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Skiing in the Pyrenees

Baqueira Beret

A SPANISH RESORT THAT'S GOT IT ALL
With its well-groomed pistes, short queues and fast new lifts, Baqueira has managed to keep its promise. Nestling in the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees, Spanish skiers give Baqueira, one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, the respect it deserves as the ‘Courchevel’ of the Pyrenees. The resort overlooks the stunning Aran, Pallars and Sobira valleys, offering great skiing in a protected environment.
Baqueira is a good-sized resort, with 120 kilometres of pistes. Despite the disastrous Spanish economy, it continues to grow as if the world is its oyster, and its reputation is steadily edging closer to that of its better-known cousins. We give it top marks for everything except… the pass. A resort of this standing should have adopted a ‘hands free’ pass by now, rather than the annoying punching mechanism...when it isn’t the even more outmoded pass inspection system! And that’s without taking into account the high pass prices that range between €30 and €45 a day, depending on the time of year! The favourite ski resort of the King of Spain and the Beckhams doesn’t come cheap, that’s for sure!
The 3 Baqueira sectors
Baqueira Beret is divided into three distinct areas: Baqueira, Beret and Bonaigua. The Baqueira sector is the best known and the most accessible, and mainly caters for advanced skiers. The slopes are steeper and the runs are largely red and black, including the famous Manaud, reputed throughout Spain as the run for the brave. The new Jorge Jordana chairlift (named after the resort’s founder) makes it easy to get to the starting point of the fantastic Escornacrabes trail. Once a black piste, it is now listed as a ski touring trail as it was probably too difficult to safeguard properly in the long term. The most difficult bit is at the start as you have to ride down a very steep corridor, which is pretty scary for inexperienced skiers. The rest of the trail will take you through easier, pine-covered terrain, ending in the Orri sector at 1850m in altitude. This off-piste trail is very well-known to Spanish skiers who, through hearsay, embellishment and even exaggeration, have turned it into one of the cult freeride runs. Check out Escornacrabes on Google and you’ll see what you’re in for on dozens of videos posted on the net!
The Bonaigua and Beret areas are recommended for beginners who can enjoy the snow in a more suitable and reassuring environment. Bonaigua and Beret also have a number of more challenging ski touring trails: the Tuc de Beret, the Tuc de Saumet and the Tuc de la Llanca offer some exceptional runs, as do the gentle Bonaigua valleys and the Dossau forest around Mongarri. The small valleys and the Dossau forest are relatively easy, while the other trails require a good, not to say a very good level of expertise and solid off-piste experience: it goes without saying that a shovel, probe and beacon are essential gear.
A quick look back to the past
The prestigious Spanish resort is a youngster among the better-known European resorts. Its history began with the inauguration of the first Baqueira/Beret chairlift on 6 December 1964. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the resort really took off though with the addition of several chairlifts and an extension to the area around Argull, where there’s the best snow coverage as it’s entirely just pasture land.
Like most European resorts, Baqueira brought in some snow guns in the 1990s, and Beret followed suit in 1997. Lots of new high speed chair lifts were then added, considerably increasing the number of skiers that could be transported hourly. Magic carpets, much loved by beginners, have also been installed and a beginners’ area has been built. All the old facilities have been pulled down, the man-made snow system has been updated and there’s a new fleet of groomers. More investments have been made for the 2010/11 season: the new Jorge Jordana high-speed, 6-person chairlift links the Orri area with Cap de Baqueira at the highest point of the Baqueira area. This chairlift also links the cult Manaud and Escornacrabes pistes, and it’s also taken the pressure off the Mirador and Pla de Baqueira chairlift, which used to be a queuing nightmare. The return trip from Beret to Baqueira 1800 has also been radically improved by this lift. In addition, the Jorge Jordana chairlift now enables skiers to get to the north face of the massif in just one go, offering excellent freeride opportunities.
Four new runs are now in place: three red and one black: Pala del Teso.
We were very impressed by the extension to the Orri car park which now has 600 places, solving all the parking problems in one fowl swoop, which is often a real downer at ski resorts when it gets busy. The ‘little train’ will take you quickly and effortlessly to the foot of the runs. According to the figures given by the Tourist Information Centre, total investment amounted to 11 million euros!
Baqueira Beret is riding the top of the wave and, thanks to its efforts, is now one of the top Spanish ski areas.
Baqueira in numbers
120 kms of pistes spread over 78 pistes: 6 green, 36 blue, 29 red and 7 black
7 km of cross country ski trails, a snowpark and a slalom stadium
33 ski lifts: 1 gondola lift, 20 chair lifts (9 high speed) and 7 magic carpets. Flow: 57983 skiers/hour
Altitude between 1500 and 2510 metres
Size of the ski area: 1922 hectares
546 snow guns
5 equipment hire shops
15 on-piste cafeterias and restaurants
4 children’s snow gardens
2 medical assistance points on the pistes
400 ski instructors
For more information about the resort, contact
bordeaux@baqueira.es
or Baqueira Central reservations: 0034 902 415 415
viajes@baqueira.es

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Baqueira Beret, check out the offers on MediaHols.com.

For a more comprehensive overview of Pyrenean resorts, check out Winter-Sports.com where you’ll find articles on Andorra, Gavarnie, Luz Ardiden, Cauterets, and Grand Tourmalet.
Photos: N. Cuche et E. Beallet
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