22nd March 2023 | Jane Peel, Grandvalira, Andorra
PlanetSKI’s Chief Reporter is plugging a very big gap in her skiing knowledge. She’s visiting Andorra for the first time. NEW
Somehow, I’ve managed to get through years of skiing without ever visiting this small principality that is squished between France and Spain.
In fact, it’s only the second time I’ve skied in the Pyrenees – the first was a spring road trip a few years back to three lesser known resorts in the Catalan region of Spain.
So, when the opportunity arises to head to Andorra, I jump at the chance.
My journey involves a flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona.
Then it’s a long bus transfer (around 4 hours with a half hour stop for refreshments) through Catalonia and across the border into Andorra.
My base is Soldeu, a lively town in the centre of Grandvalira – the largest ski area in the Pyrenees.
It is at 1,800 metres altitude.
At the base of the lift station out of town, the grandstand and other paraphenalia connected with the recent Alpine World Cup finals held is still being dismantled when I arrive.
It has 200km of runs ranging from 1,500 metres up to 2,640m.
Let’s make one thing clear: I’m not planning to go as low as 1,500m on this trip, even if I can.
It’s rapidly approaching the back end of March and the conditions are very, very springlike.
Hard pack first thing, soft snow on south facing runs as the morning wears on and huge lumpy sludgy slush in the mid-to late afternoon sun, with the lower runs sapping the legs most.
Just as I like it.
I used to loathe slush.
Now I see it as a challenge.
“It’s like skiing off piste,” I say to my baffled companions.
What I mean is that every turn can feel different and you have to be prepared to respond quickly to the changing conditions.
Some runs are shut, most because they have insufficient cover.
But, in the case of the two black runs that end at the Soldeu base station, it’s because only the day before they were used for the women’s GS and the men’s slalom in the Alpine World Cup finals.
They looked great when I spied them from my hotel room on arrival.
But looks can be deceiving. They’re probably still in pristine, sheet ice race condition.
Look closely and you can still see the blue dye used to mark out the course.
Maybe I can check them out later in the week.
The World Cup downhill course in the El Tarter sector, however, is open.
I think it’s fair to say that the signposting on the runs here is not the clearest and neither is the piste map.
It’s not ideal for a first-timer so it’s lucky that I have a ski instructor to show me round on day one.
Callum Mackenzie is 28 and from Warrington in the UK.
If you don’t get lost you can cover a lot of ground in a day.
The whole 200km is accessible by lift.
If that’s not enough, the Grandvalira ski pass now covers all skiing in Andorra.
That’s the whole of the Vallnord ski area too with its resorts of Pal-Arinsal and Arcalis.
Pal-Arinsal was included for the first time this season.
Sadly, you need wheeled transport to get to Vallnord.
I’d hoped to spend a day at Arcalis but, as this is low season, the buses run only on Fridays and Saturdays.
But being low season has its advantages.
The slopes are quiet.
Day one has been a pleasant surprise.
And not just because of the warm, spring sunshine.
I’d been told by a couple of fellow skiers – among them PlanetSKI’s esteemed editor, James Cove – that Andorra is underrated.
I tend to agree.
Next up, I’ll be heading to the far left hand side of the piste map and the south eastern edge of Grandvalira.
I’m planning to ski from Soldeu through Grau Roig to Pas de la Casa on the border with France.
I’ll be reporting back (if I can find my way there and back) soon.
And I’ll be taking a look at some of the big changes that have happened here over the years.
Jane travelled with Inghams to Andorra, staying in the Hotel Himalaia in Soldeu. Inghams offer 7 nights in the Himalaia from £825pp including flights and transfers (departing 26 March 2023).
This article was originally published by Planetski.eu. Read the original article here.