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Family DIY to Crans-Montana – New Year 2019/20

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Family DIY to Crans-Montana – New Year 2019/20

Our holiday: As per the title consisting of myself, OH, son (13), daughter (9) – all intermediates to varying degrees but hopefully better than last year - and my non-skiing mother.

Travel – BA out of London City to Geneva then back from Geneva to Heathrow on BA. Managed to get Exec class on the way back for a decent overall cost when using a free companion ticket. Rented a car from Alamo through rentalcars.com

I had settled on C-M as we hadn’t skied Switzerland before and had found a very good deal (via a company I found on here), and the good things I heard about the local Swiss Mountain Sport ski school from Valais2 (a source of invaluable information on the area and who was very generous with his knowledge and time – thank you!) as I think quality of the lessons can be a very important part of the trip.

I had hoped to do much of the non flying bit by public transport but this was not off to a good start. Normally we could have got to the City Airport on the tube/DLR but as it was Boxing Day, TLF staff got a lie in and services would not start early enough to get us there. So I booked a cab and thereby started a little drama on day 1. I was looking around for cab companies a few weeks beforehand and went all the way to booking on the webpage of a firm I didn’t know (easily done – see the SunWeb thread, and in fact they didn’t ask for payment either), so I immediately rang to cancel, after which I booked with a local firm with good reports and price. Up to the day I got comforting texts from my chosen cab firm and on the morning outside was waiting an expected 7 seater. All good, we pile in and set off down the road. What a co-incident I think as we pass another 7-seater cab parked in our road, someone else needed a big cab for today too. I then get a call saying “our driver is there, where are you?”, 2+2 quickly got added and I asked from which firm the driver of the cab we were in was from. Ascertaining that the wrong firm had turned up I had him pull over, we de-bus, call over the other cab, check that he is from the right firm, and re-mount. Unlucky for the other driver but little drama over. We get to the airport in good time.

Small airports are great. 20 yards from drop off to check in. But with a ski bag you can’t go to the self-service bag drop off, instead I and ski bag get directed to manual check in desk whilst they insist that my OH & kids need to go to the auto-bag drop off. But, I say, the boarding passes are all on my phone, so I have to jockey from one queue to the other. No sense at all but the queues are short. The ski bag gets weighed at check in (I knew ours was fine but it could easily end up resting on something by accident and reduce the reading), then you are off to oversized which is a little hatch with another set of scales outside the hatch so same thing could happen there when weighing your bag with no one noticing. Security queues were longish but there was nothing too attractive on air-side to rush for. The great thing about flying with BA from City is that the flight is classed as a cityhopper and so free tea/coffee/bacon roll on board.

Geneva was busy but the bags came out quickly. Whilst we could have got to C-M by train we ended up renting a car as with 5 people the cost of the train, my mum who can’t walk much and having the flexibility of a car came down on the side of the car. The queue at our counter (Alamo Swiss-side) was the longest of the desks, but they got through the customers efficiently. I made sure I mentioned I had booked and needed a 7 seater (Ford S-Max or similar). As usual the counter-staff’s brow became worryingly furrowed but we got one in the end. A very new and nice Peugeot 5008 (with GPS). Despite having paid for “winterisation”, winter tyres were included but chains were not , I ended up paying extra for the chains in case but was not happy, these weren’t extra when with Hertz a few years ago and the desk jockey said Alamo had changed a few years ago. (I checked the aggregator’s website when I got back and winterisation was defined as having winter tyres OR chains OR socks, so in fact the best result was having the winter tyres on the car than the other options). Another thing I noticed was that the tank was not quite full, but only when just hitting the motorway. A bit much when the rental co.s are such sticklers for returning it full.

I had hoped we’d get to Vevey for lunch (one of the recommendations of Valais2) but after the rental car desk queue we were not going to make it for 2pm now, when all the restaurants I had researched closed. So we pressed onto Chateau de Chillon where I knew there was a nearby restaurant that was open all day. The restaurant was a bit of a tourist trap, being close to the castle, and was a first introduction to Swiss pricing (10CHF for a small bowl of mushroom soup!) but it filled a hole. Then we had an hour around the Chateau before it closed, which was well worth visiting as an old seat of power and tax collection in the region. It was about half way on the 2 hour drive to C-M. The rest of the drive was uneventful until there was a bit of a struggle finding the accommodation as it was down a little driveway off the addressed road,

The accommodation was provided by a British company that specialise in school trips. They had leased the building for summer camps but had only started using it for school skiing trips recently. During the hols when schools weren’t coming they had decided to run normal ski holidays. Ski hire was included (we had our own gear), they were doing group lessons at a very reasonable price and they ran a coach out for £99 return. It was basic but functional, the rooms slept 4 in bunks with communal toilets and showers, we had two rooms over the five of us. It was “full board” as they set out sandwich making items at breakfast for you to take and the food was rather basic as well. But the staff were very friendly and very accommodating. When it was found the breakfast buffet timings were tight for their early group lessons (and our morning lessons too) they simply made breakfast time earlier. I don’t know of many places that would do that. They also ran a very reasonably priced bar (maybe not when the schools are there though). Altogether fantastic value to ski in Switzerland, in fact if not for needing a much bigger car (much more expensive than our usual 5 seater) this trip would have cost less than our trip last year to the Dolomites.

We were about as lucky as you could get with the weather and by the sounds of it for this season so far. We had booked well-priced early 1 hour private ski lessons for the kids for four of the skiing days (8.45am start – also needed the car to get to these this as the first ski bus was at 8.46am with oddly the first lift was at 8.30am, not very joined up of the resort). But no lessons on the first day so we weren’t rushing and could reccy the place. We took the ski bus that first day as couldn’t be bothered driving. It was not too busy by the time we got going and so got a false sense of the morning rush. My mother pottered about the hotel (the pavements were too icy to walk) and we headed up the Montana bubble and messed around in that sector. It had snowed heavily for a few days prior and was snowing on that first morning. That made it was hard going for the first day for us flat track bullies day with all the soft stuff and visibility very poor, with no sense of the layout apart from the piste poles but good to emphasize how its important to read them (left and right). Maybe not the best idea to go straight up to Cry D’Er and do a red and there was a small revolt from the youngest due to the conditions, wails of why did you bring me here and oaths never to ski again. We stopped for a lunch at what became the regular haunt (once our kids find something acceptable they are loathed to change) at Arnouva (cafe, outdoor snack bar, and seated restaurant, close to ski school meeting points). After lunch the skies cleared, turned blue and the sun shone. So with no shame in contradicted her earlier vow, our youngest declared that we get moving and hit the slopes. The blue skies continued the rest of the time we were there, so the conditions were as good as you could ask, we were very lucky.

C-M seem to put on a real effort for Christmas and New Year. Having been in both Austria and Italy at the same time the previous years, I would say as a town that C-M put on the biggest effort but then its probably a bit richer and its a proper town. It had laid on lantern trails, big ferris wheel, evening shows in the square. That evening we drove up to Crans for a fire show. Other nights we did the lantern trail, the ferris wheel then wandered about the Xmas market stalls and very fancy shops (many of which would not have been out of place on Bond Street or the Kings Road).

The next day was the start of the lessons, so no more lie ins! I had asked if we could have native English speaking instructions, the school couldn’t promise anything but our luck was in again, we got the excellent Big Tim and Matt (more of later). Unlike day 1, day 2 was a self-inflicted shambles starting when the morning alarm I “set” didn’t go off, so panic from the off. Luckily had laid out the kit the night before so could hustle the kids through breakfast and into gear for me to drive them up to the Montana bubbles. (OH took the less hectic bus later, it wasn’t she who booked the early lessons). As I hadn’t driven up the previous day I wasn’t sure where I could park and I didn’t realise where the one nearest to the bubbles was. I found one but it only took coins which I didn’t have, so moved into what I feared was likely the most expensive car-park in C-M (underground and called Casino, not a good sign) but as needs must. We dashed up to the bubble station only to find a massive queue. By this time Matt had phoned to see if we were turning up to the lesson, I explained we were on our way but our lateness was then compounded by one of the bubbles heading up with its doors open, so it had to be stopped and wound back in to be fixed. So I think we got there just before 9.30 when the lesson was finishing at 9.45! But Tim and Matt were great, they had waited and as they didn’t have another lesson until 10am they taught until then and they made up more time on the later days too. There’s customer service for you! By the time the morning’s lessons finished my OH had made it up , it was still busy on the lift as the group lessons all start at 10am, In the end the car park was only 8CHf for the day so not a complete disaster.

On other mornings we made better time and I found free parking on road that intersected the Montana valley run, so we could park for free and ski down into the bubble station and avoid the queue that formed from the normal entrance.

During the lessons I tried to get around other parts to see if all could ski those sectors as well. Its not a massive ski area but there are bottlenecks around, one being getting on the National chair that is the only way back from Barzettes side to Montana other than the bus. There is a mid-station you can try to cut the queues but they only let you get on totally empty chairs that they might send up one in five when the mid station is busy. Its also busy on the lifts getting you up to the glacier run on Plaine Morte. I guess the worst wait was 15 minutes. I did like getting to the Barzettes side where there was a good mix of blues and reds. The long black Kandahar (19) run from Plaine Morte is not hard (it used to be a red), there is only one really black bit and they have cut a route that bypasses it anyway. But if you don’t intend skiing down its still worth heading up on the gondola just for the view. The Bellalui FIS red was a nice run and the blues off Cry D’Er were enjoyed by all. I also liked the short unpisted Les Bosses run at the top of the Toula Lift. Not being the best technician it’s a run that I managed with little grace or elegance, but had a sense of achievement once I got done. It was not always open for some reason.

My son & I managed to meet up with Valais2 and his daughter for a quick ski on one day. Of course I managed to have my biggest stack of the week when I caught an edge whilst worrying about skiing well whilst in their company, otherwise a good time was had by all. He was kind enough to take us on some great runs and show us a way around the narrow and crowded red piste that headed into to Arnouva.

We mostly based ourselves at the Arnouva cafe as its at the top of the bubble we were nearest and where we met for the mornings lessons. My mother could come up that bubble as a pedestrian for free and sit in the restaurant for a while but I finally got a bit fed up when it took one hour to get 2 servings of fries so on the last day we based ourselves at the Cry D’Er cafe. A pedestrian’s Panorama pass that got you up here on the Crans bubble could be bought for CHF25 which gave you the same value in credit at the cafes so a good deal. Great view for the non-skier and we pottered about on the blues off the Cry D’Er . Lunching in the cafe where the choice of food and value was better, there is a nice pizza place on the terrace. It would appear that this is where people go to be seen rather than ski as many were there in normal footwear. At the end of the day skied down Chetseron reds/blues back to the Crans base.

Overall at times the resort did not seemed very joined up with the ski bus not getting you there for the first lift, the bottlenecks at some places and the lifts were rather old and in need of investment. We did see a few breakdown and got stuck on the Zabona lift when it stopped twice when the liftie only persuaded it to go after several ringing blows with his hammer, it was closed for two days thereafter. Also the gondola up to the glacier was closed one day but not very publicised, we were going to head for it but luckily didn’t. But it was a good mix of runs and the snow was good. The town had a decent amount of things to do (Xmas stuff, ice rink, cinema) and was a good size (we didn’t partake of any après so have no idea about that).

I was very happy with the ski instruction and glad we had tried SMS. There was notable improvement in both children after their total of 4 hours of private lessons each. Tim & Matt were a very personable pair and the kids enjoyed skiing with them.

Other activities

We usually head for the pool for an afternoon on these trips, and Valais2 had recommended the thermal pools at Leukerbad, about an hours drive away. We headed down from the slopes one lunchtime and drove over. The thermal pools are more of a waterpark set up, its got several different levels, types of pools and waterslides. Some of the hot pools are outside so you can sit in the steaming pools under the stars. An afternoon was easily spent there. Leukerbad also has its own ski area.

We also used the C-M ice rink on our last evening (so as not to compromise the skiing with any bruises or broken bones from falling on the ice!). Good set up with a cafe and an ice hockey sized rink and another smaller skating area outside the rink. It was busy but not overly so (certainly not when compared to ice rinks we get in London which are the size of postage stamps and littered with less competent skaters).

We headed back to Geneva, again an easy drive but watch out for the speed cameras, they seem to be everywhere. Got flashed at one point when I was paying more attention to which turnoff I needed to take rather than my speed but no ticket (yet!). Geneva airport was busy. We had Exec club tickets so could join the fast security queue and even that wasn’t moving. My poor mum only had an Economy ticket so had to join the long snake. We all got through eventually to board an uneventful flight and arrival into Heathrow where we finally we got onto some public transport home.

All in all an enjoyable trip made more so by the good conditions.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Great report, we are thinking about heading to Crans-Montana and/or Anzere for our 2020 Christmas trip
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Hi - great report and it was a real pleasure to spend time together. Mad day waiting for the lift at Zarbona - the one place you can't ski out the bottom of without doing a cliff huck...But really glad to spend the day with you...keep well and speak soon...
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Great report, and good to see a Swiss trip, that does not suggest it is outrageously expensive.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
twoodwar wrote:
Great report, and good to see a Swiss trip, that does not suggest it is outrageously expensive.


Yes and no. The thing that made this reasonable was a very very good deal on accommodation,board and lift pass. If not for that then it could have been ugly.
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