24 Dec, 2021 @ 15:45
4 mins read

Winter wonderland: He came for the Costa del Sol but then discovered Spain’s Sierra Nevada ski resort

papa noel

LEGEND has it that there was once a wealthy lord who lived with his beautiful daughter in a remote castle in the Alpujarras, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

The lord was controlling, and because he planned to marry his daughter off to a fellow landowner he kept her hidden away from the world so she could not meet anyone else.

But unknown to him, his daughter had been sneaking out the house at night, and had already fallen in love with someone else – a local shepherd.

When the two learned of her father’s plans, they decided to elope through the snow-bound Sierra Nevada mountains and flee to the north, even if it meant their deaths.

But on his way to meet his lover, so the story goes, the shepherd bumped into the devil, who offered him a broom to hide his tracks in the snow.

Pursued by the rich lord, the young couple fled until they reached the peak of Alcazaba, which sits at 3,371 metres, just a few less than its two nearby rivals Veleta and Mulhacen (3,482m)

But when they dropped the broom it began to sweep by itself, causing an avalanche and burying their pursuers.

The story goes that the broom was left there forgotten, where it still sweeps, causing landslides to this day.

When I arrived at the base of the Sierra Nevada for the first time one early December, greeted by jutting hills with scattered patches of snow, landslides were the last thing on my mind.

The tallest mountain range in southern Europe, the Sierra Nevada range is higher than the Pyrenees and has one of the longest skiing seasons in the world.

As the road from Granada began to rise up, strangling the side of the emerging mountain, I saw the first snowy peaks looking down at me.

The serrated valleys could have been carved with a bread knife – though drivers would be advised to try and keep their eyes on the tight bends, with some sheer drops, rather than the stunning scenery.

On arrival, after a three hour drive from Estepona, I was greeted by a scene closer to the fall of Saigon than a Spanish skiing resort.

Dozens of American squaddies were strewn chaotically across the piste, collapsed on their backs, crawling to safety and cursing their fate.

Stationed at the naval based at Rota, near Cadiz, they had been given a day-off to go skiing. The problem is that few of them had an idea what they were doing.

“I just can’t get these goddam things to work,” muttered one, while his friend was trying to extricate his snowboard from the chair lift.

But if the sailors were not finding skiing as relaxing as they had hoped, at least they had picked a good day for it.

The resort was bathed in sunshine, and although a waterproof jacket and trousers were definitely called for, the weather was beautifully mild.

I had arrived skeptical that there would be any snow at all, given the warm December sun, and reports that snowfalls had been scant that year to say the least.

In fact, considering that there has been so little rain that winter – and therefore snow in the mountains – the long line of peaks had an impressive coating of the white stuff leaving a wonderful wintery scene.

La Estacion De Esqui De Sierra Nevada
The ski pistes of the Sierra Nevada. Photo: Cordon Press

And unlike in years gone by – in particular in 1995 a serious drought year – thanks to the snow machines there was an impressive amount of powdery snow on the pistes.

The machines were introduced in response to shorter, warmer winters.

They can produce artificial snow, albeit on a smaller area than nature would normally provide.

And they are doing a good job, keeping the resort open (until a proper dump happens) and allowing the thousands of skiiers each week to have a very alternative day out in Andalucia.

Like most northern Europeans I had been utterly unaware that you could ski in Andalucia.

And so being a keen skiier (taking my first lesson in native Scotland as a kid), it was a real surprise that I could have such an amazing day out.

In fact, unlike its more famous Alpine or Pyrenean cousins, the peaks of the Sierra Nevada are only an hour from the coast at Motril (even nearer as the crow flies) – hence the famous boast that it is one of the few places in the world where you can ski in the morning and then spend the afternoon on the beach.

But having arrived in the country unprepared for snow sports, I had to head to the resort´s hippest snowboard shop, where I was kitted out with some decent gear (Burton boots, board and clothing).

One major advantage is the relative peace of the place, in comparison to resorts in France and Italy, which can often feel closer to a theme park, with lengthy lift queues, than a mountain hideaway. It is said to change at busy times, such as Semana Blanca and Easter, but outside of these dates you can often have the runs largely to yourself.

Ski schools snaked their way past me, with the children, flying down the hill in single file and seemingly without an ounce of fear, offering a sharp contrast to the flailing military men.

In fact even a child who had chosen to improvise – tackling the slope on his head – seemed more relaxed than the flailing soldiers.

And for those more interested in soaking up the winter atmosphere – the town of Pradollano, lying at the bottom of the slopes – though still at an elevation of 2,100 metres – offers a range of restaurants and cafés for après, or even pre-ski refreshment.

Located just under 30 kilometres from Granada, the Sierra Nevada resort is a winter wonderland, offering a great option for a fairy-tale day out.

Just watch out for ‘the devil’s broom’.


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