Crans-Montana ski resort is made up of three communities: Crans Sur Sierre, Montana, and Aminona. Crans is more upscale, Montana is calmer and more family-oriented, and Aminona is the intended site for a huge hotel and residential complex, although clearance had not been granted as of mid-2011.
The neighboring settlements of Crans and Montana are located to the west and east of the little Lac Grenon, respectively. The communities are widely dispersed, with a ribbon-like development on each side of the highways that connect them. And, although there is a free bus service connecting Crans, Montana and Aminona, it only runs once every half hour, which is insufficient. Crans’ real estate, retail possibilities, hotel accommodations, and village atmosphere are often more upscale than neighboring Montana’s, yet both are appealing destinations to visit.
With the primary access route stretching two kilometers from Crans to Montana, it seems that there is no focal point for the towns at first. In low season, many privately owned chalets and apartments in Crans are empty, and in sharp contrast to the stunning mountain vistas, the series of eight-story chalet residences that flank the road appears unappealing when their window shutters are down. Walking south from the main road towards the Crans-sur-Sierre golf club, you will discover the major focal point of town – a wonderful arrangement of shops with store windows gleaming with pricey Swiss watches and luxury apparel brands. There are also several restaurants and pubs, as well as a few nightclubs.
Few Swiss ski resorts can compete with Crans-Montana in terms of retail. According to tourism office material, there are as many as 168 stores in Crans, and the shopping is excellent, with brands like Bulgari, Chanel, Hermes, Hublot, Louis Vuitton, Moncler, and Prada, to mention a few. Aside from businesses owned by or selling famous fashion labels, the shops in Crans’ center include expensive art galleries, the Bonvin cigar shop, a Chocolatier, and Laiterrie de Crans “Le Terroir” cheese shop, which also offers Swiss cow bells, the largest of which costs 3,500 Swiss Francs. If you want something larger and more costly, Crans-Montana has 34 estate agents, the most of which are in Crans, where the nicest chalets and apartments cost several million francs.
The resort has a rich ski history. On January 7, 1911, the inaugural “Roberts of Kandahar” Challenge Cup was held here, claiming to be the first legitimate Alpine ski race in history. Sir Henry Lunn, the famed promoter of British pre-war tourism in the Swiss Alps, founded it, and his son Arnold pioneered Alpine skiing. In April 2011, a downhill race from the Plaine-Morte glacier commemorated the centennial of this historic event. The skiers donned medieval clothes and utilized long wooden antique skis.
Crans-Montana also erected a funicular, which was touted to be the longest in Europe, in 1911 to link visitors, golfers, and sanatorium patients with Sierre, cutting the trip from four hours (by mule!) to 35 minutes by employing two connected funiculars. With the building of a new single funicular in 1997, the travel time was reduced to 12 minutes. The trip now takes either 20 minutes (stopping at each station along the way) or 12 minutes straight. There are two funiculars every hour, one at a quarter past the hour that stops along the route and one at a quarter to the hour that is direct.
Approximately 55 percent of Crans-Montana visitors are Swiss, with approximately 10 percent from France and Italy (who benefit from rapid train connections from Paris and Milan or a reasonably simple road trip), about 8 percent from Germany and the Benelux nations, and about 3 percent from the United Kingdom. A large number of tourists return, and the resort is eager to recruit additional visitors from the United Kingdom, both in the summer and winter.