The Pyrenees – a long strip of mountains stretching from the Mediterranean Sea across to the Atlantic Ocean, basking in Spanish sun, with rustic ski resorts famed for their lively après ski and cruisy slopes suited to skiers who like to rise late and take a long lunch.
There is perhaps some truth in that statement, and who wouldn’t want a bit of that now and again? But the Pyrenees, and specifically Andorra, offer skiers and snowboarders a whole lot more than that, and the truth is they can get snow – a lot of snow.
Storms raging in from the west, combined with cold northerly airstreams, often create week-long snowfalls that can produce better average snow depths than the Alps. Looking at the numbers, Andorra has a fantastic snow record – the resort of Grandvalira Soldeu consistently records upper-slope depths of over 1.5m during the month of March. Upper-slope depths also generally remain higher during April than they are in December and January, so although you might not get the fresh powder later in the season, you can experience some fantastic spring skiing conditions off-piste.
Here’s where to find it:
Best for experts – Arcalis
Arcalis is more of a ski station that an actual resort, with accommodation options in the town of La Massana or the resort of Arinsal. There are good transport options, though, linking skiers and snowboarders directly into what’s considered to be some of the best freeride terrain in the Pyrenees. Arcalis isn’t a large ski area – 14 lifts, 30km of slopes – but there are vast areas of off-piste terrain straight off some of the main chairlifts like the high-speed quad, Les Portelles (2,562m), where you can head back down to the base lodge and into the series of bowls and gullies that straddle the entire face, or push further over towards La Coma, where from the far side of the system you can access a long itinerary route with huge wide-open powder bowls. One of the stages in the World Freeride Tour competition pays a visit to Arcalis, and you can see why – it’s one of the few untapped “secret” off-piste paradises in Europe.
Best for families and groups – Arinsal
The town of Arinsal is nestled at the end of a steep valley, and at first glance any beginner might wonder what they’ve got themselves into. But head up the gondola to the base station (Comallempa, 1,950m) and it all becomes clear, as a vast bowl spreads out and offers a number of options for all levels. Intermediates will find that the link over to the Pal sector offers some extensive piste skiing too. It’s not the obvious off-piste destination, but confident skiers with a guide can find some interesting excursions, especially straight off the back of Pic Negre (2,569m) and down to the Coll de la Botella. Then head back over via the Arinsal-Pal cable car and hike the ridge up to Pic Alta de la Capa. Here, a huge wide-open bowl opens up that leads all the way down to the mid-station access road. Then hike (or hitchhike if you’re lucky) back up to the central area. Arinsal is a great place to enjoy some well-earned après-ski beers at the end of the day, with plenty of lively bars to choose from. Excursions to nearby Arcalis can be made easily, and there are lots of British ski instructors, and lessons can be booked at arinsal.co.uk
Stay in Arinsal: 4★ – Princesa Parc, Arinsal (hotelprincesaparc.com/en)
Best for developing skills – Grandvalira Soldeu
Whilst offering the most extensive piste skiing and snowboarding in the Pyrenees – linking with the sectors of El Tarter, Grau Roig and Pas de la Casa, the area also offers some interesting off-piste possibilities that are easy to access from the lifts and good for anyone thinking about dipping their toes in the powder. The dedicated “Freeride Centre” at the Grandvalira Soldeu Ski School has a team of four instructors and mountain guides specialising in teaching all levels of off-piste skiing, as well as a guiding service if you just want to see as much of the area as possible. There are several options for instruction including “Top Class Freeride” (full-day programme), “Freeride Camp” (group lesson), and “Freeride Session” (private lesson). The guided option is known as “Freeride Discovery”. They also have freeride skis for pupils to try as well as providing avalanche safety equipment – transceiver, probe and shovel. It’s a good place to start your off-piste experience, especially if others in the group want to take advantage of the 210km of groomed slopes available.
Stay in Soldeu: 4★ – Sport Village Hotel, Soldeu (hotelvillage.sporthotels.ad)
Booking and operators:
UK operator and Andorra specialist Andorra Resorts operate across the whole of Andorra including Arinsal, Soldeu, Pas de la Casa, Grandvalira and Vallnord. Accommodation includes 3 and 4★ hotels and self-catered apartments. Andorra Resorts can also organise ski school, equipment hire and ski passes. www.andorraresorts.com
Destination Andorra offer flexible package holidays to all the resorts of Andorra. Accommodation includes 3, 4 and 5★hotels with all-inclusive prices available. destinationandorra.com