As autumn leaves begin to fall and electric radiators are wheeled from their dusty hideaways, the holiday season in Spain begins to tail off. However, the first weekend in December marks the beginning of the Sierra Nevada ski season, and thus the start of another, albeit smaller, tourist invasion.
The Sierra Nevada is the largest ski resort in Spain, and the southernmost in all of Europe. You’d be forgiven for thinking that skiing would be impossible in a part of the world typically associated with beaches, bikinis and boiling sunshine, but thanks to its lofty mountain range skiing is just as tenable an activity as sunbathing for 8-9 months a year. In fact, you could do both on the same day if you really wanted.
The closest city to the resort is Granada – a mere 50-minute drive away – but arriving from the Málaga province isn’t unreasonable, providing you set off early enough. The journey time from Málaga to the Sierra Nevada is approximately 2 hours.
Snow in Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada probably enjoys more sunshine than any other ski resort in Europe but on the other hand fresh snowfall is harder to come by. There are usually 3-4 ‘dumps’ of snow per season, unlike in France or Austria where resorts are often caked in the white stuff on a regular basis. However, the pistes are always skiable and generally very well maintained by the hard-working staff and powerful snow-makers.
Following a bout of snowfall, off-piste skiing opportunities are plentiful and with the usual added bonus of a cloudless, blue sky, conditions couldn’t possibly be better.
Pistes in Sierra Nevada
There are 124 pistes in the Sierra Nevada, suited to all levels of ability ranging from green (for beginners) to black (advanced). The resort is divided into five areas:
- Veleta. This is the central and typically more crowded section, beginning at the top of the gondolas and stretching to the summit at 3,300m. Most pistes are either green or blue, catering for beginners and those who prefer to take it easy.
- Valle de San Juan. This is largely made up of red runs and can be found to the far left of the resort (facing upwards). To get there you must take the Stadium Chairlift and bear right. Off-piste skiing here is excellent.
- Borreguiles. The home-run section of the resort, comprising all the space between the gondola stations and Pradollano. The area is made up of mainly blue and red pistes.
- Laguna. On the far right (facing upwards) and made up entirely of red and off-piste sections. Challenging and quite isolated in parts. Arguably where the best sking in Sierra Nevada is found, Laguna is brilliant for powder days!
- Loma de Dilar. Also on the right, but lower down than Laguna and includes the Sulayr Super Park. The pistes are either red or blue and to get there you must first get to the top of the Monachil Chairlift and then ski down.
Ski-hire in Sierra Nevada
Whether you’re visiting on a day trip or for the week, you’ll need to hire equipment if you don’t have your own. There are different deals available, depending the period of hire and standard of equipment required. Typically, ski-rental stores in Sierra Nevada offer 'gold', 'silver' and 'bronze' packages. You can be guaranteed of the quality in any case but 'gold' standard naturally offers the most advanced equipment. For the day, the typical rate for skis/snowboard with boots is between 18 and 25 euros.
Many ski-hire shops offer appropriate ski clothes and accessories, e.g. hat, gloves, for a reasonable fee should they be needed. You can find a list of recommended ski-hire stores on lovegranada.com.
Ski Schools in Sierra Nevada
The competition amongst ski schools in Sierra Nevada is tough; there are over 15 registered schools in total and an estimated 400 qualified skiing/snowboarding instructors working for them. So the odds of finding an instructor, even at short notice, are quite high.
Classes usually last for two hours and can be either one-on-one or group. As can be expected, 2-hour one-on-one classes are more expensive than group classes, costing anywhere between 80 and 100 euros (group class fees vary but generally about 20-30 euros less). You can find a list of Sierra Nevada Ski Schools on lovegranada.com.
Hotels in Sierra Nevada
Hotels are generally of a very high standard in Spain’s prime ski resort, and are nearly always fully booked so you must book well in advance if you are planning to stay for longer than a day. Rates vary according to the 'season status' (low, mid or high) but are typically very high and not budget-friendly.
When making your decision, look out for facilities such as ski storage, Jacuzzi & sauna (for those aches and pains), included breakfast and ‘ski-in’ access. If you'll need accommodation in the Sierra Nevada, here are some hotel ideas.
How to get to Sierra Nevada
From Granada to Sierra Nevada you’ll need to take the A-395 and then follow the signs. The 31km journey takes around 50 minutes.
The journey from Málaga to Sierra Nevada is longer, lasting just over 2 hours. You’ll need to take the A-92 to Granada and then resume directions from there.
Travelling by car is the easiest and – if you are a family – certainly the cheapest way to get to the Sierra Nevada. For the best deals we currently offer on car hire, head over to ESPACAR special offers page.
ALSA buses leave daily and regularly from Granada bus station (cost of return ticket: 9€) and only at 07.00 from Málaga bus station (cost of return ticket: 36€). But you better find updated information on their official site: alsa.es.
For more information, for example about lift opening times and cost of ski passes, visit the Sierra Nevada’s official webpage.