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Iain Martin

21 Dec 20

Ski Touring in Switzerland: A December Delight

Iain Martin

21 Dec 20

The ski lifts may be turning in Switzerland at the time of writing, unlike their Alpine neighbours, yet the irony of my recent visit is that for two days I hardly used them.

Crans Montana is known for its ‘Rando Park’, a collection of 15 ski touring routes over 40km of marked and secured trails, and to me, there’s as much joy in a long, peaceful climb up as there is in a fast, speedy descent down.

I did ski though, covering all of the open pistes and lifts (the full ski area opens this week), and Switzerland will remain the only option for British skiers until France, Italy and Austria open, probably on 07 January.

What Are the Restrictions in Resort?

Current Covid restrictions in the Valais region of Switzerland are very similar to the UK. Masks have to be worn on all lifts (including chairlifts), on public transport and in public places, except to eat or drink.

All lift queues have very clearly marked social distancing in place, with reduced capacity on gondolas and cable cars.

While I can’t speak for larger resorts such as Verbier or Zermatt (and noting that I was skiing mid-week) in Crans Montana I only ever shared a lift with my guide.

Diners have to download and use a compulsory app which logs your table number and arrival and departure times, to enable ‘Track and Trace’. Restaurants and bars have to close at 10pm.

Can You Ski?

Yes, you can! Crans Montana currently has 14 lifts open, including access to the Plaine Morte glacier at 2927m.

Unfortunately the piste down from the glacier is closed due to avalanche danger, but there is plenty of skiing available, including a lengthy and thigh-busting 750m vertical drop from Cry d’Er to Barzettes.

Ski Touring and Cross Country

Crans Montana’s ski touring options in the Rando Parc vary from easy (‘Rookies’, 1.8km/+212m) to challenging (‘Le 1000+’, 6.3km/+1009m).

I spent two days with local mountain guide, Christian Mittaz, who expertly led me quite literally off the beaten track via the imposing canyons of the Violettes to Bellalui at 2543m.

Crans Montana also offers cross country, both at village level, over what in summer is the resort’s international 18-hole golf course, and at altitude on the Plaine Morte glacier, surrounded by silent, crystallised snow.

Do I Have to Quarantine?

Yes. While this may change at any point, as of 21 December (two days after this original article was written), all arrivals from the UK have to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in Switzerland. Current UK rules mean that you have to quarantine for 10 days on your return to the UK. This can be reduced to five days through the new ‘Test and Release’ scheme.

How to Get There

Most skiers can simply transfer from Zurich or Geneva airport via the ultra-efficient Swiss rail network.

I used a Swiss Travel Pass, which allows you unlimited travel by train, bus and boat, as well as access to 500 museums. You can also buy return tickets on the easy-to-use SBB website. I recommend upgrading to First Class if your budget can take it: apart from the comfier, more spacious seats and abundant charge points, these carriages are so empty that socially distancing is guaranteed.

As founder of Ski Flight Free, I try to avoid flying and travelled by train from the UK via Paris. This is a journey I’ve done many times before (including during the ‘new normal’) and, apart from having to wear a mask, was as straightforward and as comfortable as usual.

How to Get Insured

The FCO is currently advising against ‘non-essential’ travel to Switzerland. However, if you are legally entitled to travel there, there are few insurers who will cover you for wintersports.

Your EHIC will be valid until 31 December, but to ensure full cover I took out a policy with Battleface. Originally specialising in cover for journalists and aid workers travelling to war zones and other ‘difficult’ destinations, Battleface launched a ski product earlier this month.

Should I go?

If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that that circumstances could change at any time.

Crans Montana and the other Valais resorts remain open due to stricter lockdown measures in the autumn and a lower ‘Reproduction Rate’ (the ‘R’ rate) than the rest of Switzerland.

Making the decision to go to the Alps to ski will also be a personal one, but if Covid has taught us anything it’s that life is short and there to be lived while we can.

 


 

Iain travelled to Switzerland as a guest of Switzerland Tourism. He stayed at the Hotel La Prairie, renting touring skis from Rando Shop. Lift passes are available in Crans Montana from CHF51 per day.

Iain travelled by train to Lausanne via Eurostar and SNCF. In Switzerland, all trains and buses were included with a Swiss Travel Pass (from £193 for 3 days).

Travel Notes *

If you travel through France between the hours of 8pm and 6am by either car or train, then you will need to complete an ‘attestation’. You need to check the box indicating you are transiting the country only.
Residents of Tier 4 zones in the UK are not permitted to leave the country
British citizens may not be able to enter Switzerland after 01 January should a ‘no-deal’ Brexit go ahead

* Accurate at 20 December 2020