It seems that the 2007/08 winter snow season is going off in Europe, with vast amounts of snow already lining most resorts and powder falling at a consistent rate. Compared to last year this is a godsend, and reminds us of what the winter in Europe’s mountain ranges is all about – Shredding the pow and having lots of fun!
The Alps - and Austria in particular - seem to be getting all the media attention at the moment due to the massive amounts of snow, and this has led many UK snow lovers to head out there in search of a fix, but I want to remind you that Europe has another amazing mountain range in the form of the Pyrenees. Located within the heart of this mountain range is a tiny country called Andorra which boasts some of the best riding and resorts (for both freestyle and freeriding) in the whole of the Europe
I was lucky enough to head over to Andorra over the New Year period for a week’s riding and had an absolutely amazing time; the place has come on leaps and bounds in the few years since I was last there, and boasts the largest resort in the whole of the Pyrenees in the form of Grandvalira. This place now includes the Porte Des Neiges sector over the French boarder, as well as the Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, Soldeu, El Tarter, Canilo and Encamp areas. Basically, you now have a massive snow domain made up of 7 resorts, all connected by one lift pass!
The common misconception people have about Andorra is that it isn’t a challenging destination in terms of terrain, and that since the country is a tax haven it is attracts beginners and large groups of ‘punters’ to the mountains in search of a cheap holiday. I can tell you now that neither of these perceptions are correct. As any of the numerous local pros can tell you, Andorra has some extremely challenging terrain if you’re at the level to ride it and know what to look for. The best such place is Arcalis (part of the Vall Nord snow area over in the north western corner of Andorra) where you will find endless decents to be ridden, kicker building spots, powder tree runs and a whole lot of other fun terrain. The best thing about Arcalis also is that the resort doesn’t have a village or town at the base of its slopes, so visitor numbers are always lower. It’s essentially a bit of a hidden gem with those in the know, and with its north facing slopes is known throughout Andorra as home to the best quality snow in the country.
If Freestyle is your thing then the El Tarter snowpark in Grandvalira is off the hook (check some of the attached photos) and is on par with many of the top snowparks in the Alps. If top UK pros like Tyler Chorlton, Jamie Philip and Merlin Balfour call it home then it must have something good going on! The park has everything you’d expect including a sweet three kicker line, halfpipe, wallride, many various rails and boxes, airbag, monster big air kicker, street rail set up with cheese grater stairs, hip, spine and lots more depending on what the guys want to build!
Cost wise, Andorra isn’t the cheap destination it used to be, but since it’s now as good as anywhere in the Alps then it is still well worth a visit. Without doubt, shopping in the capital town of Andorra la Vella is quality, and you’ll definitely find items cheaper than in the UK – although in my experience the tax free benefit only really applies to things like booze, tobacco, some sports equipment and electrical equipment.
If you are in Andorra and have any snowboarding needs then make sure you go and check out Loaded Snowboard Shop in Soldeu (part of Grandvalira) as it is by far the best store in Andorra. Owned by Peet Kaplansky (PK) and UK pro rider Tyler Chorlton, Loaded is a true snowboard shop run by guys who care about the sport, so you can be sure they’ll hook you up with the most suitable products for your riding style and standard rather than the most expensive set up in the shop! They’re also very friendly so if you just want some local knowledge on the area, or just want to chill on the sofas watching the latest snowboard movies (including Tyler’s opening section in Purple Yeahh) then they’ll be more than happy to accommodate you. Check www.loadedsoldeu.com for more info.
Our time in Andorra was mostly spent riding in Grandvalira, as the area was huge with plenty of terrain to entertain us for a week. The snow was good, the lift system fast and efficient, the parks had solid features in place and there were a couple of days when we had fresh pow pow to shred so all was good! We took a day trip over to Arcalis and had a great day, the whole resort is like one massive natural snowpark and if you catch it with fresh snow then the possibilities are endless.
Visit the following websites for further information:
A massive thanks to Marta and the Ski Andorra crew for assisting us with the trip, Grandvalira and Vallnord resorts for all their help, PK and Tyler for putting us up for the week and everyone that made the trip an amazing one.
All uncredited photos courtesy of Grandvalira resort