After missing entire season due to Covid, I was raring to hit the slopes this winter. So I booked a pre Christmas trip to Crans Montana in the Valais region of the Swiss Alps. After almost two decades of riding it would be my first time staying in a Swiss ski resort. Read this review of Crans Montana snowboarding holiday in Switzerland to find out about the resort and my first Swiss experience.
I flew into Geneva and after a few days snowboarding in Les Menuires in France I headed back to Geneva Airport. From there I took an SBB train to Sierre/Sidings. It is a short walk from there to the funicular up to Crans Montana. While the train from Geneva clearly wasn’t new, it was comfortable, uncrowded, and has plenty of space for my huge snowboard bag. Door to door the journey took about two and a half hours.
Some of my group flew into Zurich. It is a much longer journey in terms of distance, but only adds 30 minutes to your travelling time. You also spend most of the journey on a swanky new train before changing at Brig for the last 15 minutes to Sierre/Sidings.
It is possible to get the train from the UK to Crans Montana. It takes eight to nine hours on the Eurostar from London to Paris then a TGV onto Geneva. From there it is the same train to resort. If you consider the time getting to an airport, dealing with security and collecting bags etc, the train only takes a couple of hours longer than flying. Well worth considering if you want to make your adventures better for the environment.
I arrived in Crans Montana late on a Thursday evening 24 hours before the rest of my group. The walk from the funicular to Hotel Olympic took about 10 minutes. It was uphill most of the way, which dragging a snowboard bag through fresh snow made it slightly more taxing than I would have liked. But it is an easily walkable distance.
The full ski area was not due to open until the Saturday but one lift was open on the Friday. With around 70cm of snow having fallen the proceeding 48 hours I wasn’t about to miss out on a powder day.
Friday dawned with more snow falling. Good news for the season ahead but not great for the first day of this review of Crans Montana snowboarding – I prefer to be able to see where I am in a new ski area. Unfortunately, the local gondola from Montana was not open so I caught a bus to Crans which took less than ten minutes.
The Crans Cry d’Er gondola was running and quickly whisked me all the way to the top of Cry d’Er. Many lifts meet here and there is a mountain restaurant and bar. Unfortunately, I could not see any of this as there was a proper whiteout!
There are a few runs leading down from Cry d’Er, but only one was open. I was thankful the others were very clearly marked as closed as I had no idea where I was going and there was hardly anyone around. I walked a flat section to the start of the run and looking down I had no idea where the piste went.
Fortunately, I’d already had four days on the slopes, two in similar conditions, snowboarding in Les Menuires. So I strapped in and set off trying to keep the poles on my toe side in sight and to my right. Even on the piste there was lots of powder, but the top section was quite difficult as I couldn’t tell which way was downhill.
After a short while, the complete whiteout was broken up with trees. The wind dropped, visibility improved and I could snowboard with more confidence. That said I still took a wrong turn and ended up on an un-pisted slope in deep untouched powder.
It was one of the rare occasions that there were skiers around and I followed them the wrong way. By the time we realised we’d gone too far to go back. Fortunately, one of the skiers had been there before and said the slope eventually links back with the piste. It wasn’t quite as simple as he thought, and I am pretty sure we were on a mountain biking trail for a while, but we made it back to the run.
The rest of the route down was fast and flowing through the trees – a lot of fun. When I reached the bottom I went straight back up in the gondola. It was still snowing but visibility had improved, and having already ridden the top section was much easier. I ended up lapping the Crans Cry d’Er gondola six times before heading back to the hotel to get in an afternoon of work (boo).
The rest of the crew arrived early evening and we went for dinner at the Valais Restaurant in the Olympic Hotel. I had a very calorific rösti, which is fried shredded potato with mountains of cheese, egg and bacon on top. Delicious but oh so wrong! I followed that with a mountain of very tasty ice cream.
During the meal we had a few drinks and it seemed like a very good idea to check out the Amadeus Bar downstairs. It was the 30th anniversary of the bar/club and the opening night of the season. So despite covid it was packed with locals who were really going for it. We stayed for a few drinks – it was clearly wasn’t going to end early.
It was the first time in nearly two years I’ve seen people partying like that. And I am not just talking about in a ski resort, but even nights out in the UK have been far more subdued. We didn’t stay late as the ski area was due to fully open the next day so we wanted an early start.
The second day of this snowboarding holiday in Switzerland dawned with yet more snow falling. At least 30cm had accumulated overnight so there was going to be epic powder conditions for the first full day.
The local Montana gondola was running. It is a short walk from boot room in the hotel. The gondola, followed by a quick six person chair, takes you to Cry d’Er.
At the top visibility was better than the day before, but it was still snowing and the light was very flat. The piste had good powder conditions but it was fairly busy. This was because so much snow had fallen most of the mountain was closed and everyone was restricted to a few runs. We ended up doing a few more laps of the Cry d’Er gondola.
As conditions improved I ventured a little further off-piste. Only between the runs but there was plenty of powder to play in. As new parts of the mountain opened we did a few different runs. This included over the back of Cry d’Er to the Nationale Express chair. There was untracked powder everywhere.
After a late lunch at the Cry d’Er self service restaurant, which is a step up from most self service places, we did a couple more runs. The rest of the mountain was not going to open and bad weather came in so we headed to the stunning Chezteron for a drink. It is a luxurious spa hotel on the mountain that does a great G&T.
We finished the day with a short hike back to the piste and then a nice long run into Montana. With light fading the sun peaked out of the clouds and shone down on the town.
That evening we headed to the Bella Lui Festival in Crans. We started by following an atmospheric lantern walk around a park. At points there are lasers projecting images of the “Shepherd and the star Bella Lui” story onto the trees. Make sure you wear shoes with good grip as the paths get very slippery.
The route begins and ends near the colourful ferris wheel. We of course had to have a go. It was freezing cold but there were beautiful views. I was not sure about being spun around though…
A highlight of the festival is a chefs market eating experience. The local vineyards each have a stall and offer their wine and accompanying dishes created by top chefs. The food and wine was very good, the vin chaud in particular hit the spot on a rather chilly evening.
We ended the night in Amadeus Bar again. This time we were the only people in there!
To write this review of Crans Montana snowboarding holiday in Switzerland I would really loved to have seen the full resort. Unfortunately, with more than a metre of fresh snow the avalanche risk was so high most of the mountain remained closed. However, on day three of this Swiss snowboarding trip we did have sunny skies and an off-piste guide.
It was a rather epic day with Benoit from ESS (Ecole Ski Suisse) in Crans Montana. At points I was snowboarding in thigh deep powder. We enjoyed plenty of untouched lines and spent time exploring through the trees. On the downside I got stuck a few times and as we all know walking in deep pow is never easy.
It also wasn’t all completely lift accessed, so we hiked a bit for our fresh tracks. I am always happy to do that as the thrill of dropping in on an untouched face far outweighs any effort in getting there.
We found some of the best powder over the far side of the Nationale Express chair. Hiking to the right from the top opens up a large, mostly untouched face. It led to a lovely hidden ravine which was great fun to snowboard through. We also found some great powder in the trees below Chezteron Restaurant, where we stopped for a late lunch. I highly recommend the lamb stew with polenta.
After a long and delicious lunch we took an unpisted black run. A little tipsy from afternoon drinks it was fun, albeit not entirely without a tumble. This joined the piste down to the bottom of the Cry d’Er gondola where we stopped for a pint at Zerodix. Usually this is a banging après bar, but with Covid it had been toned down to a more chilled and social distanced venue.
After catching the bus back to Montana we had a quick turn around before heading to the Alaia Chalet Action Sports Centre. It is a 5000m² facility with a huge skate park, pump track, parkour and trampolining centre. The entire thing is designed for those who are into adventure sports so they can practice and improve during a Crans Montana snowboarding holiday in Switzerland.
There are big jumps onto an airbag on which you can use snowboards or skis with wheels to practice tricks in relative safety. You can learn spins, grabs and flips etc on the trampolines before progressing onto the jumps. Once you’ve nailed you trick of choice you can try it out on the mountain.
As I found in this Snowboard Addiction tramp board review, you can quickly improve your freestyle on a trampoline. Even one session helps you learn grabs and spins you wouldn’t normally try. In just five minutes you can try a trick 100 times building muscle memory and confidence. So it is well worth popping in for a session.
Alaia run skateboard, BMX, trampoline, parkour, ski and snowboard camps for 8 to 17 year olds. Not only do kids and teens get coaching in the sports, but they are also taught videography skills and how to edit footage in a highly impressive media centre.
I was really impressed by the set up and despite being dressed for dinner I couldn’t resist a bit of trampolining! There is also a bar with great views of the activities, a pool table, table football and other games. Plus I was assured there is a great outdoor skatepark too – under all the snow.
We finished the final day of this review of Crans Montana snowboarding holiday in Switzerland with a meal at Mosaic restaurant near to our hotel. After a particularly tough day on the slopes and trampolining at Alaia I was famished. My smart watch said I had burnt more than 6,500 calories, so I indulged in three lovely courses.
I had a perfectly prepared fillet steak with triple cooked chips and salad. For desert I demolished an enormous mountain of ice cream with various sauces, sprinkles and biscuits etc. Fully satisfied I waddled back to the hotel and entered a food coma!
I woke up with terrible cramp in my right calf at about 5am. It was so bad I couldn’t get back to sleep and was still hobbling at breakfast. The cramp even stopped me from getting a couple of hours slope time in. I would like to blame the trampolining, but it was more likely a lack of water.
At around midday we left the hotel with packed lunches and headed to the train station. The journey back to Geveva Airport was a reverse of getting to Crans Montana. The only difference was in the light I could enjoy the stunning views of Lake Geneva.
During this review of Crans Montana snowboarding holiday in Switzerland we stayed at the lovely three star Hotel Olympic in the centre of Montana. The location is good for the gondola, the buses and the train station, plus very close to the casino, bars, restaurants and shops. It is a family run hotel with very friendly staff and a really nice atmosphere.
My room was spacious with a large comfortable Austrian style twin bed. The desk and office chair was very useful when I needed to do some work, as was the strong WiFi signal. There were a couple of seats and a TV with a few British channels. Although the bathroom lacked a bath, it did have a lovely large walk in shower and unlimited hot water – except very early in the morning when I had cramp.
As with most European hotels, the Olympic provides a continental breakfast buffet. Everything had been adjusted slightly for covid with dishes separately wrapped to stop contamination. There was a good choice of cereal, fruit, yoghurt, porridge, bread, croissants, cold meats and cheese. Plus you could order freshly cooked eggs – the omelettes are very good.
There is a hotel bar that serves snacks plus the popular late night Amadeus Bar downstairs. As previously mentioned we had dinner in the restaurant one night which was very nice. It also looked busy whenever we passed, so clearly it is a popular venue.
A week at the Olympic Hotel costs around £1,300, which for a three star hotel is certainly more expensive than France, Austria or Italy. However, as three star hotels goes it was very nice. I have stayed in four star places that are no better – except perhaps the addition of a spa.
Amazingly this was my first snowboarding holiday in Switzerland. I had flown into Geneva and Zurich more often than any other airports. Plus I’d snowboarded in Switzerland from France, Italy and Austria many times. But I’d never actually stayed in a Swiss ski resort.
I really like how easy Crans Montana is to reach by train. I also loved the food and general atmosphere. On the slopes there seemed a little less competitiveness to get to the gondola first, to barge into queues, or to go as fast as you can. It might be because it was early season, but there seemed to be more respect for other slope users than I’ve experienced elsewhere.
Of course the most important part of a review of Crans Montana snowboarding holiday in Switzerland is the riding. Only about 25% of the ski area was open, but what I saw I really liked. Long runs, riding through trees lower down and in big open bowls higher up. It helped that we had epic snow but the freeride was very good.
My main concern with Switzerland has always been the cost. Prices are high, the hotel is more expensive, but it was much nicer than other three star accommodation I have stayed in France, Austria and Italy. I generally judge affordability on beer prices, and two large beers cost me just shy of £13. This is roughly London prices and less than many French resorts. Italy and Austria would be cheaper.
To conclude this review of Crans Montana snowboarding holiday, I’d say it offers a different, more classy experience than other resorts I’ve visited. You do pay more for the privilege, but food and drink cost about the same as France and let’s face it skiing and snowboarding are expensive hobbies anyway.
If my first stay in a Swiss ski resort is anything to go by, I feel the Switzerland provides a more refined holiday both on and off the slopes. This improves the overall experience and is something I look forward to repeating. As for Crans Montana it is a great resort offering luxury without being pretentious, the slopes are excellent, the snowpark they were building looked awesome and the off-piste is not bad either.