My partner is a keen skier, and although I have always wanted to try skiing, my family never went skiing when I was growing up. When my partner suggested it shortly after we met, I had mixed feelings; the thought of going on a holiday where I would be on the nursery slopes, and possible a few green or blue runs all week, whilst he ponsed around on the red and black runs was not something that grabbed me! I wanted to spend time together, but I didn’t want to feel I was holding him back either.
He came up with a great solution-that we should go snow-boarding together instead! He said had always wanted to try it, but had never been, and reasoned that if we went snow boarding, then we would both be beginners together. It was a perfect solution.
He was still training to be an airline pilot at the time, and I was still a single Mummy, so we were on a tight budget, but he managed to find us a very reasonable deal at a resort that was geared towards beginners, and especially good for snowboarding in Andorra.
Andorra is a self-governing principality (a tiny ‘country’ in it’s own right-like Monaco) in the Pyrenees mountains under the joint sovereignty of France and Spain, and is known as the cheap snow-package tour centre of Europe, although apparently more recently, the resorts have spent time and money shaking off their cheap and tacky image. Andorra now offers much more in the way of quality and services, although this has come at a price. Costs have increased over the years and the lift passes compare with some of the most expensive in Europe. None-the-less, although bar and restaurant resort prices are by no means cheap, the place is still a duty-free tax haven so you’ll still pay less for your booze and eating out than you would in Alpine resorts.
Andorra has a number of very small resorts (the whole of Andorra is only about 468 square miles) that are ideal for total beginners and just okay for intermediates on a three day visit.
All the areas are located within a short distance of each other and can be reached via France or Spain. Andorra itself doesn’t have any airport so the nearest international airport is Barcelona, or Toulouse in France. We flew into Toulouse with Easy Jet, and the transfer by coach took about 4 hours.
We chose to stay at Arinsal, ‘a small resort with very basic terrain, perfect for a group of beginners on their first snowboard holiday’, but nothing much for the advanced freerider. (although there is a terrain park and a halfpipe, neither of which we braved) and it links with the resort of Pal which we escaped to by cable car for a change of scenery on a few days.
When We arrived, we organised or equipment hire and boot fitting, since the queues get very busy in the morning. I remember getting the cable car upto the first ski lift area, and feeling very excited! We had our very first lesson, which was spent learning a few basic moves (the links contain little video demonstrations of each move) including the following:
- ‘sideslips’ (heel-side sideslip and toe-side sideslip)
- traversing (heel slide and toe slide),
- falling leaf. This enabled us to spend time traversing the slopes immediately in the afternoon, and unlike the learner skiers, we were immediately able to get up onto the higher, steeper green and blue runs, since you can stop immediately when you’re side slipping, unlike skiers who slow down more gently with the snow plough move.
Subsequent lessons were spent perfecting these, building confidence and moving on to linking turns.
We both found it pretty easy to pick up, although you do inevitably fall over a lot, and our knees and bottoms were bruised to hell, even though we wore knee protectors. We also wore wrist protectors because snowboarders are quite vulnerable to breaking wrists when they wipe out. I have to say, it was one of the most fun and active holidays I’ve ever had and was amazing to see such beautiful views. As a novice, I had expected to be very cold, because of the snow, but it was actually so hot at times that once I became more competent, and less likely to wipe-out, I did tend to board with just a light top on, and ate lunch in short sleeves. The expert snowboarder women were very pose-y, and we even saw one of the female snowboarding instructors skiing in a bikini top!
On our final day there, we went to Arcalis, which is the least known, least visited, and most remote of all Andorra’s resorts. It has recently joined with Pal/Arinsal forming the VallNord area, the shared lift pass gives you access to 60km of pistes, though we found that much of it was annoyingly flat between runs. We did finally brave a red run on our last day there though.
Holiday Fun Rating 10/10 – We came home feeling like we needed to bathe in deep-heet from all the aches, bumps and bruises, but this is probably the most fun you can have together with your clothes on! I am quite competitive, and my partner was a natural, which did cause me some frustration on my part (and a few tiffs on the slopes) but it did spur me on to push myself harder and it paid off-by the end of the week, we were actually exploring one or two of the red runs! We had an absolute blast and I would do this again in a heart beat!
Useful Tips For Snowboarding Virgins
- Book lessons! If you pick things up easily (like we do) and can stretch to it financially (which we couldn’t back in 2005 when we did this) I would recommend private lessons, as it can be very frustrating when you get held back by boarders who lack confidence and hold the group back.
- When hiring boards, boots and any other equipment, collect them as soon as you arrive at the resort in the evening. The queues in the morning are massive!
- Wear wrist and knee protectors – this shouldn’t need much explanation. One man in our hotel snapped his wrist clean in half on his first day of the holiday, and apart from the pain, he was bored stupid for the remainder of his time there.
- If you can afford it, book a room with a jacuzzi or a bath. Shower’s sound ok in the brochure, but when I was aching at night, I have never envied people with warm baths as much as I did on that holiday!
- If you go to Andorra, it is SO worth booking the day trip to the Caldea Spa (Caldea is Europe’s largest health spa located in the mountains and offers you 6’000 square meters of inside and outside lagoons, saunas, jacuzzis, a grapefruit pool, an Aztecian pool, Indo-Roman baths, cascades, bubble beds, warm marble slates, and much much more). Especially if you didn’t go for a room with a bath!
- Don’t be inconsiderate to skiers. There seems to be a general assumption from a lot of skiers that snowboarders lack consideration. Don’t feed the stereotype!