Clipping into ski touring boots felt strange after the familiarity (let’s face it uncomfortable feel) of ski boots, but this was just the start of all things new for me.
For those who don’t know what I’m on about, ski touring is hiking up a mountain with skins on the underside of your skis.
I was new to this, having usually done things the ‘lazy’ way … using lifts.
Shortly after we had been shown how to skin up – the skins are faux these days – we were pushing off, gently up the mountain.
The skins stop you slipping backwards, and it’s one blast of a way to get a good work out and escape into the ridiculously beautiful Swiss scenery.
Crans Montana has 15 new ski touring routes (blue, red and black) and over 40 kms of marked trails, so plenty to keep us ‘newbies’ busy.
These unique routes offer over 8,000 m of height gain and accommodate advanced ski touring pros along with us Bambi-legged beginners.
So onward. … Our blue track was number 13, but we weren’t feeling superstitious…
The Colombine Trail started gently but soon started climbing. The chatter stopped, we focused – kept moving those feet forward …
The silence soon saw us looking more at our surroundings, as the sun’s rays drenched the peaks that capped this pretty ice clad setting. Birds flew over us, animals nattered around us … we were part of the scene and it felt ‘cracking’.
After a two-hour climb we were finally at the top and found a small museum of mountain life through the ages. There was also a restaurant, and a welcome break from the ‘road’.
Skiing back down to Barzettes wasn’t a breeze for me as the track is quite narrow. I found the new skis challengingly different from my downhill kit. It did, however, fill me with a good sense of accomplishment.
For uber fit folk the Swiss have devised the La X treme (it has a height gain of 3,000m and four up hills), which defines the word ‘endurance’.
We didn’t fancy this… so swapped to downhill kit and headed up the hill.
Wooshing down a few blues and reds felt great after the work it had taken to get up one mountain but stopping to look around felt even better!
Crans Montana stretches from the Rhone Valley to the Paine Morte Glacier (3,000m).
Its mountain views reach from Dufourspitze to Mont Blanc via the Weisshorn and the Matterhorn.
You see frozen lakes, forests, and lower down vineyards. Later that evening we also got to taste nature’s fruits.
We sampled the valley’s finest, followed by raclette – which tasted even better after a busy day in the mountains.
Wine tours are popular and well worth your time, as you sample quality wine that isn’t easy to buy at home.
Waking to sunny skies was a great incentive to get our downhill skis on. Time to get a greater feel for Crans Montana’s 140 kms of slopes.
The resort has 61 blue, black and red ski runs, including several World Cup challenges and a stunning black glacier run.
It also has the only 22″ superpipe in French-speaking Switzerland.
Foodies will find 20 restaurants on the mountain and for party people – on-mountain après-ski at Cry d’Er Club d’Altitude and a nightclub at the top of the slopes.
There’s also snow shoeing, mountaineering, cross-country skiing, sledging and ice skating. Or non-snow activities such as bowling, cinema, spas and a casino.
Crans Montana is designated as a ‘family destination’, and the resort has a Family Festival – Etoile Bella Lui – every December.
Other festivals and events include the slalom race, with World Cup skiers, which we were lucky enough to catch on January 15. Trail racing also takes place this month.
There’s also a Winter Golf Cup, Women’s World Cup Downhill, a Chocolate Festival and the popular Carprices Electronic Music Festival to close the season.
But before all of this … you have to arrive there, which is an experience in itself!
Pop up the 4km funicular from Sierre and you’re in a town that is enveloped in the mountain and surrounded by lakes.
Crans Montana has a refined, relaxed feel …and the shops, restaurants and hotels, a sense of quality. Shopping for the lux’ brands on sale at the Rue du Prado would have caused my credit card to quake, but the service standards and pride taken by those working here are a value you don’ t see in all ski resorts.
Word on this is clearly already out as around 50,000 people come here in peak season, yet the pistes don’t feel overwhelmingly busy.
Crans Montana kicked away my winter blues. It’s a welcoming place and its new ski touring plans are definitely an opportunity to push the economy further up hill.
Where to stay
Briony was a guest of Crans Montana and stayed at the Valasia Hotel.
Ski schools: esscrans-montana.ch
Wine tasting in Crans Montana: Valaiswinetours.com
There are 96 restaurants, serving everything from fondue to international cuisine
SWISS offers more than 150 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh to Zurich, Geneva or Sion (seasonal).
One-way fares start from £74 to Zurich and £83 to Geneva including all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of hold and hand luggage.
SWISS will also transport your first set of ski or snowboard equipment and boots free of charge in addition to your standard free baggage allowance, subject to availability (excluding hand luggage only fares).
The Swiss Travel System provides a range of exclusive travel passes and other tickets for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities. The Swiss Travel Pass also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £185 for 3 days in second class.
If you would like to try Touring for the first time then this may also be a useful read:
Ski Touring for the first time – by Beth Alexander
Ski Touring for beginners – by Wendy Hollands
If you would like to read more on Crans Montana:
Patrick Thorne visited Crans Montana and discovered why it’s so attractive to families with teenagers.
Our top ten Swiss ski resorts includes Crans Montana, read more here.