Spring arrives early in Crans-Montana

29th January 2020, by Chris Gill

The glorious long Kandahar piste from Plaine Morte

The glorious long Kandahar piste from Plaine Morte

The final stop on my first Swiss tour of this very Swiss season was Crans-Montana, a big resort in a fabulous setting, on a sunny shelf looking across the deep Rhône valley towards Italy.

Our relationship with the place isn’t quite love/hate, but is certainly two-sided; more like love/oh-dear-this-isn’t-really-working. The key weaknesses are the urban nature of the twin resort ‘villages’, and that sunny orientation.

I had hoped a late January visit might give me, for the first time in many visits, snow conditions little affected by the sun – last January, web editor Butcher was lucky enough to get ‘fabulous conditions’ here. Well, day one more-or-less delivered, but day two (last Thursday) turned into full-blown spring, with the lower, sunnier runs becoming slush before any thoughts of lunch had arisen. One or two weren’t even open.

It’s a shame. The mountain is splendid for confident skiers – though not at all good for nervous blue-run skiers – with a decent lift system and a good sense of travel despite the area’s modest extent. The long race courses from Cry d’Er are crackers.

The highlight, as ever, was the long Kandahar run, away from all lifts, from the area high point at the Plaine Morte glacier (just shy of 3000m) back to mid-mountain. Snow permitting you can ski on down to the Barzettes lift base, giving a descent of 1400m vertical that’s said to amount to 12km in length.

It’s a fabulous run offering some long, tough red pitches. Since my last visit the run has been changed from red to black which, a local resident explained, allows the lift company to open it without grooming it after a snowfall.

The final pitch of the Kandahar run from the glacier

After that, I deserved a break and headed across the area to Merbé, above Crans. In an area increasingly dominated by cool, swanky restaurants, Merbé remains cosily traditional and (relatively) affordable, while the rösti and the terrace view are as good as anywhere.

The terrace of the Cabane des Violettes was rammed, while rustic Merbé offered space and peace

The other conspicuous change here is that the gondola at the eastern end of the area, from Amonina to Petit Mont Bonvin, is no more – it was removed in 2014. There was a plan to replace it, but that now seems to be firmly on ice. The short lifts in the PMB sector must now be accessed from the adjacent Violettes sector; they’re mainly of interest for the pistes and itineraries towards Barzettes and Amonina, and the off-piste opportunities.

The Petit Mont Bonvin sector no longer has direct gondola access

I’ll be back out in Switzerland in a day or two with Editor Watts, filing blogs from Adelboden, Grindelwald, Engelberg and Andermatt. We’re expecting snow at the start of that tour.

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