When snow dumps on the Alps late in the season, the internet flares with a wave of last-minute bookings as powder fans and ski buffs head out for a last blast. In the charge, it’s easy to fall back on iconic resorts but that would be following the crowd. The smart vote is to choose somewhere that’s going to be less rammed – Crans Montana in the Swiss Alps is the kind of well-rounded snow adventure destination that allows you to tailor your trip to your passions, as RSNG found out when we visited this winter.
The two linked areas of Crans and Montana, in the Swiss Canton of Valais were once well known for hosting celebs – Roger Moore of James Bond fame had a house here and we spotted singer Pixie Lott when we were there – but these days you’re more likely to be sharing the slopes with snow aficionados.
We took a pair of Burton snowboards along to explore the Crans Montana powder in what local’s claim is Switzerland’s sunniest resort; here are seven things we found out:
1. The Powder Runs Can Be World Class
Even though it hadn’t snowed the day before we arrived there was still a good covering of the white stuff from the last snowfall. And if you know where to look there are stashes of fresh powder not that far from the piste. After kitting myself out with a snow safety kit (including a transceiver, shovel and probe) our guide, Julian Cave, takes us on a lift-access, off-piste adventure.
‘My turns are throwing up huge waves of powder, plastering my face with snow and a massive grin’
This is the Alps, so the terrain is steep but the runs are not as precipitous as some resorts, creating some fun, fast red and black pisted runs, and allowing for some amazing sidecountry and backcountry riding (if you have a qualified guide and check the avalanche risk that day). We drop into the steep 40° South Face of Mont la Chaux, then work our way around to Petit Mont Bonvin via the chair lifts. A quick traverse across the snowfield and I’m standing on my board at the top of the 35-30° East face of the Petit Bonvin.
Fresh snow has covered earlier skiers’ tracks and I drop into deep snow that’s light and amazingly floaty. My turns are throwing up huge waves of powder, plastering my face with snow and a massive grin.
In many resorts this powder stash would have been tracked out already but the lack of crowds and a clued up guide has really played into our favour. I’m impressed at how my Burton Custom Flying V snowboard has transitioned seamlessly from the groomed piste to the powder (read the full review below.)
2. It Has Europe’s Biggest Ski Touring Park
It’s not all about gravity-assisted skiing and snowboarding. Ski touring, where you place ‘skins’ on the bottom of your skis and walk them up hill, is massively popular in this part of the Alps. It makes for a different physical challenge, taxing your cardiovascular system and endurance as you take over the heavy lifting from the chairlifts.
Crans Montana has responded to the trend by creating Europe’s largest ski touring area; marked trails through the backcountry that have been patrolled to make them safe to ski tour up. There are 15 new ski touring routes covering 40km of marked, safe paths – the toughest is called La X’treme and has a thigh-shredding height gain of 3,000m with four climbs – graded for difficulty from blue to red, to black. The routes were designed by ski-mountaineering champion Severine Pont-Combe but include easier routes for the uninitiated.
We set off in the afternoon sunshine to ‘skin up’ for some 6.5km and 800m of vertical elevation gain. We start on double track road covered in snow and bracketed with trees as the golden light shines down on an amazing panorama of Alpine peaks on the skyline, including the highest, Mont Blanc.
As we start to break through the treeline, the track turns steeply to the left and we leave the road to make our own tracks up and across the powder. I’m struck by the soft silence of the snow-covered landscape and realise how much more connected to my surroundings once I have left the bustle of the groomed pistes far behind.
As twilight falls I settle into a rhythm, sliding each half of my Burton Family Tree Flight Attendant X Splitboard ahead of its twin without lifting and slapping them down again – this wastes energy and I’m finding that skinning up takes a lot of battery power! Looking to my left I can see the lights of Crans Montana twinkling in the valley below us as the sky deepens to a golden orange below a darkening blue.
By the time we make it to the lift station for a celebratory glass of wine and Valais picnic of bread and charcuterie (supplied by our guide) it’s fully dark. Riding down on the piste by headtorch is a totally new experience that adds an otherworldly vibe to the adventure.
3. The Snowpark Has An Olympic Half Pipe
The 100,000m2 snowpark at Crans Montana has been handily split into two lines to allow a proper beginners area as well as a more developed expert area with rails, boxes, jumps and an Olympic halfpipe with 7m walls. When we rock up Swiss Olympian Robin Biguet is training as part of his build up to the winter games in China. The jumps are well shaped and lapping the park is an ideal way to build up your freestyle skills.
4. Melted Cheese Is King Here
There’s something about working your legs at altitude that creates a monster appetite – for once you can smash through calories knowing that you’ll burn them off again almost immediately. Fortunately, Valais is the home of some classically calorific dishes that are guaranteed to refuel you. We stop for a lunch of fondue made with local cheese at Chetzeron, the cable car station turned mountainside hotel. It’s delicious but for even more culinary theatre head to traditional Swiss restaurant La Cure, where the owner toasts raclette – a wheel of cheese that he uses a hot knife to slice onto plates to deliver to your table. Imagine the world’s classiest bottomless cheese toastie!
5. There’s A Nightclub On The Mountain
While Crans and Montana are on the more chilled out end of the apres ski spectrum, the fact that the resort has Cry d’Er Club D’Altitude, the restaurant and events complex up on the mountain at 2,200m, means that the Caprices techno and house music festival will return here again on 11-14th April, featuring big names such as Riccardo Villalobos, Seth Troxler and Sven Vath across three stages. It must be doing something right because it was named the 2018 Best International Festival by DJ Awards Ibiza.
‘A combo of high-altitude air and the spectacle of the mountains gives your brain a complete reset’
6. It Has A Brand New Freestyle Indoor Training Facility
When we visited, the finishing touches were being put on the brand new Alaia Chalet, a 5,000m2 indoor training facility for freeskiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX and more. Ramps, an airbag and a pump track all add up to a playground for action sports fans. Co-founded by local entrepreneur and surfer Adam Bonvin, the centre has big plans, including building an outdoor wave park. It also contains a co-working space and music recording studio – remote working never looked like so much fun!
7. The Panoramic Views Are Jaw-Dropping
You can’t move in Crans Montana without tripping over an amazing view. It’s location and Southern-facing slopes reveal the sweep of the Alps from the sharkstooth peak of the Weisshorn that slashes into the sky to the brooding, 4810m hulk of Mont Blanc, and the impossibly angled Matterhorn. After a few days breathing the air here and taking in the mountain spectacle you can return feeling like you’ve just had a complete reset, even if your thighs do feel like cheese toasties!
The RSNG Review: Burton Custom Flying V 2019 & Burton Family Tree Flight Attendant X Splitboard
Moat snowboarders like to do a bit of everything: carving groomers, heading off piste on powder days and hitting the snowpark. But travelling with a snowboard for each scenario would be a day long weight-lifting session. That’s why ‘quiver killers’ like Burton’s Custom Flying V 2019 are so popular.
So, I’m expecting big things as I strap into this board. The Flying V in the name refers to a blend of camber and rocker. It only takes a few turns to reveal that while the rocker allows for quick turns, playfulness and generally going at it, the camber adds some bite to hold an edge while carving. I had seen a review that said this board doesn’t grip the best on ice. Initially, when riding the high pistes I can see what the reviewer meant but a quick edge sharpening session later and the bite comes back. You need to ride this Custom with active intent but it will reward you with the kind of ride confidence that makes you want to push yourself, as well as the deck under your feet.
Sliding into the park for a couple of laps shows that there’s a reservoir of pop underfoot available for you to dive deep into. It somehow pulls off the trick of combining an aggressive rider with playfulness, perhaps courtesy of the complete tip-to-tail carbon layer in its construction.
The real surprise comes when I charge the pow – the transition from groomers to off-piste powder is seamless and the amount of float available (on what’s a relatively short board for my weight) is astonishing. 5 Stars
But there’s one thing that the Custom Flying V can’t do, and that’s split. For the touring, uphill part of the trip I used the Burton Family Tree Flight Attendant X Splitboard. The genius of splitboards is that they allow you to ride down but then make like a skier and skin up to access freeride lines, or cover ski touring tracks.
With the Flight Attendant X Burton have succeeded in building their lightest ever splitboard, which is important for the ego when attempting to keep up with light footed ski tourers. Burton’s collapsable poles can be stashed in your pack when you’re not using them and converting your board to two ‘skis’ is largely a hassle and tool-free experience. I did have a hang up on the bindings at the top – when attempting to slide them back onto the binding plates on the snowboard (by headtorch light) the binding end of one of the foot straps dropped down, blocking the slide. It’s a small detail but one that caused some confusion when hands were going down from the cold. That said Burton’s proprietary channel and puck system makes it a cinch to adjust your stance on the fly for fine tuning your ride.
Underfoot this snowboard rides just as it should – fast and sure with lots of float – it’s exactly the same shape as the ‘one-piece’ Flight Attendant. You soon forget you’re on a board that’s been chopped in half and it allows you the kind of free-roaming adventure that defines what backcountry is all about. 4 Stars
WHAT NEXT? Watch skiers and snowboarders compete in the Crans Montana snowpark…
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.