Andorra is an anomaly in Europe, a small independent state of little more than thirty villages and a capital, tucked away in the Pyrenees. For centuries it was cut off from the rest of Europe by steep snowy mountains and poor roads. But now it's a major ski holiday destination, with high resorts and low prices.
In the 1980s, Andorra’s ski resorts were more famous for their tax status than their pistes. The country was VAT-Free and Duty-Free, so alcohol and tobacco were cheaper here than almost anywhere else in Europe and the winter holidaymakers who came didn’t care if the ski areas weren’t as big as in the Alps or the snow wasn’t as plentiful. They were either too busy getting drunk or they were beginners learning to ski, and a nursery slope in Andorra was just as good as one in France, and the teaching was probably better, because the Andorran ski instructors were nicer and didn’t mind speaking English. And these traits continue. Andorra is still a great place to learn to ski. And booze is still cheap. In fact the price of everything you buy on a ski holiday here is usually less that what it costs in the Alps. But Andorran skiing has also got bigger and better.
Andorra’s largest ski area is Grandvalira. The main part of this is a central lift-linked area with 210 km of runs above a sequence of resorts stretching from the French border into the heart of the country, some of which are very high: Pas de la Casa (2,100m); Grau Roig (2,120m); Soldeu (1,800m) El Tarter (1,710m) Canillo (1,500m) and Encamp (1,300m). Just by itself, this provides enough skiing for most people for far more than a week, but the Grandvalira lift pass also covers another area several miles away, connected by ski bus, called Ordino-Arcalis. It has only 30km of piste but it has the best off-piste, freeriding and ski touring in the country. And together Grandvalira and Ordino-Arcalis can compete with famous Alpine resorts on metrics like size of ski area and average height, although expert skiers will notice that the vertical drop is smaller, and Andorra’s mountains tend to get less fresh powder.
The other ski area, Vallnord, is much smaller than Grandvalira with only 63km of runs above the linked resorts of Pal (1550m) and Arinsal(1475m). Down below is the valley-level town of La Massana which has its own lift onto the slopes. The ski area is a good one for beginners and is very family-friendly. And Arinsal itself, whilst not exactly pretty, has some charm and character, and that’s not a claim that all the ski resorts in Andorra can make.
But perhaps we are being too analytical about a country that’s always been associated with fun inexpensive ski holidays. And if that’s what you want, Andorra is a great destination for budget ski holidays and for learning to ski or snowboard.