Crans Montana, set at a super sunny south-facing shelf only 1,500m above sea level, has its comfortable charm (or excellent skiing if the snow is right). But during these times of decreasing snowlines and global warming, this remains a place to book for just three days instead of three months in advance. Not because of the lack of snow that bothers most of its visitors, who come for some skiing, a bit shopping and a few health treatments in this grand alpine rest home that stretches 3km from end to end.
Mountain access to Crans Montana's intermediate-friendly pistes is through four efficient gondolas, at Crans, Montana, Barzettes and Aminona. The gondola from Barzettes gets you directly to Les Violettes, from where a 30-person funitel gondola brings skiers up to the area's highest peak, the Plaine Morte glacier, at 3,000m. From the top, alternatives are limited to a few baby tows or a bountiful 11km-long red going all the way back to the resort that is 1,500m down.
This is Crans Montana's only high-level run and the rest of the action all goes on below 2,500m. If the snow's right, then the mixture of tree-lined pistes, stunning views and gentle gradients can bring out an intermediate's paradise, but too frequently the lower runs are affected by slush, in spite of an impressive snowmaking operation. Speed demons will want to try their luck on the Piste Nationale men's downhill run from Les Violettes, while a more serene time can be experienced on the runs below Petit Bonvin.
Complete beginners have great nursery regions and begin on the smooth greens around the golf course, going up the mountain to the longer blues below Cry d'Er as confidence increases.
The toughest skiing in the area can be encountered beneath the Toula chair, home to the area's exclusively black pistes, but hire a guide and you'll discover there's plenty of underused off-piste both above and below the tree-line.
The restaurant on top of the Plaine Morte glacier features nice views from its terrace, but the best of Crans Montana's numerous mountain eateries can be found lower down. Top of the list for food and ambiance is Plumachit, tucked in with the trees, while there is a lively bar with snacks and sun terrace called Amadeus.
© 2012 Athena Goodlight
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