Spain is one of the leading tourist destination for Brits, but for some reason we swerve just north of the Spanish border into Andorra when we come to book our ski trips. Historically, this was because the duty free principality was the cheaper option, but with Andorran lift passes now on a par with some of the pricier resorts in the Alps that’s no longer the case.
Add in to the mix big spending on fast new lifts and efficient snowmaking at several leading Spanish resorts and an ever increasing choice of low-cost flights to Spain (which are typically dirt cheap in the winter, as is the car rental when you get there) and you have the recipe for Europe’s next big ski destination.
There are in fact more than thirty ski areas spread across Spain, although two thirds sit along the French/Andorran border in the Pyrenees and it’s here that most of the recent expansion has occurred.There’s also a sexy snowdome, Xanadu, in Madrid, connected to a vast retail mall popular with the Beckhams.And standing alone down on the Med sits Spain’s best internationally-known ski resort, Sierra Nevada, host of the 1996 Alpine World Championships.The ski runs here reach nearly 3,500m with views across to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to the south. Package deals are available from Thomson.
Although Sierra Nevada keeps expanding and now has an hourly uplift of more than 40,000 skiers per hour thanks to its 22 lifts chairs, the big news in Spanish skiing has mostly come from the Pyrenees.
Formigal is one of the fastest growing resorts adding five new high speed chairlifts last season, including Spain’s first eight-seater.Overall uplift is up by a third to 34,000 skiers per hour and total ski run length is up from 57km to 68km.
Snowmaking is expanded too across the area with 212 new snow guns. Many other aspects of base infrastructure have also been upgraded and there are new initiatives in ticketing, après activities and most other areas of operation.
Another good choice is Masella, part of Spain’s only lift linked ski area,Alp 2500, in partnership with neighbouring La Molina. A big attraction is that it is an easy 90-minute drive from Barcelona, so a great weekend choice from the UK as well a base for longer stays.Visitors to Masella this winter will find a new route “Temps de Neu – TV3” in the forest with a huge 935m vertical drop.The 7km non-stop descent from La Tosa (2,535m) goes down to Pla de Masella (1,600m).
Although not expanding as fast as others mentioned here, the resort of Astún is another worthy of a visit.The futuristic and fully-equipped purpose-built centre is located in a treeless valley above Candanchu. One of the unsuccessful candidates for the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, the resort also boasts a slalom stadium and ski jump.
Finally Baqueira Beret, Spain’s largest ski area on several measures,must not be overlooked. It is another that has expanded dramatically in recent years and is opening a new gondola lift this season. It now has 30 lifts with a combined uplift in excess of 49,000 skiers per hour.This puts it in the world top fifty for uplift with lifts including six quad chairs and two six-seaters.
www.astun.com,www.baqueira.es,www.formigal.com, www.masella.com,www.millsmadridxanadu.com, www.sierranevadaski.com Fly to: Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada, Girona, Malaga Go with: Airtours, Crystal, First Choice, Neilson, Panorama,Thomson.
When to go: December to April