Jordi Tenas. Baqueira/Beret, Val d'Aran, Spain.
PHOTO: Txema Trull
Jordi Tenas. Baqueira/Beret, Val d'Aran, Spain. PHOTO: Txema Trull

Skiing Spain for Dummies

A guide to the ranges and resorts of Spain’s quietly impressive ski scene

When it comes to skiing in Europe, the Alps has long dominated the conversation, but there's more to Europe than fondue and rando racing. Today, I'm talking about a place where the tinto flows like wine, the crowds don't show up ’til noon, and the skiing ain't bad, either. I'm talking about a little place called Spain.

In addition to being the sunniest country in Europe, Spain is also one of the most mountainous, and is higher, on average, than every other country on the continent, save for Switzerland. That equates to a surprising amount of quality skiing, something often lost in the Eurotrip blogs touting Mediterranean beaches, tapas, and bullfighting. It doesn't hurt that it's also cheap, with the average lift ticket ringing in at $40.

But where exactly is the skiing in the Land of the Setting Sun? Below is a quick guide to the ranges and resorts of Spain's quiet ski scene, and a friendly reminder that when the rest of Europe gets tracked out, you can always point it south.

Pyrenees

When people think of esquí in España, this border range between Spain and France immediately comes to mind, and for good reason. Older than the Alps, the Pyrenees play host to a variety of ski terrain ranging from the ski bus crowd an hour outside Barcelona at La Molina to the steeps of Candanchú and the Pyrenees of Aragon.

Read: Feast, famine, and record snowfall in the Spanish Pyrenees

But the crowned jewel of the Pyrenees and all of Spanish skiing is without a doubt Baqueira-Beret. This mega resort is so regal, in fact, that the King of Spain makes sure to bless its pistes with a few royal turns every winter.

With over 3,000 vertical feet across more than 5,350 acres, Baqueira-Beret skis as big as it looks. Locked into its own snow globe, the resort and the surrounding Val D'ran is cut off from the world by mountains, save for a tunnel on the Spanish side, and features some the best consistent snow anywhere in Europe.

Location: Baqueira/Beret, Spain. PHOTO: Txema Trull

Baqueira Baret Ticket Price: $60

Cordillera Cantabrica

What Spain lacks in name brand mountain ranges, it makes up for in mountain variety, and nowhere is that more present than the Cordillera Cantabrica along Spain's northern coastline. Hidden an hour and a half from pumping winter surf in Asturias and Cantabria, the range has a handful of ski areas that range from beginner to downright sendy fun. Fuentes de Invierno features an armada of traverse-able side country that sits untapped for days on end, save for the few friendly locals that are more than willing to share a turn or two.

If earning solitary turns is more your style, the Picos de Europa wildlife reserve is considered the Yosemite of Spain by climbers, but is also one heck of a ski adventure. For a little over $100, Picos Rock and Snow will make you tired all day long. And don't worry gringo, they speak English.

Fuentes de Invierno Ticket Price: $28

Andorra

Okay, so it's not technically in Spain, but the country the size of Montreal squeezed between France and Spain is basically a Spanish suburb. A tax haven known mostly for its duty-free shopping, Andorra is also home to more kilometers of ski slope than highway. Grandvalira and VallNord are the country's two Pyrenean mega-resorts with the former delivering the full family resort experience (and a whole lot of Russian tourists) and the latter keeping every freeskier in Iberia happy. In fact, Ordino-Arcalis, underneath the VallNord umbrella, has so much techy terrain that the Freeride World Tour has made it a staple on its competition circuit since 2013.

Heading to Japan? Check out our guide to the resorts around Niseko on the island of Hokkaido.

Interestingly, the country of Andorra doesn't have a single airport, meaning that visitors have to fly to Barcelona and take a two hour, $35 bus ride to the slopes. An excuse to combine a ski trip with a couple of days in one of the Mediterranean's most vibrant cities? Twist my arm, why don't ya?

Grandvalira Ticket Price: $57
Vallnord Ticket Price: Not Currently Listed

Sierra Nevada

Tickling the bottom of Iberia, Sierra Nevada is Europe's southernmost ski area, and home to the sunniest skiing in the world (sorry, Bromley). With sweeping views of Africa (Morocco is just a hop, skip, and a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar), Sierra Nevada tops out near 10,000 feet, rising from the former Moorish stronghold of Grenada (a city that doesn't wait for apres to get the vino tinto pouring).

Spread over 3,500 feet of vert, the resort is an intermediate dream machine save for a few steep and technical shots like Canada Pequena (Little Canada) along the ridge skier's left of the Laguna de las Yeguas lift. In recent years, Sierra Nevada has upped its park game, attracting the 2017 FIS World Freeski Championships.

Sierra Nevada is an hour's drive to the Mediterranean, which means the resort is pretty much Spring Break on skis. Just make sure you check the sand report before dropping in, as southern winds can sprinkle a little Sahara on your slopes (we're not kidding).

Sierra Nevada Ticket Price: $56

Madrid

Skiing in Madrid? You bet your jamon serrano there is! Within an hour of city limits, the Sierra de Guadarrama features two ski areas, Navacerrada and Valdesqui, that spin lifts from December until March. Both Navacerrada and Valdesqui have serious East Coast race league vibes, with fast groomers as far as the eye can see.

Both ski areas are accessible via public transportation from Spain's capital city, making it easy for anyone vacationing or on business to hop from downtown to the slopes.

If you need to scratch the ski itch on a hot summer day, Madrid also has its own indoor ski area, Madrid SnowZone, complete with a race course and terrain park on the south side of the city.

Valdesqui Ticket Price: $44
Navecerrada Ticket Price: $31