Lots of people go skiing and I’ve been to my fair share of places, but few people have ever thought of skiing in Spain. It’s funny because Irish tourists go there in their millions every year: sun worshippers who flock to the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, Balearic Islands and Canary Islands. I’m just back from a week in the Sierra Nevada mountains and had an amazing time so thought I’d try convince you why you should give it a go.
Some context: I’ve been skiing (and snowboarding) for 17 years (on and off), when we first went on school tours to Andorra and the Italian Dolomites. Since then I’ve skied in Austria the most (Lech/Zurs, Mayrhofen, Ischgl, Gerlos). I’ve never skied in France, Switzerland or Germany so can’t compare them in this review. I’ve also skied in the Seattle area (Steven’s Pass and Snoqualmie) and in the Argentinian Andes (Las Leñas). I once tried the artificial slope in Kilternan and even tried indoor skiing on a giant treadmill in Sandyford (weird experience).
Last week (March 2014) I met up with a bunch of college mates for our annual skiing reunion. Thanks to Bas, Philipp, Eefke, as well as Roberto and Sara for a great week! Hasta la proxima.
The Sierra Nevada ski resort is located in southern Spain, about 45min drive from Granada. It’s about 2h15m from Malaga airport – which makes access easy if you rent a car. Not as easy if you are relying on public transport: it could take 2-3 buses and 2-6 hours if you take the bus. This is a disadvantage compared to Austria.
The big plus of skiing in Sierra Nevada is the sun – it gets more sunny days than any other European resort (80% sunny days). Being so far south, the temperatures are warm, making it really pleasant: lunch on the terrace in t-shirts or a beer afterwards watching the sun set. It’s a really high resort, with the village at 2,100m. There’s a main square and then tons of accommodation options build on a steep hill – luckily there’s a chair lift up the hill during the day, but not a nice walk at night.
The skiing area is over 100km of pistes, so a lot smaller than many Alpine resorts, but I was surprised at how varied the slopes were and I didn’t get bored after 6 days on the slopes. Most of the runs are blue and red, with only a few blacks. There’s a good mix of snowboarders (like me) and they have the biggest snow park in Europe, so lots of fun jumps, ramps and half pipe if you’re brave.
What I liked most was the tranquillity on the slopes – we had the slopes to ourselves in the mornings. It’s a real weekend resort, so Monday to Friday it’s practically empty. Definitely a plus compared to the Alps – you never have to queue for lifts or restaurants.
The slopes are really wide so great for beginners/improvers. There are no trees which is strange, it’s just a big wide mountain- this is a problem when visibility was poor, as tree lines help define the slope, so in the cloudy afternoons, when you could only see 10m in front, without trees it was impossible to navigate without losing balance and falling even if you took it slowly.
Tip: the mornings had the best weather – clear blue skies and fresh slopes. By the afternoon, the clouds rise from the valley and cover the mountain in clouds/mist which makes it difficult to ski.
Austria sets the bar here, so I didn’t expect Spain would you do the Austrians, but I was hoping for some fiesta latina. We were a bit disappointed, as there are lot of little bars but nothing like the heaving bars of Austria full of Dutch and Austrian après ski tunes. If you don’t miss that and want a few relaxing beers plus tasty tapas then this is for you.
We really enjoyed the après ski – it was so relaxing. We had a few beers on the sunny terrace after a long days skiing. In Andalucía, you always get a tapa (small piece of food) with your drink, for free. A great way to do a mini pub crawl and get dinner!
Lots of hotels and apartments to suit all tastes. We rented an Apartamento Miramar which was 5 mins walk down to the main lifts and plaza. I also stayed in a small hotel, Hostal El Duende Blanco which was great value too. Compared to Alpine resorts, the buildings aren’t as pretty, more functional apartment blocks, but they do the job!
One reason I love Spain is their passion for good food. We weren’t disappointed: each bar serves tapas with your drink and you’ll get an amazing variety of tasty bites: lots of jamon and cheese on fresh bread, juicy olives, croquetas, albondigas (meatballs) and much more. Expect to pay EUR 1.80 to 2.00 for each drink and tapa.
If you’re in a group or hungry, you can also order a racion, which is a larger plate of food that you pay EUR 8-14 for. We had super pork cheeks, pulpo a la gallega (octopus), calamares, boquerrones (anchovies in vinegar).
The only disappointing thing for food was the lunch choices on the mountain. No tapas but a mix of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and other pre-cooked food. It would have been nicer to see more menu del dias or fresher/healthier choices. I really missed the Kaiserschmarrn, Wienerschnitzel, roast chicken and Apfelstrudel from the Austrian restaurants – perfect skiing food.
Drinks were good – the usual beer (San Miguel or Alhambra) but also a huge choice of gin. My mates opened my eyes to the world of gin – most bars had 15-20 bottles, each a different shape, colour and name. Mainly from London and Spain. The gin is served in a large glass with huge ice cubes and lots of ingredients are added (cloves, lemon, apple, cucumber) depending on the type of gin you choose. Then there’s the tonic – my knowledge was limited to Schweppes, but I learned there are wide variety of tonic flavours, which need to match the gin to have a winning match.
Videos & Stats
44.272 vert. m 93 Lifts 5 skiing days downhill dist: 212,0 km
Check out www.skiline.cc for full stats on your skiing holiday – simply enter your ski pass ticket number and it will show you how far you’ve skied, how high you’ve climbed/descended and how many lifts you’ve taken.
1. Check out this video of me doing a BMW Slalom competition – it looks like a snails pace but trust me it felt faster at the time.
2. This video of an early morning descent of La Laguna – like heaven on the slopes
3. This video of a whiteout in the afternoon, when the clouds enveloped the mountain and visibility went to pot.
Don’t like skiing? Well why not go to Sierra Nevada in summer. There’s hiking, mountain biking and I just discovered this deadly video of the triathlon. Looks epic running up the ski slopes 🙂 Oh wait, there’s also a summer mountain festival – with a vertical kilometre race!!