Andorra – Challenge Your Perceptions
Written by Ski Adaptable Ski Trip Consultant, Matt Connelly, March 2013
I recently embarked upon an inspection trip to the amazing country of Andorra. This tiny country sits on the borders of Spain and France and has a population of just 65,000. However despite its size, I was truly impressed by Andorra as a ski trip destination, so much so that it will be a personal ski holiday destination of choice in the future.
As someone who it’s fair to say is an ‘improving’ skier, and also someone who has visited over 30 ski resorts across Europe, I would say I am well placed to judge Andorra as a school ski trip destination. When ‘talking ski’ with colleagues and group leaders in the past, it is fair to say Andorra rarely crops up and is often overlooked in favour of more well-known resorts in France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. However after sampling the superb Andorra for myself, I will be singing the merits of Andorra as a top school ski trip destination to sit alongside the best I have experienced elsewhere, and in many aspects – it is even better than what I have seen elsewhere in Europe.
Why? Well for starters the quality of accommodation in Andorra used for school ski trips is the best I have seen anywhere. Many larger European resorts simply do not have the accommodation for school groups to match their ski prowess – this is one area where Andorra stands out. I inspected a total of 12 hotels in both the Grandvalira and Vallnord ski areas, and I can only conclude they are the cleanest and highest standard I have seen anywhere. Whether you want sole occupancy, ski-to-door, great onsite après ski such as swimming pools and discos for your group – Andorra and Ski Adaptable has a range of accommodation to fit your needs, all with very high standards and impeccable cleanliness. Ski Adaptable can offer hotels across Andorra, including the popular areas of Arinsal (Vallnord), La Massana (Vallnord), El Tarter-Soldeu (Grandvalira) and Pas de la Casa (Grandvalira).
Another obvious consideration for school ski trips is the quality of skiing, ski infrastructure and ski school. Andorra excels in all these departments! Andorra consists of two ski areas, Grandvalira to the east and Vallnord to the west. My first day’s skiing was in the larger resort of Grandvalira, where I experienced the multi-award winning ski school (which Ski Adaptable school groups will also use). The modern gondola whisked me up from El Tarter resort level to the higher base station in less than five minutes, at which point the mountain opens up in front of you beautifully. Grandvalira has several access points to reach skiing above 2000m, although the whole 220km of pistes are connected by a modern lift system meaning you can ski the whole area without the need for ground transport between, and nearly all of which is well above 2000m (with a top altitude of 2640m).
The snow was about 3m deep at the top of the mountain, with good cover right down to resort level allowing the possibility to ski right back down to 1600m in El Tarter or Soldeu.
Many schools choose to ski in El Tarter, Soldeu, Pas de la Casa, Canillo or Grau Roig, however with the Grandvalira lift pass you can ski them all, offering endless possibilities for groups of all abilities. After a great morning of skiing followed by a hot slope side lunch (which is the same as Ski Adaptable groups will get), I became braver in the afternoon and ventured higher up the mountain, all whilst drenched in glorious sunshine and blue skies. Grandvalira really is amazing for skiers of all abilities with an abundance of long runs of all colours in every direction which are all linked making the resort easily accessible. You may be forgiven for thinking that a country which borders Spain and is near to Barcelona, Andorra would be susceptible to snow coverage issues. Contrary to this Andorra has a better snow record than many of its European Alpine rivals, with Grandvalira typically open until at least mid-April each year (and judging by the snow present in 2013, it could easily stay open later if the demand was there).
The next day it was time to sample skiing in the Vallnord area to the west. Although smaller than Grandvalira, it still boasts 93km of pistes and a superb ski infrastructure, and in my opinion is one of the best resorts in Europe for beginner and intermediate school ski groups. Vallnord consists of the areas of Arinsal and Pal (linked by a funicular), and Arcalis which is a short drive and well suited for the more accomplished skiers in your group. As I am in the ‘improving’ category, I stuck to Arinsal-Pal. Just like in El Tarter the previous day, a modern gondola whisks you from resort level up to the base station where you can find everything from ski lockers, several restaurants and of course many green, blue, red and black runs in all directions – I was spoilt for choice as to where to start. Feeling brave I took one of the new chairlifts to the top of the Arinsal ski area (noting the distinct lack of lift queues) and proceeded to ski to the bottom on long, gentle blue runs, taking in the breath-taking scenery enroute. Whatever level your students are, there are ski runs and lifts in Vallnord to suit, with a fantastic modern ski infrastructure to get you from piste to piste – making this perfect for school ski groups. When I visited at the end of March, the snow was about 2m-3m deep and as in Grandvalira it was possible to ski right down to 1600m at resort level. I enjoyed a hot buffet lunch and then got back on the pistes to continue my ski education on the wonderful slopes of Arinsal.
One point that struck me across both Grandvalira and Vallnord, and the whole of Andorra was the amount of children on holiday – surely a good sign as suitability for school ski trips. Add to this the overall warm feeling Andorra exudes, with the friendliness of the locals the catalyst for this, a cost-effective and ultimately safe destination, Andorra is an obvious choice for school ski trips. In effect, by choosing Andorra for school ski trips you have all the benefits it offers without the price tag of some of its Alpine rivals.
On the final day I decided to check out what Andorra has to offer off the slopes, and headed first to the capital, Andorra la Vella, (or Downtown as it is known locally). Whichever region you stay in, Downtown is no more than 15 minutes’ drive and upon arrival you are greeted by a small, but friendly town with superb shopping (well…Andorra is a tax haven after all), clean streets and very little traffic. Perfect for school groups to explore after a busy day on the slopes. The Caldea Thermal Spa is a striking glass pyramid building that stands out and is well worth a visit, other great activities on offer across Andorra include swimming, bowling, ice skating, husky sledging and more. I stuck to shopping and swimming but you get the picture.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Andorra and put it up there as one of the best resorts we offer for school ski groups. I will happily return for my ski holidays and urge all schools to consider this hidden jewel for their next school ski trip.
Take a look now at the great resorts of Vallnord and Grandvalira and get in touch to request your quote for your school ski trip to Andorra. Contact Ski Adaptable today to start organising your school ski trip to Andorra.