It never would have occurred to me that ski resorts even exist in Spain. I just happened to meet some people at a travel market who told me about the Val d’Aran.
Their timing was perfect. My son, 17 years old, who normally asks for very little, had just the week before mentioned that someday he’d like to try skiing. Here was the perfect opportunity, so I went ahead and arranged it.
Disclosure: We received a small discount from a tour company that no longer exists on a package that included our flights, hotel, car rental, ski passes, ski lessons and ski equipment. They had no influence over what I wrote.
Updated September 2021
I don’t ski, mind you. My husband and son were immediately enthusiastic, but I’m just too much of a klutz to try it again. I skied one day about 20 years ago at Yosemite. After a short lesson in the morning, I spent the rest of the day happily skiing down the “bunny slope,” taking the lift back up, and skiing down again, repeatedly. I knew better than to try a steeper slope.
When I woke up the next morning, my ankle hurt so much I couldn’t walk. It turned out that sometime during that one day of skiing, I’d managed to tear a ligament in my ankle. Apparently that’s an achievement, given that ski boots immobilize the ankles entirely, and given that I never left the beginners’ slopes. Never again!
I was told that I would have plenty of other things to do if I wanted. The Val d’Aran may be well known in Spain, but for me it was entirely off-the-beaten-path: just the kind of place I like to explore.
Skiing in the Val d’Aran
Obviously I can’t report first-hand on skiing in the Val d’Aran, but my husband and son loved it. As far as they could see, the snow-making machines had not been needed all week. The rain we experienced in the valley where we were staying, about 14 kilometers from the ski resort, was snow at the higher elevations.
In addition, perhaps because it was the first week of March, there were no crowds or lines for the lifts. At times, on some of the slopes, my husband and son felt like they had the place pretty much to themselves.
Below is a short video my husband filmed on a couple of the ski lifts using a GoPro. If you’re a skier, you can judge better than I can what quality this resort has.
The resort is called Baqueira Beret and includes 112 trails plus 3 off-piste, adding up to 167 kilometers. Six are “green” for beginners, 43 trails are “blue,” 46 are “red” and 178 are “black.” And for those who like statistics, there are also 36 ski lifts of various sorts and 726 snow-making machines.
I did go up on the first set of lifts – the only ones allowed to non-skiers – one day. The beautiful views from up there were amazing. Many of the lifts go far higher: to right near the top of the Cap de Baqueira at 2500 meters and Tuc de la Llanca at 2656 meters, for example. Serious skiers can even go helicopter skiing.
Other Things to Do in the Val d’Aran
I had plenty of other things to do while my family spent the day skiing. Unfortunately, I was still recovering from a bout of the flu, so I was coughing a lot and generally feeling tired. That meant I didn’t do nearly as much as I intended.
I did manage to do some sightseeing. The Val d’Aran has an impressive collection of small, charming early medieval churches: mostly from the 12th century. I didn’t get to visit as many as I’d planned, but still delighted in the simple carved details, different on each church.
We also spent an afternoon at a spa, of which there are many in the Val d’Aran. The one we visited, called Parador de Vielha, was almost empty in the afternoon because everyone was out skiing. It included a whole circuit of various pools and treatments. We walked on smooth stones through water jets aimed at our feet. I skipped the fancy shower since it alternated between quite hot and quite cold. To me, that’s just not relaxing. Three pools next to each other did a similar thing: one was hot, one was cold, and the third was hot again, with a water jet to massage your back. The best part was the outdoor Jacuzzi that looked over the mountains and the town of Vielho below.
You can also go horseback riding or biking any time of the year, or go dog-sledding, sleigh-riding or snowmobiling in winter.
I imagine that the Val d’Aran would be a joy to visit in the spring especially. In that season, the trees would be in flower and the rivers and waterfalls would be showing their full glory. Well-marked walking trails lace the valley and mountains, allowing you to choose the distance and difficulty levels that suit you.
Visiting Val d’Aran
We flew into Toulouse in France, picked up a rental car, and drove across the border to the valley in about two hours. From Spain it is also possible to drive, though you may need snow tires and/or chains depending on the weather.
The local language is Aranese, but the second language is Catalan, while the third is Spanish and the fourth is French. We got along in our limited French and Spanish for the most part. It was unusual to find anyone who spoke any English. Despite our language limitations, everyone we came in contact with – at our amazing hotel, in shops, at the ski resort, in restaurants—was patient and very welcoming and made the effort to understand us.
Val d’Aran is apparently well-known to the Spanish – whose royal family skis there – and the French, but no one else I’ve mentioned it to has ever even heard of the place. The usual response was “Skiing? In Spain?”
Yes, you can ski in Spain, and the Val d’Aran is a lovely, less-crowded and probably less expensive alternative to ski resorts in the Alps.
Have you ever heard of the Val d’Aran? Have you been there?