Travel in Spain

Let it snow: Spain’s ski season kicks off in style

Spanish resorts and those in nearby Andorra are offering lots of exciting innovations on and off-piste

If the weather conditions hold, this ski season promises to be a long one. Autumn snowfalls have meant that resorts are opening early, with Masella in Girona in the northeastern region of Catalonia getting a head start as usual; this year its lifts powered into action on November 13.

But despite all the signs of abundant snow this year, almost all of Spain and Andorra’s resorts have taken the precaution of boosting their artificial snow capacity, with some now able to cover 70% of slopes whatever the weather brings.

And while their actual size will not increase, different services and runs are being added to make the most of the season. Due for inauguration are runs specific to snowboarding, off-piste skiing, freestyle and cross-country as well as paths for snowshoes. Ski passes can easily be bought online, saving time and money. And for après-skiers, there will be no shortage of music bars at the foot of the slopes and a range of alternative activities for those wanting to ring the changes.

The Aragonese Pyrenees and the Iberian System

Formigal-Panticosa ski resort

These two combined resorts in the Tena Valley in Huesca in northeastern Spain will boast the fastest slope in the country this season, going from the top of the Tres Hombres peak at 2,220 meters with a drop of 300 meters. This run will be used for the Flying Kilometer World Cup between March 13 and 15, with contestants reaching speeds of above 200 kilometers an hour. The possibility of ordinary skiers trying it out is being looked into.

Meanwhile, the resort has improved the efficiency of its artificial snow coverage and the layout of the Espelunciecha and Corona runs. For those worried about access, the Sextas parking lot has been expanded at the main entrance and access via Anayet and Sarrios has been upgraded too. Speed skiers wishing to time their descents can now do so on the Panticosa slalom slope, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020.

As well as being one of the biggest ski resorts in the country, it is surrounded by beautiful scenery with views of the French Midi d’Ossau peak and numerous other mountains that tower over 3,000 meters. The view is particularly spectacular from La Glera restaurant, which has been expanded this year.

Slopes: 180 kilometers. Altitude: 1,145-2,250 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €48/ children: €38.50. Ski pass for Panticosa only: adults: €43,50/ children: €35. Information: Tel. 974 49 00 00.

Cerler

The long-awaited expansion of this resort in the Benasque Valley, located in the heart of the Pyrenees, started with the improvement of access and services in the Castanesa Valley, an area to be incorporated into the resort with the first lift to open next winter on the Basibé side. This season, the Ampriu and Les Planes runs, which take skiers to the resort’s base, have been upgraded, and a webcam at the end of the Gallinero ski lift will provide skiers with streamed weather conditions on the slopes.

Slopes: 77 kilometers. Altitude: 1,500-2,630 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €45.50/ children: €36.50. Information: Tel. 974 55 10 12.

Valdelinares and Javalambre

In Teruel, in the northeastern region of Aragón, the Valdelinares resort has improved access to the ski runs and ski storage for groups, while the Javalambre resort has new snow cannon and easier ski lift access. The Ski Pyrenees seasonal ski pass can be used in both these resorts as well as all the aforementioned in the Aragonese Pyrenees, plus Astún and Candanchú, at a cost of €959 for adults and €767 for children.

Catalan Pyrenees

Baqueira Beret

Benefiting from its location on the north side of the Pyrenees, facing the Atlantic, Baqueira is almost always blessed with snow. Its fast lifts and well-maintained slopes together with the Vall de Arán’s stunning scenery and charming villages have made it Spain’s premier resort.

This season it will officially inaugurate the Eth Coret run, suitable for competent skiers and connecting the Bacivèr zone with Orri, cutting through a pine forest with beautiful views of the resort’s north face.

There are also upgrades on the Peülla, Pleta del Duc, Cap de Baqueira and Debutants runs while an additional 50 snow cannon have made it possible to cover half the runs with artificial snow.

The circular redesign of the 2200 café affords better views of the Ruda mountains panning round to the Aneto, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees and the third-highest in Spain.

And there’s additional change – the Baqueira Pass can be topped up online at a reduced price.

Slopes: 167 kilometers. Altitude: 1,500-2,610 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €54.50/ children: €36. Information: Tel. 973 63 90 00.

La Molina

This year, this eastern Pyrenean resort located 150 kilometers from Barcelona has two new elements: the extension of the Cadí-Moixeró ski lift to the top of La Tosa mountain, which will make it easier to access the La Molina-Masella zone, and the El Llac ski lift, which takes snow enthusiasts up from the lake to the Coll de Pal mountain.

Slopes: 71 kilometers. Altitude: 1,667-2,537 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €42/ children: €31.50. Information: Tel. 972 89 20 31.

Masella

The resort is maintaining its all-encompassing range of ski passes this season while increasing its artificial snow capacity.

Slopes: 74 kilometers. Altitude: 1,600-2,535 meters. Combined with La Molina, this turns into one of the biggest skiable areas in the Pyrenees, covering 145 kilometers with a daily ski pass for both resorts costing adults €48, children €38. Information: Tel. 972 14 40 00.

Further additions

The resort Espot in Pallars Sobirà has opened a new four-seat chairlift called La Roca that takes skiers and snowboarders up to a height of 2,000 meters. Port Ainé in Lleida is expanding its parking lot as last year saw clients turned away on several occasions. In Vall de Núria in Girona the Coma del Clot cable car has been upgraded to increase capacity and comfort.

Penibaetic System

Sierra Nevada

The Granada resort is undergoing a transformation although it will be next season before it can be enjoyed. An eight-seat chairlift is being installed that will service the entire Borreguiles beginners area along with two extra button tows for the Monte Bajo and Vírgen de las Nieves runs.

This season, however, competent skiers will be able to carve up the 12 kilometers on the K12 from El Veleta to Pradollano, which weaves in out and out of existing runs.

There is also a new cross-country trail in Loma de Dílar while a radar has been installed on the Águila slope to measure speed. From January, 12 massive screens will keep clients updated on points of interest such as the queue lengths at the various lifts. A makeover of the Andalucía square and the station’s base is also underway and the Borreguiles shopping center has been given a facelift.

Look out too for the Snowboard cross World Cup which will be in town on March 6 and 7.

Slopes: 110 kilometers. Altitude: 2,100-3,300 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €52, children: €34. Information: Tel. 958 70 80 90.

Andorra

Grandvalira

This season, the biggest resort in the south of Europe has joined forces with the resort of Ordino Arcalís, under the Grandvalira Resorts brand. The Grandvalira ski pass, both day and season, can be used in both – though only if they are bought in Grandvalira, not in Ordino Arcalís.

The main upgrade here is a new access point at El Peretol with the Pla de les Pedres chairlift extended to connect the new base with the Funicamp cable car. Additionally, a number of new runs have been opened including a long blue run called Solanelles XL. Meanwhile, the platform over the River Valira that was built last year in Soldeu will be offering additional services and the resorts artificial snow capacity has been hiked, allowing for 66% of the slopes to be covered.

For those enjoying the snow with small children, snowboard classes are now available for kids as young as three.

Slopes: 210 kilometers. Altitude: 1,710-2,640 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €52/ children: €35.50. Information: Tel. +376 805 200.

Ordino Arcalís

With its 120 off-piste routes and the annual Freeride World Tour, this resort is a favorite with off-piste skiers. The fact the Grandvalira ski pass can be used here has helped to boost its profile and snow enthusiasts can now whistle down the new El Clot red slope.

Slopes: 30 kilometers. Altitude: 1,940-2,625 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €39.50, children: €35.50. Information: Tel. +376 739 600.

Pal Arinsal

With the acquisition of 32 snow cannons, this Andorran resort has the capacity to cover almost 70% of its slopes. It has also improved the layout of its runs, with grooming a priority.

Slopes: 63 kilometers. Altitude: 1,550-2,560 meters. Ski pass per day: adults: €34.85, children: €29.75. Information: Tel. +376 878 078.

Off-piste activities

Formigal-Panticosa resort is opening Adventure Snow this season, a fun family zone with tubing – a donut-shaped sled – snow bikes, sleds and an area to build snowmen, snow castles and igloos.

Meanwhile, Grandvalira resort in Andorra has launched Snake Gliss, a train made of sleds that takes you down to the town of Soldeu in 35 minutes. There's a guaranteed adrenaline rush too for those daring to hurtle down the Canilla slide, a cool imitation of the Sierra Nevada's snow rollercoaster.

Grandvalira prides itself on its unique accommodation, which comes in the shape of traditional hay barns converted into cabins, artificial igloos and caravans in the snow.

And as snow groomer rides have become increasingly popular, this year they will be available in resorts in Vall de Núria, Espot and Port Ainéin in the Catalan Pyrenees. For groups, Ordino Arcalís ski resort has a machine that takes 14 passengers while the Sierra Nevada ski resort, visitors have the chance to get behind the wheel of a snow groomer.

Meanwhile at the La Molina resort, Escape Snow has been set up to teach guests how to rescue others in the event of an avalanche.

Most of the large resorts offer snow bikes, sledding, dog sleds and snowshoe hikes. Snow bikes are available to children in the Mirlo Blanco de Sierra Nevada park, while Formigal offers nighttime sleigh rides.

For those seeking even greater thrills, there's the chance to dive beneath the ice in Vall de Núria. Music lovers, meanwhile, will have the chance to enjoy live bands and DJs at the foot of the slopes at Marchica bar in Formigal; the Moët Winter Lounge and 1500 bar in Baqueira; the Remáscaro Après-Ski in Cerler; in Pradollano in the Sierra Nevada and the L'Abarset in Grandvalira

English version by Heather Galloway.