Even a regular traveller gets a flutter of excitement setting off for Belfast Airport. A cool and wet December day in Belfast got a lot more interesting when I was jetting off to Southern Spain with some wonderful travel colleagues to test out the winter sports facilities in the Sierra Nevada mountains just two hours north of Malaga.
Until recently this ski resort mainly attracted the Spanish and Portuguese, and now it’s available as a package from Belfast.
The resort of Pradollano is at a height of 2100 metres, much higher than most other european ski resorts and above the treeline. The peak called Veleta, is up a further 1500 metres, offering skiers of all abilities over 100km of downhill skiing mainly on blues. reds and some black runs (that’s the grading system of how easy, challenging, or are you sure about that?)
Having skied in most of Europe for many years, I was persuaded to go the latter, despite several warning signs indicating “experts only”. My slipped disc earlier in the year was a distant memory, the challenge was set!
I suppose if I can get up on stage at the Big travel event to perform “So Macho” with 80’s popstar Sinitta then this was going to be a doddle. So after a further 15 mins on a T bar, I’d reached “Veleta”, the top, around 11000 ft above sea level. A reminder of just how high I was, the southern mediterranean was in the distance, and just visible were the Atlas mountains of North Africa, some 400 kms away.
The benefits of clear air and high altitude skiing were starting to make a lot of sense. Even at this height, the pistes were well groomed and powder dry. Being so far south, the sun remains high in the sky for those who want to pack as much skiing as possible in each day.
We were to ski down the Laguna red run towards the the IRAM telescope observatory that is perched high on one of the peaks to get a clear image into deep space. The runs were challenging in parts with a little ice here and there, but oh so enjoyable.
Down at Borreguiles, the mid station, there are plenty of nursery slopes for beginners. Several adjacent restaurants have sunny terraces to relax and watch it all happen, or rest up those muscles you didn’t know you had.
We were fortunate to enjoy a ride on a specially adapted Piste groomer that navigated its way up almost impossible inclines where we could watch the sunset from high up on the slopes beside the IRAM Observatory.
While we awaited the sun disappear below the horizon we were treated to some bubbles & nibbles. What a fantastic end to the days skiing.
The resort itself was purpose built in 1996, with a main square and plenty of local shops selling ski equipment and everyday needs. They have hotels to suit all budgets, some with doorstep skiing although the lift station is only a few minutes walk from most hotels.
With a capacity for over 45000 skiers per hour, we packed in lots of skiing rather than queuing. Our hotel was the 4-star Melia, which I have to say was quite special with comfortable rooms, a fantastic spa and indoor pool.
I have to say the restaurant had a very broad variety to suit all palates and nationalities, as well as a gluten free area. It was quite refreshing to find a part of Spain where English is not widely understood and a few basic phrases in spanish would go a long way. I thought I’d put the Google translator to the test for a cup of tea. Te con leche was the suggestion, however we all had a laugh when my tea bag and pot of hot milk was taken too literally.
On the plus side, we did sample some of the local bars where no translator was required, Vodka, gin, beer, cola, etc seemed to be universally understood, making the nightlife as lively as you wanted to make it, and that’s very so easy when you’re on a ski trip, it’s a very sociable type of holiday and I can honestly say, Sierra Nevada is going to be a popular and accessible ski destination for the NI traveller.
Trevor Ardies is the February finalist of our An Agent Abroad Experience competition in conjunction with Emirates. This competition is open to Travel Agents across Northern Ireland. For more information click here.