I fell in love with Baqueira Beret before I had even set a single ski on one of it is Pyrenean pistes. I love to ski, and have done since childhood, but I’ve never much liked the idea of skiing. In June or July, the memories I carry are of the aggravation of putting on boots, of carrying children’s skis uphill, of burning quads and sore calves.
And so on the first morning of skiing in Baqueira, in the Calafate Ski Center at the Tanua 1,700 station in February 2014 I waited for my boots and wondered whether the Tenerife sunshine might not have been have been a better idea. Until the ski shop guy came out from behind the counter with my boots and helped me put them on. In 20 odd years of skiing, mostly in France where – and apologies for the massive generalization – every ski shop guy and lift attendant is just a bit too cool for school – nobody had ever done that. In Calafate, they have done it whenever they have time. And they help in the evening.
The experience is replicated throughout the entire ski experience. The lift attendants always stop the chairs just before they smash you in the back of the knee. The folk zapping your pass always have a ‘bon día’ or ‘feliz navidad’ for everyone. The waiters are friendly, patient with our halting Spanish, persistent with their own few words of English. The people in Baqueira are comfortably the friendliest and most accommodating I’ve ever come across on and off the slopes.
And so we’ve just completed our third family ski trip in Baqueira and are already planning the next one.
Of course all the friendly waiters and guides on the mountain aren’t going to be a lot of use if the skiing is terrible, but the skiing in Baqueira is fantastic (and in these snow-starved times, fairly reliable). And the final reason I’ll need a lot of convincing ever to go anywhere else again is that you can buy a café con leche or a beer – even a three course meal – on the piste or in the resort without feeling like you’re being mugged
Baqueira is widely regarded as Spain’s best ski resort. Recommendations came thick and fast: from colleagues and friends, the Daily Telegraph (Is This the World’s Best Ski Resort?) and even the proprietor of Suffolk Spanish food specialist Emmett’s. It is the resort of choice of Spanish royalty, and if it’s good enough for the old King, well…
I’m not qualified to determine whether this is the world’s best ski resort or even the best in the Spanish Pyrenees, having been to too few others, but it is wonderful.
Baqueira sits in the beautiful and distinctive Val D’Aran, perched on the north-western edge of the autonomous region of Catalonia. It provides 153 km of skiing across three distinct sectors – Baqueira, Beret and Bonaigua – each of which caters to skiers of all levels of expertise.
As I like to use my knees when doing things other than skiing, I’m not a great off-pister nor do I seek out demanding black runs (one per year maximum) or mogul fields. Baqueira has all of this, but is probably better known for its wide range of speedy blues and testing reds, and provides a great family skiing environment.
The moment my love for Baqueira was confirmed was my first experience on Muntanyo a thrilling isolated red run in the Bonaigua sector that combines the thrill of speed through twisting canyon-like segments with some more demanding steeper elements. It is my favourite run anywhere in the world, with spectacular views of the Pyrenees from the middle.
This year’s trip was notable for the fact that the resort has managed to keep 130km of its pistes not only but in fantastic condition, despite the fact there has been no fresh snow since the end of November. “Snow management here is second to none,” said one veteran British instructor.
Indeed. The Argulls pass that links Baqueira with Bonaigua has been kept open only by the resort shifting tons and tons of snow on to it over recent weeks. On Wednesday afternoon, skiing the excellent black Luis Aras run we skied past a guide skiing with a bucket who was picking up stones from the piste. That’s what it takes to keep a run open during a snow drought, and so that’s what Baqueira does. It’s bloody impressive.
All three of our trips have been organized with Ski Inspired, a UK operation led by Tim Eyte, a long time Baqueira enthusiast who lives in the Val D’Aran with his instructor-wife Annette and their two boys. Ski Inspired runs the Chalet Eira at the Tanua 1700m station which offers catered chalet accommodation (with great food) as well as apartments (where we usually stay) and local hotels including the Tuc Blanc.
The Eira and its apartment at Tanau has the huge advantage of being perched by a lift (15 metres from Calafate) that climbs to the central Baqueira 1800 station and is also directly accessible from the slopes, taking all the pain out of skiing. Ski Inspired will organize discounted lift passes and ski hire from Calafate.
In addition Tim also runs the BB Ski School, which provides instruction in both English and Spanish, as well as daily guiding around the resort. We couldn’t recommend Ski Inspired and the BB Ski School more highly.