13 Jan, 2010 @ 19:44
3 mins read

On top of the world

DESPITE being the worst festive period for well over a decade, the Sierra Nevada is often praised for its clement weather.

The reason for this being its location at the foot of Europe (it is at the same latitude as Cyprus) and just 30 miles from the shimmering Med.

The most southerly skiing resort on the continent – not to mention one of the highest – its unique location is often said to allow a morning’s snowplowing followed by an afternoon on the beach.

But it is a rarely tested claim.

This is why Granada newspaper Ideal, in conjunction with the resort of Pradollano, decided to try out the theory last year.

Picking a sunny day in May, a couple of foreign students based in Granada were ushered up to the slopes where they skied from 9am to 1pm, before taking the 75 minute drive down to the Costa Tropical resort of Salobrena.

“It worked perfectly and by 3pm they were settled in eating a paella on the beach,” explains Santiago Sevilla, from Cetursa, the company that runs the resort, also known as Solynieve (or ‘sun and snow’).

“In 1973 there were only about 20 buildings here, today it is a big resort that can accommodate around 20,000 people a night.”

“By 9pm they were having a tapas crawl around the Albaicin of Granada just to add the icing on the cake,” he adds.

It is not necessarily everyone’s idea of a relaxing day’s skiing, but it is entirely possible therefore. As is staying, for example, in Granada city, or nearby Monachil, and heading up to the slopes on the early bus, or in your car.

For centuries the only people to labour up the Sierra Nevada’s peaks were the neveros, or icemen, who carried blocks of ice down from the high mountains to sell in the city.

Today, though, the mountains draw ever increasing numbers of visitors for a huge range of outdoor activities, principally skiing at this time of year.

It is little surprise with the resort now counting 115 pistes covering 102 kilometres, with a good range of levels and over 20 ski lifts.

“It has grown a lot over recent years and is now as modern as any other in Europe,” explains Jose Maria Rada Calvo, or ‘Chechu’, 54, who has been running his ski school and rental business Snowpeople in the resort for over 30 years.

“In 1973 there were only about 20 buildings here, today it is a big resort that can accommodate around 20,000 people a night.”

It certainly needs to at certain times of the year when the place gets rammed, with big queues building up for the ski lifts and even to drive up to the resort.

The busiest times are at Christmas and at Semana Santa as well as half term, or Semana Blanca (literally ‘white week’) at the end of February, appropriately so that school children can learn how to ski.

The resort really started to evolve quickly from 1995 when the World Skiing Championship was scheduled to be held there (it actually took place the following year due to poor snow).

“Since then the infrastructure changes were huge and it is now a big resort,” explains Chechu.

“When the weather is favourable, and that is most of the time, this is a fantastic place to be skiing.

“After the recent heavy snowfall this January there is at least a metre of snow on the higher slopes and plenty in the town.”

Giles Birch, who has run the British Ski Centre in the Sierra Nevada for well over a decade, estimates that Pradollano has one of the longest seasons in Europe, opening at the start of December and often going through to mid May.

“There have even been snowfalls in June and when the snow and weather are favourable, which is more often then not, the openness of the ski terrain provides some of the most exhilarating off piste skiing to be found anywhere.”

He continues: “Off piste skiing here has made a great name for itself with easily accessible zones all over the terrain, very little avalanche risk and wide open expanses for all to enjoy.”

If you want to get away from the madding crowd on the pistes, you can always try back country skiing. With synthetic skins attached to the base of the skis, you can ascend slopes away from the masses.

One of the best established companies Snowpeople offers a number of interesting routes, such as a two day trip over the top of Valeta down to Lanjaron in the Alpujarras.

Check out the full Sierra Nevada special by going to the following link http://issuu.com/theolivepress/docs/74w/1

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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