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Skiing in Spain

Skiing is rarely the first thing that springs to the minds of foreigners planning a holiday in Spain. More than 50 million foreign visitors flock to the country each year but the vast majority come armed with sun cream and swim wear rather than ski suits and snow goggles.

Skiers from northern Europe tend to head for the better known winter sports destinations of the French and Austrian Alps and the Italian Dolomites. But ski-ing is a popular sport among the Spanish and there are more than 20 resorts to choose from including several which offer sophisticated facilities and a wide range of pistes to suit all abilities.

The few foreigners to be found on the Spanish slopes tend to be those who live in Spain and skiers disillusioned with the crowds, commercialism and extortionate prices of better know European ski centres.

Where are the best ski resorts in Spain?

Undoubtedly the best known Spanish ski resort is Pradollano in the Sierra Nevada which hosted the 1996 World Alpine Ski Championships. It holds the distinction of being Europe’s most southerly ski resort (you can see Morocco on a clear day!) and in the winter months holidaymakers are able to ski for a few hours before heading off to sunbathe on the beaches of the Costa del Sol. It’s the resort which has the most international feel of all Spain’s ski centres, largely because of its accessibility to foreign visitors. The great city of Granada, with its awesome Alhambra Palace, has an international airport and is just 32 kilometres from the resort. And Malaga airport, with numerous daily cheap charter flights to and from all major European destinations, is within easy driving distance, 160 kilometres to the west of Pradollano (also known as “Sol y Nieve” meaning sun and snow).

It’s an ideal resort for those seeking a taste of Spain combined with all the services and facilities you’d expect to find in the popular Alpine ski villages. There’s a good range of pistes serviced by more than 300 snow cannon, several ski schools and a wealth of bars, restaurants, hotel and apartments to suit most tastes and budgets.

Ski resorts in northern Spain

The majority of Spain’s ski resorts are to be found at the other end of the country, in the Pyrenees bordering France. These resorts are less accessible by air and so remain far more Spanish in character. The most exclusive is Baqueira-Beret in the gorgeous Valle de Aran – the combination of good ski-ing and stunning scenery in this part of the Catalonian Pyrenees attracts Spain’s smart set including King Juan Carlos and his family.

For some of the most challenging ski-ing in Spain, head for Candanchu in Huesca province in the Aragonese Pyrenees. More than 30% of the slopes here are designed for expert skiers and together with the newer neighbouring resort of Astun there are nearly 30 tough black runs (you can use the same lift pass for both ski centres). Other popular resorts in the Aragonese Pyrenees include Formigal, Cerler and Panticosa.

The oldest ski resort in Spain is La Molina in Catalunya, where men used to ski in jackets and ties accompanied by women in long skirts at the beginning of the 20 th century. These days the resort’s sophisticated lift system is capable of transporting more than 16,000 skiers an hour (with not a long skirt in sight!).

Many Spanish resorts including Masella – one of the biggest ski centres in the Spanish Pyrenees – are used by schools for week-long ski holidays. Their facilities are geared to cater for large groups of youngsters which is ideal for the school children themselves but is something to be wary of if you’re looking for peaceful pistes and elegant après ski.

The pretty ski centres of Valdelinares and nearby Javalambre, both near Teruel to the north west of Valencia, are two of the smallest “resorts” in Spain. They provide limited ski-ing and facilities but are in a gorgeous setting making them worth a weekend visit as long as you’re not expecting death defying black runs and all night partying.

Ski facilities

The bigger ski centres offer most of the facilities that you’d expect to find in the better known Alpine resorts – ski schools, kindergartens, bars and restaurants on the pistes and a good selection of accommodation including hotels with spa centres and entertainment.

Many now offer good facilities for snow boarders along with various other activities such as cross country ski-ing, helicopter and para ski-ing, husky sled excursions and snow racket walking.

The smallest centres have limited or no accommodation near the slopes so you’ll need to find your own small hotel, hostal or self-catering chalet or apartment in the surrounding area. That may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect ski holiday but it does make for a more “Spanish experience” and it usually works out far cheaper than staying in one of the larger resorts where prices tend to be over-inflated.