Spain might be known for its festivals and its food more than for its skiing, but it would be remiss to assume that Spain is a country best visited in the summer. Although it sports almost 5,000 kilometers of coastline, the mountains, too, offer their own unique beauty and a wealth of winter activities. Spain boasts several beautiful mountain ranges where it’s possible to ski a long season from December through April. From the Sierra Central outside of Madrid to the Cordillera Cantábrica in the northwest to the Sistema Ibérico in the region near Aragón, the north of the country offers several options for a short break. Those who prefer to head to more southern climes will also find excellent skiing in Andalusia, where the Sierra Nevada range offers some of the sunniest slopes around.
It’s possible to find good skiing anywhere you visit in Spain, but some of the best slopes by far are those found in the Catalan Pyrenees along the northeastern border with France. In Catalunya, the region in northeast Spain, there are a total of 10 ski resorts, 9 in the Pyrenees and one in what’s known as the Pre-Pyrenees, in the foothills below the range. The Catalan Pyrenees can be divided into two distinct regions, demarcated by the Pirineu de Girona on the east side and the Pirineu de Lleida on the west side, both of which offer excellent skiing. The suggestions below will bring avid skiers and snowboarders to the best resorts in this region and beyond.
Nestled into the La Cerdanya region of Catalunya near the French border, these twin ski resorts of Molina and Masella, located on two different sides of the same mountain, offer great skiing less than two hours from Barcelona. With 135 kilometers of skiable area, 4 competition stadiums, 2 snowparks and a superpipe which is the biggest in the Spanish Pyrenees, there is little that this formidable pair doesn’t offer. In addition, the extensive snowmaking system offers five months of uninterrupted skiing, so visitors never have to worry about good snow.
Vall de Núria is an excellent place for families to ski. The mountain is quite small by the region’s standards (only 8 kilometers of trails), yet this also makes it manageable for novices and perfect for the smaller set. Moreover, while it may not be the biggest or the most well-endowed, it offers a charm that other mountains don’t. Because it cannot be reached by car, the only way to reach the slopes is by the Cremallera de Núria, the little zip train that takes you from the village Ribes de Freser to the mountain through some of the most beautiful scenery around. The stunning views alone are worth the trip, but the resort is a definite perk at the end of a memorable journey.
Straddling the line between two valleys in the region of Lleida, Vall d’Aran and Vall d’Aneu, Baquiera Beret, offers over 153 kilometers of ski trails with good snow and a wealth of winter activities, from a full competition calendar to snowparks and children’s parks. Sometimes called the heart of the Pyrenees, the region in which it’s located is rich in traditions and a great area to get to know after a long refreshing day on the slopes. For those looking to supplement time on the mountain with other recreational pursuits, the website also offers a wealth of information on other activities in the area, from heli-skiing to dog sledding to snowshoeing. Leisure-seekers will be happy to discover a multitude of spas in the area, which offer a necessary respite for sore muscles.
Tucked in just below Aigüestortes National Park, Boí Taüll is an excellent place for more advanced skiers, with its high peaks and long, advanced-level slopes. Those new to skiing in Europe might be surprised to find that the terrain is rated at 6 rather than 4 levels of difficulty. Green and blue trails are superseded by red trails which offer an intermediate challenge similar to a difficult blue run back home. Expert skiers have their choice of black runs, black diamond or double black diamond. At Boí Taüll, skiers will find mostly red and black levels slopes, with a few intermediate level slopes here and there. This already makes for a challenging day of skiing, but for those who want even more, the resort is known for its freestyle park and its freeride experience, one of best on the peninsula.
The Principality of Andorra is a small autonomous region in the north of Spain, located along the French border. It is a popular destination for its skiing as well as for its tax-free shopping. With its two large ski resorts, Grandvalira and Vall Nord, Andorra offers a wealth of good snow and varied terrain appropriate for all levels. Moreover, the center of Andorra is perfect for après-ski, where visitors can shop, dine and take advantage of Caldea, the largest spa in southern Europe, complete with thermal spas and over 80 wellness treatments.
With six different access points, or sectors, and more than 200 kilometers of runs, Grandvalira is an ideal location for a longer ski vacation. Having hosted several races of the World Cup and one of the few resorts in the Pyrenees where international Alpine ski competitions can be held, Grandvalira certainly has a competitive edge, and there is no denying the quality of its slopes. Yet, it is also well-known for its family atmosphere and accommodations, such as its nurseries and kindergartens, its ski school, and wealth of long, wide slopes. Yet, throughout its six sectors, Grandvalira’s festive side shows too. At Encamp station, for example, skiers and boarders can relax in the sun at the igloo bar, sipping a mid-afternoon Martini (of the vermouth, not vodka variety) or a hot wine while listening to the DJ spin the latest party favorites.
With three different sectors – Arcalís, Arinsal and Pal – that can be accessed all under one pass, Vallnord is the smaller of the two Andorran mountains, however no less impressive. Its three sectors together offer a variety of experiences for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Advanced skiers may take advantage of the slalom and International Ski Federation trails while others – from expert to novice level – might prefer one of several freestyle areas, including a snow park and a wood park, with natural and artificial modules meant to simulate off-trail riding.
Cerler, located in the region of Huesca, is run by Aramon, a tourism group which manages five ski resorts in the area. Having won the 2014 World Ski Awards for Best Ski Resort in Spain, Cerler is an excellent option for a day, or more, on the slopes. With 68 ski trails covering 79 kilometers and 38 kilometers of new trails installed just this season, there is plenty of good terrain to cover. Moreover, with an altitude that reaches 2630 meters, there’s generally no need to worry about good snow. Nevertheless, the 375 snow guns in their snowmaking system ensure that skiers and boarders will always have fresh powder to enjoy. Kids will enjoy the Jardins de Nieve, or snow gardens, that hosts a variety of snow activities for the little ones aged 1 to 6.
Another Aramon enterprise, Formigal-Panticosa is another excellent option in the Pyrenees as well as the largest. It almost always has lots of snow and its wide slopes are reminiscent of those found at the resorts in Andorra. The 147 trails cover about 100 kilometers (or 140 including Panticosa), providing a wide variety of skiing for everyone. Snowboarders and freestyle skiers will love the terrain park while families will appreciate the impressive array of other activities on offer, including snow tubing, dog sledding, snow biking, ice karting and a snake gliss.
Those who want to head south can find excellent skiing in the Sierra Nevada, located in Andalucia, the most southern region in Spain. With the longest ski season in the country, from late November to early May, there is plenty of time to enjoy this stunning region. The resort has more than 106 kilometers of trails with 116 dedicated ski runs and a snow park, an extensive network for all levels. Not only that, but as the sunniest ski resort in Europe with 80% sunny days on record each season, there is little reason not to go. Close enough to Granada for a day visit to the Alhambra, the Sierra Nevada is also a good choice for those who want to combine sport and culture into one vacation.
From its sunny slopes to its après-ski, Spain is a little-known heaven for skiers of all ages and levels. Before the season leaves you behind, pack your bags, and head to the slopes to discover everything this beautiful region has to offer. No matter which direction you set your skis this winter, there is a perfect place for you on the pistes in Spain.
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