The most popular form of skiing is naturally downhill ( esquí de descenso), although cross-country ( esquí nórdico) skiers are also catered for in many resorts. With Andorra, Spain offers the cheapest skiing holidays in Western Europe and is becoming increasingly popular with beginners and intermediate skiers wishing to avoid the high cost of skiing in the Alps. However, most of Spain’s resorts aren’t sophisticated or developed and most don’t offer sufficient challenges to satisfy the demands of advanced skiers, particularly regarding off-piste skiing.
The majority of Spain’s resorts are located in the Pyrenees in the provinces of Gerona (Nuria and La Molina), Huesca (Astún, El Cadanchú, Cerler, Formigal and Panticosa), and Lérida with Baqueira-Beret (Spain’s most fashionable resort, popular with the Spanish royal family, and Europe’s most extensive ski resort outside the Alps), and Boí-Taüll, Masella, La Molina and Supert-Espot. Other skiing regions include the Cordillera Cantábrica region (with the resorts of Alto Campoo, San Isidro, Valdezcaray and Valgrande Pajares), the Guadarrama and Gredos mountains north of Madrid (includes La Pinilla, Navacerrada, Puerto de Navacerrada, Valcotos and Valdesquí), Galicia (Cabeza de la Manzaneda), the Sierra de Gúdar (Teruel) and the Sierra Nevada (Granada).
Although encompassing a relatively small area, the Sierra Nevada (also called ‘Sol y Nieve’) near Granada is Spain’s most famous resort. The Sierra Nevada is Europe’s most southerly winter sports resort and a common boast is that you can ski there in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon. The resort is centred around the village of Paradollano at 2,100m.
It has 19 lifts with a capacity of over 32,000 passengers an hour, around 70km (44mi) of pistes and 30 runs, and skiing up to a height of 3,400m. There are also package deals for up to seven consecutive days and a 33 per cent discount for children under 10.
Snow is generally guaranteed, as the resort has an extensive network of snow-making machines covering many pistes. For reservations and snow and weather conditions contact 958-249 100 or visit http://www.cetursa.es (information is given in English and Spanish). The Sierra Nevada website ( http://www.sierranevadaski.com) also provides comprehensive information.
Cost of skiing in Spain
Although cheaper in Spain than many other countries, downhill skiing is an expensive sport, particularly for families. The cost of equipping a family of four is around €1,000 for equipment and clothing. If you’re a beginner it’s better to rent ski equipment (skis, poles, boots) or buy second-hand equipment until you’re addicted, which, if it doesn’t frighten you to death, can happen on your first day on the pistes. Most sports shops in Spain have pre-season and end of season sales of ski equipment.
Most resorts have a range of ski lifts, including cable cars, gondolas, chair-lifts and drag-lifts. Pistes in Spain are rated as green (very easy – muy fácil), blue (easy – fácil), red (difficult – difícil) or black (very difficult – muy difícil). Most resorts have ski schools and the larger resorts such as Sierra Nevada have Spanish and international ski schools.
Skiing accommodation in Spain
Most resorts offer a variety of accommodation, including hotels, self-catering apartments and chalets. Accommodation is more expensive during holiday periods (Christmas, New Year and Easter), when ski-lift queues are interminable and pistes are often overcrowded. These periods (and school holidays in February) are best avoided, particularly as the chance of collisions is greatly enhanced when pistes are overcrowded. Outside these periods and particularly on weekdays, resorts are generally free of crowds and queues.
Mono-skiing and snow-boarding are particularly popular (and generally unrestricted) in Spain and are taught in most resorts. Other activities may include paragliding, parasailing, hang-gliding, ice-skating, snow-shoe walking, sleigh rides, climbing, snow scooters and snowmobiles. Heli-skiing, where helicopters drop skiers off at the top of inaccessible mountains, is possible in Spain. There’s also night skiing on floodlit runs in some resorts.
Many winter resorts also provide a variety of mostly indoor activities, including tennis, squash, curling, heated indoor swimming pools, gymnasiums, saunas and solariums. You can find excellent food in the Pyrenees which is influenced by Basque and French cuisine, and skiers are amply provided with mountain restaurants in most resorts. There’s also an excellent choice of restaurants and bars resorts, which have the most lively and cheapest (with Andorra) nightlife of any country in Europe. Spaniards aren’t such fanatical skiers as other Europeans and many tend to rave all night and ski only in the afternoons, rather than ski from dawn to dusk.
For further information about skiing and other winter sports in Spain contact the Asociación Turística de Estaciones de Esquí y Montaña (ATUDEM), C/Padre Damián, 43 –1ª, Oficina 11, 28036 Madrid (913-591 557, http://www.atudem.org) or the Federación Española de Deportes de Invierno, Avda Madroños, 36, 28043 Madrid (913-769 930, http://www.rfedi.es).
The latest weather and snow conditions are broadcast on Spanish television (usually on Thursday or Friday evenings) and radio, published in daily newspapers, and are available direct from resorts (which provide recorded telephone information). TurEspaña publishes a comprehensive brochure, Ski Resorts, which includes a map showing the location of all resorts plus a guide to each resort (downloadable in pdf from http://www.spain.info).
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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