Crans Montana has made their corner of the Swiss Alps into the perfect adventure playground for beginner ski tourers. I strapped on skins and tried their mapped trails for all abilities.
I’ve always been drawn by ski touring – by the desire to ski far from crowds and pistes and by the desire to hike up snow-clad mountains as well as ski down them. If anything has held me back, it’s been not knowing quite how to begin.
The resorts of Crans and Montana in Switzerland have the answer for keen beginners like me. The ski area’s new ski touring routes may be wild and remote, but they are signposted and mapped, so that even if you don’t know the hill well or don’t have much experience with skins on, you’ll be able to navigate them and explore far from the confines of the pistes.
The new Rando Park (from ski randonee, the French for ski touring) is made up of 15 trails that range from short and simple beginner routes to the very tough 35km L’Extreme route, suitable for the fittest tourers. On a sunny afternoon in February, I hiked the Grand Loup, a six km route that leaves the valley and climbs 871 metres to the mountain of Petit Mont Bonvin at 2,383 metres. I got kitted out by the touring-specific Rando shop, had a crash course in attaching sticky skins to the bottom of my skis and I was ready for the mountain.
Late afternoon turned out to be the perfect time to hit the trail – other skiers were heading home down the pistes and the mountains were peaceful. It was a tough slog pushing skis upwards along the trail as it wound through the woods, feeling my skins catch on the snow. The movement reminded me more of mountain trekking than downhill skiing. As we hiked higher the sun started to set over the mountains, turning the snow red and gold.
When we finally emerged out of the treeline, the sun had set and the temperature had dropped sharply. It felt like we were the only people around for miles as we followed the route up the glacier. The last mile or so of Grand Loup was tough, but I kept going if only to keep warm in the nighttime chill. There was a treat waiting at the top of the mountain – our guide poured us out tumblers full of wine and we looked up at a sky sprinkled with stars. Then it was time to strip off skins and tear down the mountain, taking the pistes back down to the valley glittering below.