The landlocked mountainous Principality of Andorra (average elevation 1,996 metres - 6,549 ft), bordered by both France and Spain in the eastern Pyrenees, is a monarchy headed by two “co-princes” – the Spanish Bishop of Urgell and the President of France. Its capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe, at an elevation of 1,023 metres (3,356 ft). The official language is Catalan. Andorra skiing used to be quite fragmented but has been reduced to two main ski circuits: Grandvalira and Vallnord.
Andorra today is a modern and extensive ski region that has changed almost beyond recognition from the Andorra of just a few decades ago. Once the almost automatic destination for fun-loving skiers and snowboarders in search of a cheap skiing holiday, lively après-ski, and plenty of duty free shopping, the principality (just 180 square miles) took the decision a few years ago to upgrade its hotels, tidy up loose ends in its rather disparate ski areas, build a whole new generation of state-of-the-art lifts, take its snowmaking capacity to another level, and in general re-invent itself.
As a result of a multi-million pound facelift, its cheap and cheerful image is on the wane and the resorts have moved more upmarket – all of which has inevitably made family ski holidays in Andorra a little more expensive. The net result is a higher standard of living and better slopes for Andorra ski resorts: with only two main circuits, the skiing at the five principal resorts is really good and extensive.
The larger of the two regions, known as Grandvalira, links the resorts of Soldeu, El Tarter, Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, Canillo and Encamp, with a total of 125 miles of runs. Vallnord, the other Andorra ski region, comprises Arinsal, Pal, and Ordino-Arcalis, with runs totalling almost 60 miles. The Andorra ski pass covers all the resorts. As a bonus, the instructors are mainly native English speakers.
The main gateway to the Grandvalira area is Soldeu (1800m/5,910ft) which thanks to its snowparks is a particular haunt of snowboarders. Its name means “Sun God” – but although its sunshine record is indeed undeniable, so is its snow record, and in any case the area has extensive snowmaking. The Grandvalira area has Pas de la Casa at one end and Encamp at the other. El Tarter, just along the valley, is Soldeu’s nearest neighbour. Espiolets, on a broad balcony above both areas, is the immediate centre of activity, with the ski school HQ and a wide selection of nursery slopes.
Because a large proportion of holidaymakers taking skiing holidays to Andorra are beginners or lower intermediates who don’t venture off piste, the opportunities to ski powder are good, and there’s some good bowl skiing to be had at nearby Riba Escorxada, above El Tarter. Towards Andorra’s western border with Spain is Arinsal, with skiing in a narrow open bowl, and its neighbour Pal, with its predominantly wooded slopes. Getting to Ordino-Arcalis, in a remote valley, involves a short bus journey, but it’s worth the effort as the slopes are unusually quiet except at weekends. There’s no accommodation at the ski area, but the snow is usually amongst the best in the region.