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Andorra Essentials

Andorra Essentials

Features
By Neil Stebbins
posted: 03/10/2003

GETTING THERE Fly to Toulouse, France, or Barcelona, Spain, and rent a car for the three-hour drive or take a bus. There are no trains.
WHEN TO GO Avoid high season, when Andorra can be crowded: Dec. 6-8, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, Feb. 2-March 3 and March 23-April 1.
LIFT TICKETS The Ski Andorra pass is good for five days out of six at all Andorra ski areas. In high season, it's about $120 for adults, $100 for kids. In low season, it's $105 and $85. Kids younger than 6 and seniors older than 70 ski free. Seniors 65-70 get one-day passes for about $12.
INFORMATION Predictably, there is little official help for tourists from a country this small. You can start with: ski-europe.com; goski.com/andorra; orturisme.ad/angles.

Soldeu/El Tarter
The best lift system in the Pyrenees serves good off-piste skiing. There's terrain for all levels, including some of Andorra's steepest, and great views. Soldeu is called "Ibiza on Ice" for its party reputation. It opened in 1964 and was linked to El Tarter in 1981. The skiable area is huge. You can ski all the way to Pas de la Casa on the French border. Bowls, gullies, trees, cruisers, steeps and good snow-Soldeu/El Tarter has it all. The ski school is considered the best in Andorra, with plenty of English-speaking instructors who may be encouraged to function as your tour guide. Ask about the upscale restaurant Snails & Quails if you need a break from hotel fare.
Tips Rent a locker at the gondola station, and get to know your ski instructor. The locker is a welcome convenience, and your instructor may be able to get you discounts on ski-related purchases. Also, try to stay in a hotel close to the gondola station.
Stats Base elevation, 5,215 feet; vertical drop: 2,592 feet; lifts: 28; trails: 56 miles; annual snowfall: 79 inches; catskiing.

Pal/Arinsal
Pal/Arinsal attracts the most foreigners, partly because it is only five miles from Andorra La Vella-Andorra's capital city and largest shopping center. If you want English-speaking companions or enjoy shopping and partying as much as skiing, it's a good choice. Pal/Arinsal's two resorts were connected by cable cars in 2000. Arinsal is the older of the two, dating back to 1972. Pal, which is publicly owned, opened a decade later. With a variety of terrain and more than 3,000 feet of vertical, Pal/Arinsal is understandably popular-and can be crowded. Arinsal offers a great top-to-bottom beginner's run-quite an adventure for first-timers and novices.
Tips You might be surprised to discover that Andorran nightlife rocks long and hard into the early hours. Pubs to crawl to at Pal/Arinsal include The Surf, Quo Vadis, El Cau, Boro Calista and the Rocky Mountain Bar. However, since many of the hotels are family-operated, returning home very late and very drunk with a half-dozen of your new best friends may not endear you to your hosts. Drinks are cheap and pours are strong, so be forewarned: You will be tempted.
Stats Base elevation, 5,098 feet; vertical drop: 3,322 feet; lifts: 30; trails: 39 miles; annual snowfall:90 inches.

Ordino/Arcalà­s
Small, wild and less crowded, Arcalà­s often has the most snow and best skiing. Good tree and chute skiing abounds. You'll get less sun, but that keeps the snow better longer. Arcalà­s is located at the head of the Ordino valley, set in two bowls of an ancient glacier. As Andorra's northernmost resort, it was once on the smugglers' route to France. For meeting locals, this is by far the best resort: small and still underdeveloped. Expect to rack up a ton of vertical on the high-speed quad. And because it is comparatively obscure, it offers good snow when the rest of Andorra is tracked out.
Tips To make the most of the off-piste skiing, hire a guide. We've heard good reports about an Austrian who can be found through the Hotel Residencia l'Aldosa.
Stats Base elevation, 5,,917 feet; vertical drop: 2,074 feet; lifts: 13; trails: 16 miles; annual snowfall: 105 inches.

Pas de la Casa/Grau Roig
This is a large resort with panoramic views and modern lifts. The skiing is good, if not overly challenging. Pas de la Casa is Andorra's oldest resort, dating to 1957. In 1968, it was linked to nearby Grau Roig-six miles away by road. Recently, it was also linked with the massive Soldeu/El Tarter complex, making it part of one of the largest interconnected ski regions in Europe. Statistically, Pas/Grau Roig is the Pyrenees' sunniest and snowiest resort.
Tips If you don't have to be up early to ski, discover what "Flugals" are at the Underground bar. Andorran nightlife starts around 10 p.m. and wobbles on till 3 or 4 a.m. But resist the temptation to call home to tell everyone what a good time you're having: Stratospheric hotel phone bills are legendary in Andorra.
Stats Base elevation: 6,252 feet; vertical drop: 1,800 feet; lifts: 30; trails: 62 miles; annual snowfall: 110 inches.

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