Before even discussing the various ski resorts in Andorra, many skiers and snowboarders outside Europe may well need a little bit more information about the country, where it is and why they should consider it as a prospect for a ski holiday.
Andorra is one of a number of tiny countries dotted around Europe and is situated high in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. It has a permanent population of just under 80,000 and covers an area of just 180 square miles, not that much larger than the city of Vienna in Austria.
It is a ‘tax-free’ country and so costs for certain aspects of a ski holiday have traditionally been lower. This and the generally undemanding ski slopes in Andorra have led to it having a good reputation for visitors looking to learn to ski.
There are two routes into the country (important for skiers planning to fly as Andorra has no major airport) – one from France via Pas de la Casa in the east and one from Spain coming in from the south towards the capital Andorra la Vella.
The Andorran skiing is split into three main ski areas and the skiing in the two largest offers a choice of accommodation options as ski lifts link one ski resort with another.
Map of ski resorts in Andorra
Grandvalira Ski Area
The Grandvalira ski area offers by far the largest amount of skiable terrain in Andorra and links a number of ski resorts from Pas de la Casa on the French border through Soldeu and El Tartar to the town of Encamp, only five miles outside the country’s capital town, Andorra la Vella.
It has nearly 70 ski lifts which offer access to 210 kilometres of ski slopes of all levels, but with an emphasis on slopes suitable for intermediate skiers. The different ski resorts which make up the ski area all are at a decent altitude, with the lowest (Encamp) being at just over 1200 metres above sea level.
A Grandvalira ski pass also includes one free day of skiing in the Ordino-Arcalis ski area.
Grandvalira Ski Area Video
Grandvalira Ski Resorts
Pas de la Casa
Altitude: 2100 metres
Pas de la Casa is the oldest Grandvalira ski resort, dating back to 1957. It is a purpose-built resort right on the ski slopes, which makes it convenient for the many beginner skiers and intermediates who flock here each winter.
It is also right on the border with France, which means that Pas de la Casa is the most convenient for those arriving from charter flights into Toulouse and that there are no end of ‘duty-free’ shops and bars scattered around the centre.
The resort is renowned for its hard-partying apres ski and would be a perfect choice for a skiing holiday for a group of younger beginner skiers or snowboarders. The skiing itself is mainly on wide open motorway pistes above the tree line, although there are options for more advanced skiers in any ungroomed snow between the runs.
Altitude: 1800 metres
The road from Pas de la Casa winds over the Port d’Envalira pass and down to the resort village of Soldeu. This Andorran ski resort has worked hard to shed a similar ‘party town’ image to Pas de la Casa and, over the years, has gradually attracted a more upmarket clientele.
The skiing in this area can be more suitable for those looking for a challenge. As well as the usual easier wide Andorran ski runs at the top of the lifts, the Soldeu-El Tartar area has hosted World Cup ski races on the more difficult slopes back to the resorts.
Soldeu has a good range of high-quality hotels, while the neighbouring settlement of El Tartar is more suited to those looking for holiday apartment rentals.
Altitude: 1300 metres
Encamp is not your typical Andorra ski resort. The town, only a few miles from Andorra la Vella, has no ski runs descending from the surrounding Pyrenees mountains. Instead, with the Funicamp, it has one of the longest gondola lifts in the world which links the base to the main Grandvalira area six kilometres away.
The Funicamp lift also makes it the closest way into the Grandvalira area for those arriving from the other ski resorts in Andorra, the capital Andorra la Vella, or from Spain.
So, for any skiers who are not that bothered about staying in a typical ski resort atmosphere and who are looking for reasonable accommodation prices, Encamp (with its 20-minute ski lift ride to the slopes) might just fit the bill.
Although Encamp town might not have the dense amount of tourist accommodation of a traditional ski resort, there are plenty of option from hotel rooms to self-catering apartment accommodation.
Vallnord Pal-Arinsal Ski Area
The Vallnord Pal-Arinsal ski area connects one of the most popular Andorran ski resorts, Arinsal, to the skiing above the hamlet of Pal and, by lift, to Andorra’s second-largest city, La Massana.
The Vallnord is a little bit of a ‘manufactured’ ski region, as the two areas at Pal and Arinsal are linked by a connecting lift but not by ski runs. Even more confusingly, the Vallnord brand includes the more northern ski area of Ordino-Arcalis, although this has been taken over and linked to the Grandvalira resort brand.
Arinsal has extended its somewhat limited ski area with a large cable car which links over to the Pal skiing (there are no connecting ski runs). This can be closed in bad weather, although the alternative is a fairly short ski bus ride to La Massana and then up a gondola lift to the ski slopes.
Vallnord Pal-Arinsal Ski Video
Altitude: 1450 metres
Arinsal has long been a favourite for learn-to-ski holiday packages and many a skier has taken their first turns on the slopes above the town. The skiing is perfect for beginners and early intermediate skiers, but will prove limiting after a few days for any skier who can string a few turns together on a blue piste. This is when the lift linking the Arinsal ski area to the skiing above Pal becomes invaluable.
Arinsal has been a ski resort since the 1970s, so there is a good variety of accommodation options and apres ski venues.
La Massana (Pal)
Altitude: 1230 metres
La Massana is a decent-sized town – the second-largest in Andorra – and probably the best option for those looking for somewhere to stay in the Vallnord area and ski the Pal side of the Arinsal-Pal section, as well as maybe taking a trip north to Ordino-Arcalis.
The Pal ski slopes are reached by a gondola lift from the town to an easy area suitable for beginner skiers. Those looking for more challenging skiing can try the short red runs above Pal and down towards the cable car link to Arinsal.
Ordino Arcalis Ski Area
The smallest of the three ski areas bucks the general impression of what to expect from an Andorra ski holiday. Located at the end of the valley in the north west of the country, the Ordino-Arcalis skiing has no resort at the base and, rather than attracting beginner skiers, is probably most suited to advanced skiers and freeriders.
The skiing is best reached by private car or the public bus service from capital Andorra La Vella through La Massana and Ordino.
The ski area is part of both the commercial Vallnord operation with the publicly-owned Arinsal-Pal area and also the Grandvalira Resorts operation, who purchased a majority of shares in 2018. A multi-day ski pass in both Grandvalira and Ordino-Arcalis allows skiing in both areas whereas someone skiing in Arinsal would now need to purchase a separate ski pass for a day out in Ordino-Arcalis.
The Ordino-Arcalis skiing runs from an altitude of 1940 metres above sea level to 2625 metres and there are a total of 16 different ski lifts. The 29 ski slopes include 11 red runs and 2 blacks, making the on-piste of interest to good intermediate skiers and above, who may feel a little neglected in some of the other Andorran ski areas.
But the reason why Ordino-Arcalis is sometimes referred to as the ‘hidden treasure’ of Andorra skiing is the extensive area given over to potential freeride options. According to the resort site, the area has 3.4 kilometres of marked freeride trails and 120 different unmarked routes.
Ordino-Arcalis Ski Video
Ordino is one of the nicest bases for a ski holiday in Andorra, with an old centre typical of the Pyrenees mountains in this area. It is around 14 kilometres from Arcalis and there are other hamlets like Llorts and El Serrat which are closer to the base but which lack the facilities of Ordino.
Other options for those using the ski bus or their own transport include La Massana or, indeed, Andorra la Vella itself.
Nearest Airport to Andorra
Since there is no rail connection into the country and it also lacks its own international airport, getting to Andorra is a topic which looms large in any independent skiers’ thoughts.
Package holiday companies tend to use either Toulouse airport in the south of France or Barcelona airport in northeastern Spain. Around 200 kilometres away, Barcelona airport is the largest airport with the best choice of flights and destinations and there are private bus services and transfer options available.
Another Spanish option is Girona airport, which is popular for flights to the Spanish coast and is also around 200 kilometres away. The nearest airport to Andorra in Spain is actually the one at Lleida, although the flight options may be limited depending on who is flying in each winter.
Toulouse is the best French option for flights, with some of the cheaper airlines using the airport as a base. It is also around 200 kilometres away from Andorra.
A final word of advice, if flying into a French or Spanish airport and hiring a car, check that it has winter equipment including snow chains and that the snow chains function properly.