Arcalis ski area in Andorra isn't actually a ski resort as such, it has no on-site accommodation and the nearest hamlet with a hotel is around 2.5 km drive away from the slopes; this is a day-visitor ski station, covered on the Vallnord area lift pass, yet is highly regarded locally for having some of Andorra's most challenging ski terrain.
On the Vallnord area piste map Arcalis appears to be quite close to the popular resort village of Arinsal, but in reality that is only as the crow flies; Arcalis is actually a completely separate ski area in a completely separate valley, 20 km by road (a 30-min bus ride) from Arinsal, although it is covered by the standard Vallnord area lift pass.
Tucked away in the isolated north-western corner of the Principality of Andorra, surrounded by high aretes and peaks which mark the Andorran-French border, this isolated ski station isn't that well known outside of Andorra but is revered by local snowsports enthusiasts who proclaim it the principality's most exciting ski area.
It features lift-served access to some of Andorra's wildest and gnarliest terrain and benefits from a favourable microclimate which means it consistently offers the best snow conditions in the region.
There is no village or accommodation at Arcalis itself, so daily visitors access the slopes here via the picturesque valley road up from La Massana through the pretty hamlets in the parish of Ordino.
Despite its allure for experts, Arcalis has plenty to offer confident novices and intermediates, making it ideal for day-trips for mixed ability groups.
The pisted ski area at Arcalis is relatively small, but it does contain a great variety of terrain: with long green and blue cruising routes, fast sweeping red pistes, together with steep and mogulled black runs. The main attraction here though is the lift-served access to exciting in-bounds freeride areas and acres of challenging off-piste possibilities.
There are two marked sectors: a lightly-wooded craggy cirque directly above the base station car parks, and the more open La Coma bowl sheltered by the high wild peaks which mark the French border.
A highlight for beginners is the Mega Verde - an 8km green run which winds gently from the top of the resort to the very bottom, and a little nursery area just above the upper base lodge level caters for absolute novices with a fenced-off 'snow garden' for children. There is even a section of off-piste designed specifically for beginners to get to grips with powder, accessible from the Els Feixans drag lift.
Intermediates will enjoy the fast blues and rolling reds that sweep down to the base lodges in the main cirque, whilst more advanced-level visitors can tackle the two steep blacks and seek out untracked lines through the ungroomed inter-piste areas.
The higher-altitude La Coma sector is filled with corduroy-groomed wide greens, blues and easy reds, interspaced with invitingly open snowfields littered with powder drifts, but the main draw in this zone is the lift-served freeride zones and serious off-piste terrain.
Off the slopes and apres ski
After the lifts close at Arcalis all visitors retreat to the peaceful hamlets in the Ordino Valley below or return to the busier resort villages in Andorra's other parishes.
This valley is one of the least touristy areas of the principality, with no real 'resort' to speak of; the only sizeable community is the attractive historic parish capital, the village of Ordino itself.
What little apres-ski activity there is in this region revolves around a few relaxing drinks in a quiet hotel lounge or friendly local café-bar; a marked contrast to the racier apres ski action encountered in Andorra's mainstream ski resorts.