By Jon Clarke
WHILE it’s foggy in the Pyrenees and they’re shivering in the Alps, I’m taking the sun near the top of Spain’s second highest mountain.
It’s early December and yet the Sierra Nevada still remains warm during the day. Some people are skiing in t-shirts and everyone is looking tanned.
Even better, my elevenses of a croissant, apple and a can of Coke come to no more than five euros… and that is at a restaurant half way up the slopes!
“Here we sell the weather, not the number of kilometres,” explains David Navarro, of EIE ski school. “And mostly prices have not gone up for three years.
“On top of that you are just over an hour from the beaches of Almunecar and half an hour to the Alhambra. That is hard to beat.”
What is certainly changing in the Sierra Nevada though is the dedication to move forward.
New kilometres of pistes are added every year and this season – for the first time – a fabulous new 165metre long ‘half pipe’ has been added for snowboarders (see page 22).
Currently there are over 100kms of pistes and by the beginning of December this year an incredible 50kms were already open, when almost all of Europe was still ‘brown’.
This included the celebrated Laguna valley for expert skiers (for the first time so early in the season) and even the ‘Rio’ run that leads right down which sits at 2,100 metres.
At the same latitude as Cyprus and just 30 miles from the beaches of the Costa del Sol, it is nothing short of amazing really that you can ski here from December through to May.
It has also, rightfully, got a reputation as being a resort for fun
This is all to do with the altitude of the Sierra Nevada, which has its highest peak in Mulhacen, a staggering 3,482m above sea level.
From the top of the highest ski lift, at 3,300 metres, the views make the Mediterranean below look like a small pond, with half the coastline of Morocco clearly in view.
It is an amazing place, although it can be a little nippy up there with the wind whistling past, so make sure to bring a coat and jumper.
From here, competant skiers are spoilt with the amazing runs of the Laguna de las Yeguas area, including the celebrated Olympic run, which is full of twists and turns.
Here, you can sometimes find yourself skiing alone midweek for long periods and the sheer nature and landscape are spectacular.
It is incredibly easy to have a day or twos skiing in Europe’s most southerly skiing resort.
You head up to the resort of Pradollano, 20 minutes above Granada, where you can park easily in the underground carpark right below the main square for around 20 euros for the day.
Staying longer – or on a budget – take the turning left, marked ‘albergues’ just before you arrive and head uphill through a pine forest, before taking a right and dipping down into the resort.
Drive down this long windy road for half a kilometre, keeping your eyes peeled for a free space, but beware ‘gruas’ are out in force and you will be towed away if you park badly.
From here, you are a five or 10 minute walk down to the centre of the resort, where you will find dozens of places to rent skis and buy your ‘forfait’ (or ski pass) from a machine using your credit card.
The adage claims it’s easy to have a morning’s skiing then an afternoon on the beach
It is between 37 and 44 euros for a day’s skiing, but you can get a half day for just over 30 euros kicking off at 1pm and children get decent discounts.
It certainly pays to pick your days with Christmas and Semana Santa seeing the resort rammed, with sometimes big queues for the ski lifts.
Then there is Semana Blanca (literally ‘white week’) – or half term at the end of February – when school children can learn how to ski, while bank holidays can also be very busy and getting up to the resort can be slow.
That said, problems can be missed by arriving by 8.30am or by waiting till midday.
While a modern resort, Pradollano itself is a pleasant place to simply take in the air or a spot of lunch, and there is a fair amount for children to do, with entertainers and Disney figures wandering around.
It has also, rightfully, got a good reputation as being a resort for fun, with the famous apres ski being some of the best in Europe.
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 Jose Maria Rada Calvo, or ‘Chechu’, 56, who has been running his ski school and rental business Snowpeople in the resort for over 30 years.
“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 there is at least a metre of snow on the higher slopes and plenty even at the resort.”
Giles Birch, who runs the British Ski Centre, 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
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.”
And then there is the famous adage that it is easy to have a morning’s snowploughing in the Sierra Nevada followed by an afternoon on the beach.
Two years ago, local Granada newspaper Ideal decided to try it out the theory, picking a sunny day in May and a couple of foreign students based in Granada.
Picked up in Granada at 8am they were skiing on the slopes 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.
“Then by 9pm, not content to call it a day, they were having a tapas crawl around the Albaicin of Granadajust to add the icing on the cake,” he adds.