The largest ski resorts in Spain have followed their Andorran and Alpine counterparts in expanding upwards and outwards, and reinforcing their natural snowfall with extensive artificial snow making. This means they are now large enough to provide good skiing for most skiers for a full week, and have snow records which give overseas visitors enough confidence to book holidays well in advance, at least for the middle of winter (early and late season holidays can still be a bit of a gamble, compared to the highest and snowiest resorts in the Alps).
But Spain’s ski resorts are not just generic ski resorts which could be located anywhere in Europe: they have kept their Spanish identity, albeit that it’s sometimes mixed with strong regional allegiances; La Molina-Masella is proudly Catalan, whilst Baqueira regards itself as Aranese, Catalan and Spanish, all at the same time. But it’s the Spanish attitude to skiing that really shines through, and it’s far more relaxed than what you experince in most of the Alps. The lifts may open at 9am but most skiers only appear an hour later and they often start lunch at 2.30pm and stay in the restaurant until the lifts close. Apres-ski can take the form of sipping Rioja or Cava in a tapas bar, although plenty of beer is also drunk. And prices tend to be lower in Spain too, which is always welcome.
Spain’s premier resort, which is not just our view but also that of their Royal Family who stay and ski here. The resort stretches across seven mountains in the Pyrenees divided into three different sectors but they are seamlessly linked by lift and piste. The highest lift now rises above 2600m and whilst most of the runs are aimed at intermediates, there is plenty of off-piste skiing and freeriding for experts and three different sets of nursery slopes for beginners. Accommodation is either in the convenient resort of Baqueira or down the mountain in the old pictureque villages of the Val d’Aran and the Val d’Aneu.
The two ski resorts of Formigal and Panticosa are linked by bus rather than ski lift but together they offer Spain’s largest ski area, and the vertical drop of over 1000m is pretty impressive too although it’s just smaller than Baqueira’s. There is a good range of runs and accommodation and the nightlife gets fairly lively too.
La Molina-Masella (Alp 2500)
The Alp 2500 gondola links the two Catalan resorts of La Molina and Masella in the Eastern Pyrenees. Together they share 119 slopes and 32 lifts, with the highest lift reaching over 2500m, and the lowest piste descending to 1600m. They provide good value skiing,and are reasonably close to Girona and Barcelona.
A European ski resort that is closer to Africa than the Alps or the Pyrenees. It’s exceptional height – the top lift goes above 3000m – mostly compensates for its southerly latitude, so it’s more snowsure than you would think when you see where it is on the map. There is very little challenging skiing for experts, and the ski area is not quite big enough for determined piste-bashers, but for those who are prepared to take things easy and mix gentle skiing with sun-bathing and maybe a trip to the Alhambra or even an expedition to the beach, this resort offers a ski holiday experience like no other.