It is almost winter in Spain too. The days are short, the sun is low and the blistering hot landscapes are temporarily a thing of the past. When it gets really cold, in the land of beach holidays, thick snow also falls. Why not try winter sports in Spain?
Winter sports in Spain enthusiasts can enjoy no fewer than 29 ski areas with a total of almost 850 kilometres of marked slopes and 9 half-pipe snow parks for snowboarding. There are also over 150 kilometres of cross-country trails and many hotel beds.
In ‘normal’ weather conditions, skiing is possible from the end of November to April. In all areas you can rent skis and boots and sometimes ski clothing. Ski schools are available and other sports such as snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snow biking, horseback riding, hang gliding and ice climbing are waiting for you.
Cross-country skiing as a winter sport is less popular in Spain than in northern Europe or the Alps. Spaniards call it ‘esquí nórdico’ or ‘esquí de fondo’. However, every ski area where cross-country trails have been plotted, the necessary equipment (shoes, skis and poles) can also be rented. However, it is advisable to rent equipment there in advance.
Some areas organise tours accompanied by experienced guides. All areas have their own website (see the bottom of this article). These provide current information on snow conditions, how to get there, accommodation options, types of slopes and so on.
In the Catalan ski resorts, in addition to Catalan, Castilian is also spoken everywhere. Prices for a day of skiing in the high season are between €27 and €50 per day. Most areas also sell season passes or offer discounts during the week or on the less busy weekends. Roughly speaking, there are five mountain ranges in Spain where you can ski.
Skiing in the Pyrenees
The majority of ski stations are along this natural border between Spain and France. Long skis can be worn here at no fewer than sixteen locations. The areas are quite snow-sure because most of them are between 2,000 and 3,000 meters above sea level. Almost all areas also have snow cannons to replenish the amount if desired. The ski stations of the Pyrenees are easily accessible from cities such as Barcelona, Girona, Zaragoza, San Sebastian and Bilbao.
The Catalan Pyrenees
Of the eleven ski stations in this area, Baqueira/Beret/Bonaiqua in Valle de Arán is the most famous. Many Spanish celebrities, including the royal family, regularly whiz down the 95 kilometres of piste here. Surrounded by spectacular peaks and dense forests, this area is suitable for all levels.
In the capital of the valley, Vielha, there is an ice palace where you can skate and swim. The Boí Taüll Resort area was created in 1990. The facilities are modern, although the slopes themselves do not have accommodation. In Espot Esui, the slopes (37 kilometres) are very dense in places and therefore suitable for more experienced skiers.
The two areas of La Molina and Masella together contain 111 kilometres of slopes and are connected to each other. The small villages around these slopes are full of Roman, Gothic and Modernist monuments. The city of Girona is only 150 kilometres away. A bus departs daily from Barcelona to Port Ainé ski station. The other five ski areas in the Catalan Pyrenees (Tavascan, Rasos de Pequera, Vall de Nuria and Vallter) are also easily accessible from Barcelona and Girona. Port del Compte (40 kilometres of slopes) is known as the most beautiful area.
Candanchú is the oldest ski area and contains 24 kilometres of slopes spread over sixteen route. It is also connected to the French ski area of Somport. The ski school here has a very good reputation. Nearby is Astún where the lifts already depart from 2,300 meters altitude to peaks higher than 3,000 meters. The village of Benasque in the Cerler ski area has good après ski. The Formigal and Panticosa areas in Valle de Tena can be reached from Madrid within 3.5 hours. A total of 100 kilometres of slopes await you in a spectacular landscape with many après-ski options.
Skiing in the rest of Spain
Although most ski areas are located in the Pyrenees, Spain has even more slopes where it is good to stay and where you can go if you want something different than Austria, France or Switzerland. Many ski areas have fewer kilometres, but the surroundings are often beautiful. You can even combine your winter sports with a cultural or beach holiday, if you choose the Sierra Nevada in the very south of the country.
Skiing in the Picos the Europe
The Cordillera Cantabrica is in northwestern Spain, where the Picos de Europa are. There are five ski areas here. Manzaneda (near the town of Orense) has a forest of 2,000 hectares through which you can ski and a very wide range of other sports in nature. An hour’s drive from the city of León is San Isidro with the famous glacial lakes Isoba and Ausente and the caves Valporquero.
A skier in Leitariegos may even come face to face with a brown bear on the dense pistes. The Somiedo Natural Park is close by. Valgrande-Pajares has excellent cross-country skiing trails and the Alto Campo ski station is small and very suitable for children and beginners. In the attractive landscape, dominated by Pico Tres Mares, they can learn to ski well.
Skiing near Madrid
In the Sierra de Gredos and Sierra de Guadarrama, La Covatilla is a modern area just 73 kilometres from the city of Salamanca. A perfect area to combine winter sports with culture. The cities of Avila, Zamora and of course Madrid are also not too far away.
La Pinilla, Valdesqui and Navacerrada are respectively 112 and 70 kilometres from Madrid. They are both suitable for a day trip in combination with the culture of the Spanish capital. All areas are easily accessible daily by public transport from various places in Madrid.
Skiing in Valencia
If you don’t live far from Valencia, you don’t have to drive too far to be able to ski. For the rough work you have to go further north. In the Sistema Ibérico there are mainly quiet, smaller areas that are suitable for beginners and families with small children. Those who want to combine snow with a beach and a wonderful Mediterranean climate can also go to the south of this mountain range.
Javalambre is only 140 kilometres from Valencia. Valdelinares is very close to the sea and has dense pine forests to ski through. If you like wine, then you head more to the north where you can also find a ski area in the wine region of La Rioja: Valdezcaray.
Winter sports in southern Spain
The Sierra Nevada National Park is a 20-minute drive from the city of Granada in Andalucia. The southernmost ski area in Europe, Soy y Nieve, is located in this beautiful high mountain area; and this is where the ski season lasts the longest. Under ‘normal’ weather conditions, it is possible to ski from the end of November until well into April.
The ski village Pradollano is at an altitude of 2,100 meters and the ski area itself reaches up to 3,300 meters. There you stand just below the top of the Veleta, the second highest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula. 79 slopes with a total length of 84 kilometres can be reached with 24 lifts (cabins, chair and drag lifts). A themed slope has been set up for children: ‘pista del mar’.