I have to admit I’d never heard of Arcalis before my trip to Andorra this year, so it was a nice surprise to discover that it is part of the Arinsal/Pal lift pass.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAArcalis is known in the region as being more of a locals’ ski area. There is no resort or town there as such, and as most of the skiers in Arinsal are beginners, few venture over on the 40 minute bus journey. Our Crystal rep, Jake, recommended that we ski Arcalis earlier in the week, before the weekend rush. His advice was spot-on. We had two days in Arcalis, and the conditions were quite a bit better than in Arinsal or Pal. The runs still weren’t groomed all that well, as I discovered when I hit a patch of rocks at full speed and had to pick my way through whilst hopping on my skis, but they at least looked prepared for something other than beginner skiers. The far side of the mountain still suffered from the high winds that had also hit Arinsal, though. AtPENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA one point I threw myself into a tuck, pointed my skiers straight down the mountain, but felt like I was going nowhere because the wind was blowing me back up the hill again.

A couple of the runs were closed off to the public, due to youth slalom races, which was a shame. What was open was good fun, though. The freestyle area, an entire mountain dedicated to whatever you want, was also opened on the second day we were there. I didn’t fancy trying it on my own without someone who knew the area, so that will have to wait for another time.


Arinsal and Pal

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe last time I visited Andorra, about 18 years ago, Arinsal and Pal were two very seperate ski areas. At the time, I was an intermediate skier and what Arinsal had to offer was enough for me so I never visited Pal. They were in the process of building a new ‘gondola’ to connect the two areas, so I was excited to try it out during my trip in January this year.

I have to say that the Arinsal ski area is not like I remembered it at all. I thought I had a very clear picture in my head of how it looked, but the reality was quite different. Although a small area, it is lots of fun. And, it all comes down to one base, which helps if you’re skiing in a group with different ability levels like I was. Arinsal is very much a beginners’ resort, with everything geared towards helping them get through their first week of ski school. The slopes are managed well in that respect, with beginners having their own (very good) area that is easy to avoid. Unfortunately, high winds closed most of the chair lifts in Arinsal whilst we were there, and I did question why they had replaced the old drag lifts with them in the first place. After all, if beginners learn on drag lifts then they never know any different.


On my third day there, when the wind had died down a bit and more lifts were open, I discovered that the new ‘gondola’ connecting Arinsal to Pal is in fact a cable car, and as such is unable to open whenever it is windy, snowing, cloudy or anything other than perfect weather conditions. I think it was open one, maybe two days out of the six that we were there. Instead, in order to ski Pal I had to catch a bus to La Massana (about ten minutes down the road from Arinsal) and then get into a gondola there to access the system. There is a free ski bus to La Massana that runs a couple of times a day, but be aware that it doesn’t seem to run when it snows. This seemed strange to me, after all surely people need the bus service more when there is snow. The local bus seemed to manage better in the adverse conditions, and it was only 1.80 euro to La Massana. My advice to experienced skiers would be to stay in La Massana instead. Then, you can always ski Arinsal too when the cable car is open.


Pal is much less affected by the weather conditions as it is tree lined, and is also a much bigger area. The pistes zigzag across three peaks, so you can even do a little tour. Even on the weekend, when ‘locals’ from Spain travel up to use the slopes, it was very quiet on the mountain. There was a small queue for some of the chair lifts, but I could always find an empty drag lift to use instead.


Returning to Andorra

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERATwenty years ago I learnt to ski in Pas De La Casa, Andorra. It was my first trip to the principality, and also my first experience of snow sports. Two years after that first holiday to Pas, my family and I returned to Andorra for another week’s skiing in Arinsal. Fast forward 18 years, and I have once again travelled to Arinsal to ski.

I’ll be honest, of the four of us in our group, none of us had a particular desire to return to Andorra. Without wanting to sound negative, the principality exists because it is tax free, and has few of the redeeming features of other ski areas. The views over the Pyrenees are breathtaking, although not quite as scenic as the Austrian Alps. The ski areas offer pistes for all levels of skier, but due to the geography of the region are small, far apart from each other and difficult to connect up. On the plus side, I’ve always found the people in Andorra to be friendly, and nowhere near as aggressive on the slopes as their French neighbours. And if you’re looking to spend some money, there is that tax free shopping.

So, why did we choose Arinsal? The answer is simple. Snow has been poor in most European ski areas this winter, and Andorra’s location makes it the most likely to have pistes open while still within our budget. When you’re a skier, you’ll chase the snow pretty much anywhere.

The other thing that I’d forgotten about Andorra until after we’d booked is the four hour transfer from the airport in Toulouse up into the mountains. I think I’ve been softened by working in Austria, where the longest transfer is two hours. We did stop for a break in Tarascon, just enough time for everyone to grab a coffee and go to the toilet (facilities on ski coaches are notorious for freezing in the winter).

DSC_0006 DSC_0008

Once we’d arrived in resort, my first task was to find a shop that could wax my skis ready for the next morning. I usually service my skis myself by hand, but every few years I like to have them put through a machine so I get the best out of them. For the past ten years, every resort I have visited has only offered machine servicing. Annoyingly, the one time I actually want my skis put through a machine, I visit seemingly the only resort in Europe where the technicians like to service skis by hand. With all respect to those technicians, I could have done that myself. So, with my skis over my shoulder, I trudged up the hill, further and further into Arinsal, until I found someone who could help me. Then, we headed along to our Crystal Rep Jake’s welcome meeting where we pestered him with about a hundred questions (which I then promptly forgot all the answers to and asked him again the next day), grabbed some food, and it was time for bed and dreams of skiing.