Andorra? Why Not.
Digital Editor Joe tells us about his recent trip to Andorra and why it might make you think twice about your next holiday destination.
Working in the ski industry brings certain social responsibilities within your friendship group. Some are minor – “are these [insert random ski paraphernalia here] any good?” – but some are much more serious, the king of these is organising the annual ski trip. Get this right and you won’t buy a beer in resort all week, get it wrong however and the ramifications can be huge. Which is possibly why some of my group raised eyebrows at my choice of destination – Andorra.
Not so long ago if someone had knocked on my door and asked me whether I would choose to take my only annual snowy holiday in the Pyrenees over the Alps, I would have slammed it in their face.
I’m not sure where this stigmatism came from – possibly from the arrogance of purpose built French mega-resorts where I learnt to ski, or maybe the confident coolness of stateside resorts. Either way for some reason the idea of skiing in the Pyrenees seemed second rate, but that opinion slowly changed. In recent years I heard more and more tales of decent pistes, great terrain all at a killer price tag hailing from Western Europe’s “other mountain range”.
And so, I announced on the group Whatsapp – “We are going to Andorra.”
Reactions were mixed to say the least. The beginners in our group were generally pleased “Mountains? Snow? Great”. The die-hard Alps fanatics had their grumblings but they soon dried up after they found out the price of the week and I had quoted them the Grandvalira piste stats.
The leaving date came around quickly enough. Flying to Barcelona with a ski bag was an unfamiliar juxtapose, but as the hills grew to mountains on our transfer bus the heat and beach goers were quickly forgotten.
We arrived in to Pas De La Casa on the Sunday afternoon and checked in to one of the many half board hotels on offer. Other groups of friends with us that week had booked in to self catered apartments and having looked in a variety of accommodation the bang-for-your-buck reputation that Andorra has definitely rang true. In comparison to large resorts in the Alps there is much more space, although if you are looking for picture perfect chocolate box villages like Alpbach then you may want to give Pas a miss, although other resorts in the area are much prettier.
The first day was a total whiteout. It should be noted that there are very few trees on the Pas side of the ski area and so visibility was a massive issue on the first day, especially for the less confident skiers. It would be fair to say we were all a little unsure about the ski area after the initial struggle to get some decent riding in on the first day – although that all changed on day 2.
Under a thick layer of cloud we had not got a true idea of the scale of the area. The weather came through on day 2 and the true scale of the area was revealed. It spanned much further than any of us had thought. 3 or 4 valleys of pistes of varying difficulty lay out in front of us as our playground. There really is something for everyone here.
The grades of slopes seemed particularly well suited to intermediates with a healthy selection of cruisey blue runs and fast reds. From wide motorway style pistes commonly found in the mega resorts of the Alps to fun winding runs through the trees the mix of terrain and skiing was phenomenal. The lack of really challenging pistes was not much of an issue for our group as the ability level was so mixed, however if skiing the steepest, most challenging pistes is more your bag then the black runs may leave you a little underwhelmed. Pistes connect the towns of Pas de la Casa, Soldeu and El Tartar
However if you prefer to find your thrills away from the pistes there are some great options. The terrain in the area lends itself to touring due to its relatively easy access, and the freeride scene here is growing each season. Grandvalira regularly hosts stops on the Freeride World Tour and the resort certainly seems to be investing in this growing area of our sport. Several dedicated “Freeride Zones” are marked on the piste map where budding off piste riders can hone their skills. Freeride isn’t the only growing discipline this forward thinking resort is supporting; freestyle has also taken a centre stage. The parks run the whole height of the resort and the features are some of the most varied and progressive I have ridden in recent years. FIS stops and smaller independent competitions like SLVSH all regularly take place here, the latter being held in the “Sunset Park” which is floodlit and stays open late into the night.
Bars and restaurants were dotted all over the mountain and were all reasonably priced. The sunny weather held up for the rest of the week which really let us appreciate the resort’s abundance of sun decks and al fresco dining options – the après ski wasn’t too bad either. Above Pas there are a number of après bars starting with Col Blanc (which looks a little like the millennium falcon) right at the top of the mountain down to Igloo and Olympiades at the foot of the slope. Drinks were one thing that was particularly cheap here in comparison to the Alps – thanks to Andorra’s low taxes a pint at most bars was half the price of one in Folie. The bars and restaurants in resort mirrored this with their comparable quality and reasonably low prices.
Weekends in Grandvalira can be a little busy. Andorran, Spanish and French tourists flood to the resort to get some time on snow. This can cause some bottlenecks and there are some certain areas that would be solved by some lift upgrades. But I could say the same about a number of my favourite resorts in the Alps.
Having been on a trip to the Alps since my return I have really had time to compare the two experiences and after much thought, I am struggling to find a reason not to return to Andorra. The rest of the group agrees, each of them loving a different aspect of the holiday. So if you have ever wondered about straying from your regular stomping ground in the Alps in favour of an unfamiliar all I will say is don’t knock it till you have tried it – you never know it might surprise you, it certainly surprised me.