Skiing in Spain – The Next Big Thing

It’s not all sangria and sunbathing, you know? With 33 ski resorts in the second most mountainous region in Europe, it’s fair to say skiing in Spain is the next big thing.

The snow sports industry in Spain is still relatively unknown and unappreciated. It hasn’t reached the level of the mega Alpine industry, but I hope it never does because as a result, Spain has become one of the best value ski destinations in Europe.

Most people associate Spain with balmy Mediterranean evenings, fruity sangria and sunburn. But why not try sunburn of a different kind? The attractive goggle-marks kind.

The Pyrenees stretches along the French-Spanish border, with ski destinations in Catalonia, Aragon and Andorra. It’s young, cool, affordable and just spectacular. There is something for everyone, from the relaxed weekend skier to the thrill-seeking snowboarder. Groups of friends, families with their 3 year olds that ski better than me, beginners, old-timers, everyone is welcome in the Pyrenees.

The Aragonese mountains are said to have some of the best ranges of pistes. There are 5 resorts in this area, all at a maximum journey of 2 hours from Pamplona, and less from Aragon’s capital Zaragoza. Formigal and Candanchu are the most popular, the first being one of the best in Spain with almost 100 different pistes equalling 130 km of skiing. There’s even an illuminated night-time piste for the truly brave. Cross-country skiing is also a huge craze here with weekly competitions and hundreds of kilometres of stunning routes.

Not only is it more affordable in this region, it also tends to be less crowded and has a local feel too. People come from the villages of the Basque Region (both the Spanish and French sides), and the children are given opportunities by the local government to learn to ski. During “Semana Blanca” children head to the mountains from all over the northern regions, including Navarra, for ski lessons, all funded by the government.

Personal account from an Ex-Bridget Jones:

I first learnt how to ski in the extremely posh and, dare I say it, pretentious Alps, surrounded by designer sunglasses, me in my mum’s 80s magenta two-piece. I fell over so many times that I was unrecognisable from bruising (my legs were anyway). I spent more time trying to swing my legs over my head and stand up, than actually moving down the mountain with skis on. I enjoyed après-ski for a maximum of 1 hour, the amount of time my aching body would allow. Once, I even hit a child during my flailing decent. But after a few weekends of perseverance (I was lucky enough to be both living in France and a student, so able to afford this luxury at a good rate and thanks to the Erasmus grant) new muscles were formed, skis were controlled like never before, and children were avoided at all costs.

Now, living in Pamplona, I have the mountains at my finger tips again and my ski legs have returned. The Pyrenees are different though.  With the views of undulating valleys dotted with tiny villages and fir forests and Spanish friendliness on the pistes – I instantly felt more welcome. I was, however, technically in France, just across the border, the closest village being Isaba, Spain, at the resort of Arette.

El Corté Inglés, that prestigious department store, does a hugely popular bus and ski pass deal from Pamplona to Arette every Saturday. It costs €39 (with insurance, always get insurance. It once cost my friend €400 to be snow-mobiled of the piste, a distance of about 25 metres, with a twisted knee. It was her second time on the baby slope). It’s a real bargain because not only is the bus practically free, but you get all sorts of little discounts in the restaurants and cafes. You also get 10% off in Locaski, the buzzing ski-hire shop. There are other places to rent skis with shorter queues, but go to this place. It may be full of people at most hours of the day but the people who work there are incredible. They chat, joke, and put up with my French (severely depleted since my Alpine days). The network of pistes offer a few nice challenges and the powder snow, sunshine, free hot chocolate in the queues and amazing views make Arette everything a ski station should be.

So, come to Spain for your snowy adventure. The season runs from December to April, making skiing in the clouds of the southern Sierra Navada mountain range and a dip in the Mediterranean sea perfectly possible, practically in one single day!

Pamplona, your furry faces are transforming fundraising!

So it’s that time of year again. Men around the world have been growing moustaches. We’re three-quarters of the way through November and a moustache is now finally present on most of my friends. I love Movember. I love facial hair. I’m a Mo sista for sure. I haven’t shaved my legs in about a month.

And what? I only shave my legs if people are going to see them. It’s winter so they’re hidden away nicely. I’m saving a fortune on razors, which in turn I’m donating to my Pamplona Mo Bros.

But what’s Movember all about? Adam Garone is the creator of this innovative way to raise money. It has changed the face of fundraising. In this talk on Ted Talks, the self-proclaimed “moustache farmer” tells us how the idea came about in that traditional Aussie way, over a few beers late in 2003. He tells us how he first grew his mo to relive the seventies before that “ironic hipster moustache movement” made it cool again. People were shocked, appalled, parents covered their children’s eyes, girlfriends despaired, but the courage of manliness pulled them through.

Changing the face of men’s health

Garone and his friends knew this amount of fun had to be repeated and promoted.

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Stars into Santiago

The final leg, the last 23km. It was 6am. We had dried our clothes over a log fire the evening before. They had a wonderful wood smoked smell, but were damp again as we’d fallen asleep before taking them inside the house. The fire had died down and that let the chilled air swell inside them once more. Sigh. So we hiked up the heat on the little electric oven and cooked our clothes into a gentle warmth, almost as rustic and warming as expected when we had piled the logs on the fire the evening before. Read More…

Words about rain and a boiled egg in a swimming hat

We were lucky to have long days of hot sun. I say lucky, they were also nearing unbearable when the camino ahead didn’t provide shade.

Around day seven, but my notes no longer counted the days, rain settled in. It was the first rain in Galicia for a month so there was something of relief about it as it dripped off the quickly revived environment around us. Greens were revealed, and this colour felt endlessly positive.

Those cooling refreshing droplets did make things difficult though. I covered my rucksack with a white bin liner (I was forever underprepared on this trip, but at least resourceful). It looked like a wrinkly bulging blister protruding from my back. It was an image we could all connect with. My walking boots were just trainers so they acted like a sieve at least against mud and natural matter. The water flowed in and out of them at will. The waterproof trousers that were a hand-me-down from somebody I met in a hostel in Mexico who was trying to reduce their suitcase weight before a flight, were like the sides of a tent: only waterproof until they touched something else. They stuck to my legs and were beyond useless. At least my hastily added rain mac, which is actually my mum’s and had a large tear in it that I quickly patched up when the rain began, did a pretty good job. I tied the hood around my face, only revealing a small circle of white cold face. I looked like a boiled egg in a swimming hat. The typical poncho-clad pilgrim, I was not. Well, nobody’s defences were ever completely water-tight anyway.

The rain provided for many amusing moments as I learnt the strange slang for different types of weather in Spanish, funny expressive onomatopoeic words that we should all know.

Hace biruji

This phrase had some debate surrounding it. Different spellings, pronunciations and regional dialect words were thrown around. Finally, I deciphered that this phrase, or something like it, means “It’s a bit chilly”. I love it because it is close to the word “bruja”, meaning “witch” in English, and I imagine dark low clouds descending like a fairytale witch’s long dark hair and a chilling wind whistling past you like her cruel laugh.

Chirimiri

or the Basque variation Txirimiri

This is light rain, the kind that falls and soaks you without you even realising it. We felt this quite a lot. A thin layer of damp rested on all surfaces, on your eyelashes then running into your eyes, on the cobbled paths, threatening your dignity as you resisted the urge to bottom-slide down hills.

Calabobos

This word really pleases me linguistically. The verb “calar” means “to soak or drench” (fitting) and “bobo” means “silly or stupid”. Again, it refers to fine, spitting rain, and soaking idiots we were. It doesn’t appear in any particular phrase, you just make the comment “calabobos, no?” and everybody agrees with a resigned sigh, blinded by the moisture.

Chuzos de punta

This literally translates as “sharp sticks”. It occurs in the phrase “estan caiendo chuzos de punta” meaning “sharp sticks are falling”. I love the imagery here, as we walked through sheets of rain plummeting down on us like metaphorical daggers, slowly killing our souls.

 

Food, of great importance

A theme of great importance on the camino was food. The walking was simple. You woke up, packed away your sleeping bag, tied up your laces and walked. I liked to walk alone sometimes. My group were always nearby or walking next to me in quiet conversation or gentle laughter, but I liked to walk and let my thoughts flow most of the time. I would find my rhythm,

it was fast and steady so the kilometres just slipped away. Read More…

Trust

I had been writing daily, my day-by-day account of the camino. Just as the strong wind drew the rain clouds to Galicia, a bond was made between our group and from that moment on, there were no more days. The experience grew, surrounded and filled every one of us. The pain, aches and difficulties were shared and distributed amongst us. It was no longer necessary to talk about my day. Read More…

Rain and clichés

Day six

I had a huge bulging blister this morning, my first proper one. The lovely Juan has the ultimate blister busting kit full of different sized needles, alcohol, creams, gauzes and tape. He burst it for me
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