Hiding in plain sight is Europe's best ski resort - 120 km's of quiet & uncrowded slopes, medieval hillside villages & the affordable heli-skiing. What's not to love?!
This may be largely undiscovered by the British ski community, but it is - without any doubt from us - our favourite ski resort within a two-hour flight of the UK. Baqueira simply has so much going for it, let us try quantify exactly what...
First there is the terrain, it's sheer scale and character invites favourable comparison against the well known big-hitters in The Alps. But with nonexistent lift queues and an reasonable price tag - an outstanding meal in a decent restaurant with a delicious local red wine for less £15 per person - anyone? Add in the best snow cover in Europe in recent years, but with the optimal amount if sunshine - its southerly latitude serves up bluebird perfection. And then there is the 400 square kilometers (plus) of heli-accessed backcountry, again at a pleasing cost, and a laid-back, tapas-tastic Spanish (sorry, Catalan!) ambiance. Actually, in this Pyrenean backwater they firstly speak Aranese (a vernacular exclusive to the surrounding Aran Valley), followed by Catalan, Spanish, and reluctantly a smidgen of French....but only for those of us with a GCSE to polish.
Skiing in Baqueira Beret
There are three main areas - Baqueira, Beret & Argulls, stretching across six main peaks. Actually, there is also a fourth area at La Bonaigua, so the total skiable area is immense, with a vertical drop of over 1,000 metres, beautifully manicured pistes (153 kilometers in total, largely long blue and red runs) and super-enticing off-piste side-country imploring exploration. The safe-ish terrain without boundaries makes it perfect for exploring on your own, but even better with a guide - there are many secret powders stashes to be discovered. This is then further bolstered by the immense heli-skiing possibilities.
Now, let's take the fact that we are in Spain in to consideration. No self-respecting local is on the mountain before late-(late)-morning - first tracks are all yours, and when they down-skis for a wine-fuelled late lunch at 2.30pm, once again empty slopes beckon. That is, of course, unless you join them.
The Pyrenees is your bounty. Stay with the resort boundaries for some forgiving first forays, head out with our guides for some serious terrain and epic lines and then skip the lift queues altogether and take a helicopter up the mountain to drop you off for your own private paradise. This is exactly why love the Val d'Aran.
When in resort most of the skiing is intermediate, but interesting intermediate. And when you want to take it to the next level, then the Tubo Nere and Louis Arias runs are essentially steep mogul fields and the Orri de Tredos black run (a popular off-piste area before a new drag went up recently) follows a secluded route down a hidden valley between the Baciver and Baqueira peaks. There are alsoroutes left and right from the Cap, home to challenging blacks like the Luis Arias and Muguet.
But the piste-de-resistance is the formidable 'Escornacrabes' - variously translated as "where mountain goats go to tumble and die". It says it all, really - a steep couloir with an underpants-worrying entrance, though with epic and 'not-quite-as-scary-as-it-looked' rewards on the exit. And I should know...this was my first ever black-run as a 14-year-old boy, negotiated together with an equally worried but ultimately relieved father (retuning me to a rather angry mother, from what I remember).
Wonderful...simply wonderful. It's vast, its well-looked after, the runs are long, the snow is almost-always in great condition and nasty surprises are well-signposted away from the main pistes.
Beginners will love the dedicated space just for them at the beginner park, which is reached via the Baqueira gondola. Here the easy-peasy Rabada and Pastores green runs give you the confidence required to graduate to the pleasant blues run from Beret through Baqueira and on to Bonaigua. Even the most nervous can ski the length of the resort.
Because it is so ideally-suited for boarders, the International Snowboard Federation have held both slalom and half pipe events here. And its easy to get around with far more chairs than the dreaded draglifts. They have installed a fun park and permanent half pipe over in Beret and the endless off-piste in Argulls is equally enticing for skiers & boarders alike. For the best extreme riding with large rocks forming jumps and natural gullies then head to the Chozas chairlift and keep left.
Okay....it's Spain. No worries about finding a suitable place for a boozy lunch or a late evening drink around here. In the Val d'Aran the après-ski is every bit as important as the mountain, though in the purpose-built resort village of Baqueira it can be a little low-key for some, mainly centred around the hotel bars. The resort does have a disco - Pacha, usually the busiest , and Tuc Nere - as well as a few pubs and bars, but we'd suggest heading somewhere a little more authentic in the evenings - the villages of Arties, Salardu and Tredòs are just down the valley and have wonderful tapas bars and fine restaurants tucked away down cobbled alleyways. A government-subsidised bus service links it all together.
As one would expect, nothing really gets going until after 9pm. A respectable time for dinner is 10pm - get yourselves on the Iberian body-clock. If you insist on your Britishness, you can dine in an otherwise empty restaurant at 8pm, but no earlier.
Each of the three areas has its own snowpark where children from 3 up to 6 years can sign up for kindergarten. Modern and well equipped with safety in mind all the snowparks have baby sized beginner lifts and staff especially trained in childcare. There is also a crèche for younger children from 3 months to 3 years at La Borda Lobato next to Hotel Montmarto in Baqueira 1500. Older children from 6 to 12 years can join childrens' ski school. For indoor activities there is a huge sports centre in nearby Vielha with heated pool, ice rink, gym, sauna and solarium.