Olly and Lisa from the EA team were fortunate to visit the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees, for a pre-season sample of a little Iberian heliskiing (and a lot of Jamón Ibérico).
We guarantee Spain isn’t the first destination that springs to mind when considering your next ski trip. In fact, it may not make your list at all, but we counted ten good reasons why it probably should. We also gave a bit of thought to what kind of skiers and snowboarders it would be best for.
The snow wasn’t great for our visit, but in fairness, the 11th December is early for almost any northern hemisphere ski area to be snowsure. In spite of some pretty dry mountains, we managed to find some nice turns, both heliskiing and in the resort of Baqueira-Beret, and had a fantastic time thanks to the breadth of offering and the proactive way the local team works to create a memorable trip, whatever the conditions.
Why consider Spain for your next ski trip?
- Proper, Canadian-style heliskiing – with multi-day heliskiing in an exclusive tenure of 400km2 and 250 named runs of all orientations, the terrain is plentiful and varied with skiing that ranges from playful to precipitous.
- Just one helicopter operates each day, serving 3 or 4 groups of 4 skiers plus guide. Small numbers ensure the tenure is not over-skied, but also enable the local team to deliver a hyper-personalized service, adapting your stay according to conditions and showing you the very best of the Val d’Aran from powder stashes to pampering spas and spectacular ski tours to secret mountain restaurants.
- Programmes start at €4,300 per person including transfers, accommodation, ski hire and 12 heli-drops over 3 or 5 days, making this a high-value, low-commitment heliski trip. Of course, if you should score great conditions, you can always opt to pay for more drops. What’s more, when it comes to the extras like après-ski and lift passes, this is a far cry from the big names and big prices of Colorado, British Columbia, Savoie and the Valais – everything is more "refreshingly good value" than "reassuringly expensive".
- The resort of Baquiera-Beret may be little-known, but with 38 lifts and 165km of marked runs, it is comparable in size to Breckenridge in Colorado or Mayrhofen in Austria. You can heliski all morning before being dropped at Baqueira for lunch and afternoon skiing – or just ski in resort for a day if weather prevents flying or you’ve done enough heliskiing.
- This is the ideal place to combine heliskiing with ski-touring and ski tours can be done with a heli-drop to begin or unassisted. At 3,404m, Aneto is the Pyrenees’ highest peak, overlooking the Val d’Aran from the Posets-Maladeta National Park and making for a memorable ski tour.
- The gastronomic experience is spectacular with pintxos, tapas, jamon iberico and cote de boeuf (bone-in ribeye) grilled on an open fire featuring heavily.
- In your average heliski lodge après-ski can be a little one-dimensional but here you get the benefit of a resort/village experience with a wealth of bars and restaurants so there is no chance of cabin fever – this place is buzzing with Spanish vibes.
- Great choice of hotels - from “luxy” five-star properties in Baqueira itself to charming boutique hotel on cobbled streets in one of the historical villages of the Val d’Aran.
- Easy access from almost anywhere in Europe –fly to Toulouse in France (the closest airport, 2 hours away) or Barcelona from most major cities in Europe meaning you can fly out on in the afternoon and arrive for dinner and ski all morning before leaving to go home.
- Flexibility - the programme does not operate with fixed dates like most heliskiing so you can choose dates and durations that suit you, as well as mixing up your heli days with freeride and touring days.
If that all sounds a bit too good to be true, are there any caveats to consider?
- The Pyrenees typically don’t see as much snow as some other mountain ranges and, like in the Alps, temperature fluctuations are not uncommon. By limiting the number of skiers, the guiding team can almost always find untracked snow and usually some powder stashes, but if deep, cold powder is your overriding priority, there might be better places.
- Runs can be a little shorter than elsewhere, typically around 600m of vertical. If you’ve been spending more time at a desk than in the gym, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
- The flexibility of the programme means that, unless you go as a full load of 4, you might be riding with first-time heliskiers meaning the pace (of the classic programme) can be relaxed. If you’re new to heliskiing yourself or don’t want to pay for extra runs and want to savour the experience, that can be a good thing but going as a full group of four or a private group is best for those that want to pack in the vertical.
Who would this trip suit best? We think most of us...
- Ski and snowboard fanatics looking for a long weekend ski break away from the obvious destinations like Verbier, St Anton or Chamonix, ideally in groups of 4, 8 or 12.
- For ski-tourers (or split-boarders) wanting to combine ski-touring with some heli-assistance, this is one of the best destinations in the world.
- Anyone wanting to try some heliskiing or to combine a few drops with some resort skiing (and have the option of more heli-drops if conditions are great) but not wanting to commit to the cost or intensity of a traditional multi-day heliski trip.
- Families of strong skiers with teenagers that are looking for a multi-dimensional skiing experience to share.
- Skiing connoisseurs looking for a highly exclusive experience in a new mountain range and skiing culture, the private programme can be tailored to exactly what you want.
One of our favourite options is the ski-touring / heliskiing combination. This programme gives you five or six days of skiing with a guide and 18 heli drops. There is plenty of flexibility - you can do full heliski days or do half a dozen runs before a late lunch and some afternoon skiing in Baqueira. Alternatively you can go ski-touring with your guide into the Posets-Maladeta National Park and overnight stays in refuges are also possible. The park is off-limits to helicopters but you can start the day with a heli-assisted "bump" before skiing down into the national park where you don skins to earn your turns thereafter. Groups of four are ideal and the programme can be tailored according to your needs.
Sure enough, as we left, snow began to fall and by the time we were back in the office, a foot of fresh snowfall had the Pyrenees looking pretty appealing so we can’t wait for our next trip.