Sun, snow & skiing

We know, it’s not in the Algarve. But since there isn’t any snow on the Fóia (and no chairlifts in the Monchique mountains either), those looking for a skiing holiday have to search outside of Portugal. Not too far – the Sierra Nevada in Spain is just 450kms away from the eastern Algarve. It’s not your standard ski resort: instead of fancy lifts with heated seats, long waiting rows and crowded runs, here skiing and snowboarding goes according to the southern European rhythm, meaning that during siesta time most slopes are empty. Another advantage: if you’ve had enough of skiing after a few hours, then it’s only a short drive to the beach.

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2016

“What shall we do tomorrow?” my skiing companion asks. “The sea looks good from here. But it’s also nice and sunny in Granada.” After taking three ski lifts from the village of Pradollano, we’re now standing in the snow, 3,295m above sea level. The different mountain peaks look out over the Mediterranean Sea (on a clear day you can see all the way to Morocco), the Sierra Nevada nature reserve, and the city of Granada. All three good options for a weekend trip, because Saturday and Sunday aren’t the best for skiing. Those days, visitor numbers can rise up to 10,000 whereas a really busy weekday only attracts about 3,000 people. The Sierra Nevada is a favoured weekend destination for Spanish tourists and this popularity leads to busier slopes and queues in front of the lifts.

 

‘Sólo expertos’

Come on a weekday though and most slopes are empty, especially early in the morning. From the lifts you’ve got a good view of the runs. Experienced skiers and boarders should check out the slopes which are marked with signs saying ‘difícil, sólo expertos’ (‘difficult, only experts’). Most Spanish people take it easy on the skis and don’t bother with these red and black runs which aren’t extremely difficult.

The Sierra Nevada only has 106kms of groomed runs and thus isn’t a massive resort. However, the variety makes up for a lot. Beginners and families stay on the green nursery slopes (with slower chair lifts) and jumping youngsters hang out in the fun park. The result: no need to swerve in order to avoid beginners doing snowplough turns or groups of sitting snowboarders, just when you’re about to race down a red slope. Both skiers and boarders behave in a gentleman manner. Unlike Austria and France, here drinking usually isn’t done until after the skiing day, which results in calm and safe slopes. Though the Spanish temperament isn’t noticeable on the snow, the mañana feeling certainly is.

 

Praying for snow

When the sun is shining, there are more people on the sun loungers of the Borreguiles terrace than on the surrounding slopes. And in Europe’s southernmost ski resort, sunshine is almost guaranteed. Data of the last five seasons indicate that the chance of having a sunny day is a whopping 80%. And seeing as the entire resort is located higher than 2000m above sea level, apart from sun there’s also always plenty of snow. Well, almost always.

Back in January 1995, there wasn’t a single snowflake yet. The FIS world championships were planned for later in the season, but all the lifts were closed. That’s why the inhabitants of both Pradollano and the nearby village of Monachil organised a procession: hundreds of them paraded through the village, praying for snow. Did it work? “Not that year, but in 1996 we had an amazing amount of snow and thus the championships were held the year after,” says Mercedes Delgado who’s working at the resort.

 

Hairpin curves

Winter season in the Sierra Nevada runs from the beginning of December to the beginning of May. In the last months, the so-called spring snow is shaken according to a special system to make it drier and thus better skiable. Still, in April and May skiing is only good until about 2pm. After that there are plenty of other options –from wellness and sauna to bicycling tours- to spend your time in Pradollano, which is located at 2,100m above sea level.

The village consists of one long winding one-way street. This road swings with hairpin curves all the way from top, where most apartments are located, to the central plaza on the bottom, where the slopes end and the lifts start. Walking back up after a long day of skiing is done by following the long iron stairs that cross through the village. Although this climb is the best way to deal with upcoming muscle soreness, most tired athletes use the two person chair lift to get back to their apartments.

We decide to leave the climb until a bit later and walk across the central plaza on a Friday afternoon, ready for the après ski. No ‘Anton aus Tirol’ or ‘Das Geht Ab’ as you’d get in Austrian or French resorts; Spanish reggeaton and Flamenco music create the atmosphere here. Big wine barrels stand next to the cafes that sell Spanish classics like churros con chocolate, tortilla de patatas and gazpacho. The sun is still warm, so time to end the day of skiing in Spanish style: share a bottle of Rueda before taking a bus to the beach, ¡salud!

 

Sierra Nevada Ski Resort

  • 106,3kms of slopes, 35 of them powered by snow cannons
  • 22 lifts (2 gondolas, 15 chair lifts, 1 drag lift, 4 magic carpets)
  • 120 runs (18 green, 42 blue, 53 red, 7 black)
  • 1 freestyle snow park with obstacles in four different levels
  • Night skiing is possible on Thursdays and Saturdays

See more on: www.sierranevada.es

 

Pradollano

Getting around

Pradollano basically consists of a large one-way street. There’s a shuttle bus driving through the village. Granada, the nearest city, is located 32kms away and during the winter season there are several buses a day from Granada to Pradollano and back. Flights from Faro to Granada are only possible with a stop in Lisbon or Madrid, so not a very logical option.

Sleeping

In Pradollano there are sleeping options in all price categories, ranging from a simple low budget apartment to a luxury five star hotel. In total there are 4,883 available beds in the Sierra Nevada and another 21,780 in Granada.

Prices


Costs of food, drink and accommodation in Spain are usually comparable to those in the Algarve, but bear in mind that this is a ski resort, which means prices are a bit higher. A hot chocolate in a mountain restaurant will set you back about € 2.30. Lift pass prices are unfortunately a lot like those in other, bigger, European ski resorts. In high season, an adult ski pass costs €46 for a day and € 273 for an entire week.

 

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2016

Posted in Features.

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