IT’S not all sangria and sunbathing, you know? With 33 ski resorts in the second most mountainous region in Europe, it’s fair to say skiing in Spain is the next big thing.
The snow sports industry in Spain is still relatively unknown and underappreciated, it hasn’t reached the level of the mega Alpine industry, but I hope it never does because as a result, Spain has become one of the best value ski destinations in Europe.
Most people associate Spain with balmy Mediterranean evenings, fruity sangria and red strappy sunburn. But why not try sunburn of a different kind? The attractive goggle-marks kind.
The Pyrenees stretches along the French-Spanish border, with ski destinations in Catalonia, Aragon and Andorra. It’s young, cool, affordable and just spectacular. There is something for everyone, from the relaxed weekend skier to the thrill-seeking snowboarder. Groups of friends, families with their 3 year olds that ski better than me, beginners, old-timers, everyone is welcome in the Pyrenees.
The Aragonese mountains are said to have some of the best ranges of pistes. There are 5 resorts in this area, all at a maximum journey of 2 hours from Pamplona, and less from Aragon’s capital Zaragoza. Formigal and Candanchu are the most popular, the first being one of the best in Spain with almost 100 different pistes equalling 130 km of skiing. There’s even an illuminated night-time piste for the truly brave. Cross-country skiing is also a huge craze here with weekly competitions and hundreds of kilometres of stunning routes.
Not only is it more affordable in this region, it also tends to be less crowded and has a local feel too. People come from the villages of the Basque Region (both the Spanish and French sides), and the children are given opportunities by the local government to learn to ski. During “Semana Blanca” children head to the mountains from all over the northern regions, including Navarra, for ski lessons, all funded by the government.
Personal account from an Ex-Bridget Jones:
I first learnt how to ski in the extremely posh and, dare I say it, pretentious Alps, surrounded by designer sunglasses, me in my mum’s 80s magenta two-piece. I fell so many times that I was unrecognisable from bruising (my legs were anyway). I spent more time trying to swing my legs over my head and stand up, than actually moving down the mountain with skis on. I enjoyed après-ski for a maximum of 1 hour, the amount of time my aching body would allow. Once I even hit a child during my flailing decent. But after a few weekends of perseverance (I was lucky enough to be both living in France and a student, so able to afford this luxury at a good rate and thanks to the generous Erasmus grant) new muscles were formed, skis were controlled like never before, and children were avoided at all costs.
Now, living in Pamplona, I have the mountains at my finger tips again and my ski legs have returned. The Pyrenees are different though. The views of fir and pine forests, undulating valleys dotted with tiny villages, Spanish friendliness on the pistes – I instantly felt more welcome. I was, however, technically in France, just across the border, the closest village being Isaba, Spain, at the resort of Arette.
El Corté Inglés, that prestigious department store, does a hugely popular bus and ski pass deal to Arette every Saturday. It costs €39 (with insurance, always get insurance. It once cost my friend €400 to be snow-mobiled of the piste, a distance of about 25 metres, with a twisted knee. It was her second time on the baby slope). It’s a real bargain because not only is the bus practically free, but you get all sorts of little discounts in the restaurants and cafes. You also get 10% off in Locaski, the buzzing ski-hire shop. There are other places to rent skis with shorter queues, but go to this place. It may be full of people at most hours of the day, but the people who work there are incredible. They chat, joke, and put up with my French (severely depleted since my Alpine days). The network of pistes offer a few challenges, the powder snow, sunshine, free hot chocolate in the queues, and truly spectacular views are wonderful in every sense of the word.
So, come to Spain for your snowy adventure. The season runs from December to April, making skiing in the clouds of the southern Sierra Navada mountain range and a dip in the blue Mediterranean sea perfectly possible, practically in one single day!
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