Crans Montana Epic

My training buddy Billy had spotted a nice line to skin up, starting way below Crans Montana and heading up to the top of the Bella Lui at 2543m. It would make for a 1590m climb, and most of this was through untracked orchards, forests and pastureland, so it was likely to be an epic. The conditions were perfect, probably the best in the last decade or so, so we were keen to make the most of them.

I’d had a couple of hard days’ training leading up to this outing, so I was a mite anxious that it might be too much: I can do 1590m no problem, but 1590m with Billy Burns is a very different matter! Anyway, we bit the bullet, drove over to below Icogne and found a place to leave the car (at 950m altitude). As we prepared our gear, other ski mountaineers drove past on their way to Crans, giving us ‘you must be crazy’ looks. The main trail for people skinning up the mountain starts WAY higher up…

View down the Rhone

Sunset over the Rhone Valley

So on with the skis and straight out into glorious hissing cold powder snow. The sun had just gone down and the remaining embers in the sky faded behind us as we skinned up though an orchard. The route was, well, not easy to find as at this low altitude there are lots of chalets, gardens and small roads zig-zagging their way across the slope. But little by little, mainly by trial and error, we made it up to the first section of pastureland. We crossed footpaths, frozen streams, jumped over fences heading ever onwards and upwards. Billy knows so many of the small paths here from running and mountain biking in the summer, and soon we were onto a path he knows well.

After an hour we were greeted by a huge moon rising above the tree tops, looming golden and enormous. Truly stunning, and this already made the trip well worth while. Higher up we met with some interesting obstacles in the shape of 2.5-3m walls of snow which we needed to cross. For a bit of a laugh Billy tried to get over one of them with his skis on, and after a few scrambles finally made it. Impressive stuff!

Climbing over the snow banks

Climbing over the snow banks, not easy with skis on!

Then it was into a small gorge, climbing up narrow strips of snow between the rock faces, and occasionally having to take our skis off and climb as the snow was so hard and icy on some of the steeper pitches. We popped out of the gorge and onto a piste above Crans after 1 hour 30 of climbing, and my energy reserves were getting on the low side. The previous two days of hard training had taken it out of me, and now we were around half way up the climb, so still a long way to go. I stuffed down an energy bar, and before I knew it, Billy had taken off like a scalded cat. He was already around 200m ahead and the gap was growing fast, so it was time to dig deep and get some upward momentum going. I steamed past a couple of guys out training, but Billy’s head torch was already a speck in the distance. I’d never been to Crans before, so I just guessed that we were going UP, and kept going. Sure enough, when I got to the top of a long steep pitch I spotted Billy around 5 mins ahead. Slogging on whilst enjoying the most amazing views of the Rhone Valley and surrounding peaks lit up in the moonlight, I finally got to the top, to be met by a cheerful encouraging Billy.

The Path to a Chalet near Crans

The Path to a Chalet near Crans with snow walls over 2m high

We headed on down the piste, a fun and quite easy descent down to Crans though we ended up in the multistory car park and had to run down a flight of concrete steps in order to continue our descent. It seemed so weird, one minute in the midst of nature, and the next, legging it down a concrete stairwell! We had to walk/jog about 20 minutes to get out of Crans, then on with the skis again and down into the hissing powder, off piste. The snow was incredible, so easy to ski, and the visibility was excellent in the moonlight. Just had to keep an eye out for wire fences just below snow level, but we managed to steer clear of them all. After another 30 mins of descending we reached the road and it was time to put the skis on our backpacks and jog back to the car. 4 hours 30 mins of epic adventure, what a way to spend an evening! And yes, we both agree we’re slightly mad…

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