on. And the thing with Crans Montana is that even if the lift is closed, if you can get back to town, you can grab the free ski bus back to the one open gondola. So, despite the lack of lifts back up – lots of options.
In addition to this, they did go to open the additional Bellalui lift, which would have made the ride to base more varied, but the lift had an issue and they had to close it.
There was another run which was from Cry d’Er, down the blue runs to the Chetsaron restaurant which then drops you down a black run which then goes back to town. This piste also offered a selection of powder runs through the trees, not to mention those stunning views.
One lift sure, but what a day!
Our second day saw another lift open, which is the Bellalui lift, taking you up further behind the Cry d’Er lift station. This chairlift basically opens up an extra long descent via Cry d’Er, or if the rest of the resort is open, down the other side of the mountain into other areas such as Arnouva.
On day two, we were still limited to the Cry d’Er/Bellalui section, but again, this didn’t matter.
Bellalui had been untracked from the previous day, so we had our second successive day in the powder, but this one also a bluebird. And those mountain views really opened up for us, plus plenty of powder left over. Plenty of people were also venturing onto the runs which were served by closed lifts and taking the bus back to Cry d’Er main gondola.
As far as snowboarding conditions go, this day was pretty close to perfect.
The video below captures some of the powder down from Bellalui, as well as some of the lower run from Cry d’Er and the return to base.
Another epic day… What about our last day?
The resort opened pretty much fully on the Saturday, our last day. Although there was no access to some sections, including the highest point, Plein Morte, we now had a whole other face of the mountain to play with.
The longest run took us from the top of Bellalui, down to the base of the Barzettes gondola. This was a fun, fast and mostly red run with the wide piste at Nationale, leading into the tree lined runs at Violettes down to the town.
I think it’s fair to say that most of the terrain in Crans Montana is well suited to intermediates. The majority of the runs are quite wide and sedate red runs, with a few patches of blues and the odd black sprinkled in.
We spent most of the last day enjoying snowboarding the section around Les Violettes, which offered more red runs, even more powder pockets. Much of which was untracked and still pretty fluffy from the previous days. There are also some enjoyable zigzagging tree runs down to the Barzettes lift station.
The section from the top of the Violettes lift station includes a pretty spectacular canyon, and a whole swathe of terrain that used to be served by a lift, but is now essentially off-piste. This whole area is flanked by pistes, so is easy to access and pop a run or two across some stunning open powder fields. Truly perfect snowboarding terrain…
Despite being the busiest day, we never really saw a lift queue, except the first lift in the morning, and the pistes were still pretty uncrowded.
Our summary review of Crans Montana
Despite the first day being mostly limited to one piste area, we found Crans Montana to be an excellent winter playground, easily up there with any other ski resort we had experienced. And while the snow park was still being constructed, and we didn’t get to head up to Plain Morte or check out the glacier (only for Nordic skiers), we still had an incredible time.
There is plenty of variety for skiers and snowboarders, from hidden powder fields to tree runs that there is way more than the advertised 140 kms of groomed piste. If conditions are right, the options for terrain are almost limitless.
In fact, a friend of ours who arrived just as we were leaving was also very impressed with the great terrain and conditions across Crans Montana. And for the fact that this is a relatively cheap ski resort in Europe, it’s an absolute steal…
It might be because our timing was perfect, but… I’d say that with the right conditions, Crans Montana can give some of the biggest resorts a run for their money.
Is Crans Montana beginner friendly?
So, although much of the pistes are marked as reds, I didn’t think there was too much to scare a novice. Most of the reds are pretty wide and only steep in certain sections, meaning beginner snowboarders or skiers in Crans would find most of the sections around Les Violettes and Cry d’Er pretty doable.
While that might sound off-putting for intermediates and advanced, there is plenty to sink your teeth into with loads of fun tree runs, hidden powder pockets and plenty of off-piste to explore even in a limited area.
To add to this, there is an area specifically for beginners in Crans itself, not on the mountain, called Snow Island. This is designed for both kids and adults who want to get started skiing or snowboarding in a friendly environment, and costs just CHF10 for the day.
While we didn’t get to visit this area, it is easily accessed from the town centre during the winter months.
Is skiing/snowboarding in Crans Montana expensive?
Despite it’s premium price tag, we did Crans Montana on a relative budget and had an amazing time. We didn’t eat out, instead going with the self catering option – but we did have a few beers on the mountain (CHF9 each) and even enjoyed some apres ski in Zerodix, the apres bar at the bottom of the hill.
We hit Crans Montana early in the season and got a phenomenal deal on the lift pass. We paid CHF108 (around £88) for three day lift pass from the 14th December 2023.
OK, yes, granted on day one only one lift was open. This was due mostly to the conditions, with heavy snow and poor visibility on the mountain.
How we did this is through the Swiss Dynamic Lift Pass system. Swiss ski resorts basically offer discounted lift passes when bought online for certain times of the year. The idea is to encourage ski area access outside of peak times, so the dynamic lift pass encourages visits when traffic is supposedly lower.
The list price for one day is CHF89 if you buy on the day from the ticket window.
But checking now for early January 2024, you can book a Crans Montana lift pass for one day for CHF49, three days for CHF131 or 6 days for CHF202. Those are some bargain prices right there for some incredible ski terrain.
Read our article: The cheapest ski resorts in Switzerland
The one thing we found expensive was eating and drinking. It can be done cheaply, but prices run high:
Average food/drinks costs in Switzerland
- Coffee in a cafe CHF4
- Beer in a bar CHF8-9
- A burger in a restaurant CHF25
- Fondue for one in restaurant CHF35+
- Pizza in a restaurant CHF20
- Supermarket sandwhich CHF4
- Supermarket wine CHF6+
- Supermarket beer case of 12 CHF14
- Supermarket fondue for 2 CHF10
- Loaf of bread CHF3
Self catering or half board will keep a lot of those costs down obviously.
Ski and snowboard rental in Crans Montana
There are plenty of ski rental shops dotted around Crans Montana, including a couple of Intersport branches. I got the best deal on 3 days snowboard rental from SkiSet. They actually use a local store which isn’t SkiSet branded, but depending when you book, SkiSet offer some of the best deals on rental equipment.
We had a lot of fun in Crans Montana. Despite only one lift being open on the first day, there was plenty of terrain to explore, lots of off-piste and some amazing powder. Once the resort opened up, it became apparent that this is an epic winter playground and you could definitely have a lot of fun here over a week or so.
The terrain is very much suited to intermediates, but both advanced and beginner skiers and snowboarders will find plenty to keep them amused in Crans Montana. Pretty much whatever you’re looking for here, you’ll find it…
There is no getting around the fact that Crans Montana is a very premium resort, but it does have quite a young vibe. Apres ski also picked up on our last day, with some fun vibes at Zerodix and Monkis Bar.
In fact, Crans Montana is also home to the top notch Caprices ski music festival, for those looking for some end of season action.
So if you’re looking for a premium Swiss ski resort experience at a relatively affordable price, take a look at Crans Montana. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.