I’ll be honest: ‘skiing’ and ‘Spain’ were two words I had never used in the same sentence prior to my coming here. One pertained to package holidays in the French Alps, the other to fancy football and summer breaks on the beach. Then, several weeks into my expat journey a friend said ‘Sierra Nevada’ and that all changed.
‘What? A ski resort in southern Spain? You are joking?’ I scoffed.
‘Nope’ replied friend. ‘Not joking. Why don’t you go and see for yourself?’
So I did. Three weeks later I was peering down the front face of the Sierra Nevada from its 3400m summit, strapped into my snowboard, ready to tear my way down to the bottom. Amazing, considering just a week before I had been sunbathing in 20°+ temperatures.
Enjoyable as it was, that particular occasion had been rather a last minute and hastily organised excursion; had I not let blind excitement get in the way of better judgment I might have saved a few pennies. Truth is, a day in the Sierra is a costly one, whether you have your own equipment or not, and if you’re in Spain for a quick getaway, a whole year or indefinitely, chances are you’ll be here on a budget.
So after two years’ experience as a Sierra Nevada regular, I’ve finally cobbled together a breakdown of general info, prices, tips and recommendations, so that you can find all the information you need in one frank and friendly place.
Let’s get started.
Yours truly at The Sierra Nevada last December
A few facts
- The Sierra Nevada ski resort is constructed on the north side of Veleta, the third highest peak in Spain.
- It is the most southerly ski resort in Europe and the highest in Spain.
- The resort hosted the 1996 Alpine World Ski Championships and continues to host top-level races at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.
- A season typically lasts from late November until early May.
- The resort is situated 27km away from Granada and 100km away from the Costa Tropical, meaning it is possible to ski and sunbathe on the beach on the same day.
- The lowest point of the resort is 2100m and the highest 3,398m above sea level.
- The resort is run by a private-public enterprise called Cetursa Sierra Nevada, S.A.
- The resort spans 100km of alpine skiing runs.
- There are 115 runs in total: 50 red; 40 blue; 16 green and 9 black.
- There are 2 cable cars, both of which link Pradollano to the mid-station Borreguiles, 17 chairlifts, 2 T-bar lifts and 2 magic carpets.
- There is one superpark and a halfpipe.
The Sierra Nevada, Andalucía
There are two ways of getting to the Sierra Nevada: by car or by bus. Let’s start with the latter. Buses leave from Granada bus station for the Sierra Nevada every day. The journey takes around 50 minutes and the current timetable is as follows:
Granada – Sierra Nevada
Mon – Fri: 08.00 10.00 —— 17.00
Sat – Sun: 08.00 10.00 15.00 17.00
Sierra Nevada – Granada
Mon – Fri: 09.00 —– 16.00 18.30
Sat – Sun: 09.00 13.00 16.00 18.30
The price of a single ticket is €5, and a return €9. Tickets can either be booked in advance on alsa.es or paid for on the day, providing you arrive with plenty of time to spare. Often the queue for tickets is enormous in the half hour leading up to the scheduled departure time, particularly for the 8am bus. The last thing you want is to be slithering along at a snail’s pace while the minutes on the clock tick past. Believe me, it is an awful feeling, especially when you miss it.
If, on the other hand, you or a member of your gang owns a car, then this is a much better option. Find your way out of Granada by heading towards Calle Neptuno or, if this is too hard to find, ask a local to point you in the direction of Mae West, a nightclub whose whereabouts is known to virtually everybody. Once here, take the third exit on the roundabout so that you join the A-395 motorway, where you should keep right to ensure you are heading in the right direction (the left lane will bring you back into Granada). Eventually, you’ll begin the steep climb up to the resort, where – at least towards the top – you’ll doubtless encounter a fair bit of traffic. Carry on until you reach Pradollano, where you will be guided to the car park.
Alternatively, if you neither own a car nor want to take the bus, it might be worth considering sites like blablacar.es or amovens.es, where rides are sometimes posted by drivers looking to make a saving on petrol, the total cost of which (for a return journey) tends to be around €15. Personally, I think that hiring a car would only be worthwhile if staying the night; picking it up in the morning before leaving is a hassle and it is easily the most expensive means of transport.
With friends at the end of 2012-2013 season. Yes, we’re wearing onesies.
The cost of parking your vehicle depends on what ‘season’ the resort is in. During low season, the fee is €16 for anything between 10 and 24 hours, €18 for the same during mid season and €20 during high season. If you plan to spend less than 10 hours at the resort, click here for a list of prices by the hour.
Occasionally, during the week, there are free parking spaces further up the mountain (instead of following the signs into the car park, turn left and carry on climbing), though the chance of finding one is never guaranteed.
As with the parking fees, the cost of a lift ticket or – as it is translated to in Spanish – un forfait, varies according to the season. All public holidays and weekends except the opening weekend (promotion prices) and during April (low season/spring prices) are categorised as high season. All weekdays except during mid December and mid January (promotion prices) are categorised as low season. The standard cost of one forfait is €45 during high season and €43 during low season, which seems a bit pointless but there you go. Click here for more details regarding prices of forfaits.
Needless to say then, the cost of a lift ticket is ludicrously expensive. If you are a student, however, you’re in luck. Just sign up to Sierra Nevada’s official web page, create a profile and attach your matrícula, which you should have received when you first enrolled at Granada University. Doing this will qualify you for a subidon, which gets you five full days for only €145 – a deal not to be missed!
And still the snowmakers whir away…
Unsurprisingly, there is an abundance of ski hire shops in the Sierra Nevada and deciding which to choose is an unwanted headache (see below for my recommendation). The cost of hiring is pretty similar across the board: for skis (with poles)/a snowboard and boots, expect to pay anywhere between €15 and €40, depending on the level of quality you opt for. Waterproof trousers can also be hired from certain places, usually for around €10-15. I’ve never come across jackets for hire, but if you don’t have a proper skiing jacket then a decent anorak with plenty of layers underneath ought to do the trick.
If you’d rather do business before arriving, there’s always the option of hiring online before you go. In theory, this should mean that you’ll beat the queues and have your equipment ready and waiting to be used.
There are a variety of ski schools in the Sierra Nevada, all of which offer a variety of options to choose from. Each school caters for all learners, from beginners right through to advanced. In the morning classes generally cost €40-45, as this is peak time, though during the afternoon some schools drop their prices to €25-30. These rates are for one-on-one classes – group rates are much lower.
Some schools even offer a class + ski-hire saver deal, which is ideal if you’ve never skied or snowboarded before. Click here for more details (unfortunately there is no English translation of this page).
All shops in ski resorts routinely charge an unfathomable amount for just about anything they have on sale, and the Sierra Nevada, sadly, is no exception. Don’t be surprised to find Mars bars priced at €2 or multipacks of brioche for €3.50 in supermarkets. Ready made sandwiches/baguettes are cheaper than eating at a restaurant but are still expensive at about €4-5.
Although it is dear everywhere, I’d generally advise against buying ski/snowboarding equipment in Pradollano, as there will most likely be something just as good for a better price online or in Granada, such as the good people at Afterbang.
Tips & Recommendations
Best runs for beginners, intermediate and experts
For obvious reasons, complete beginners are best sticking to the three beginner slopes directly in front of the Borreguiles mid-station. However these particular slopes quickly become clogged with zig-zagging ski schools and reckless I’ll-just-teach-myself types so I’d advise more advanced skiers/boarders to steer clear. Once you’ve got the hang of linking your turns, I’d recommend that you move on to a gentle blue run; el Cecilio off to the right, starting at the top of the Monachil chair would be ideal. It isn’t too long and brings you back to the mid-station, though be careful that you don’t accidentally take the Manazanilla red that runs parallel to it!
Generally speaking, the Sierra Nevada is perfect for intermediates. The mountain isn’t technical, and the wide-open nature of almost all of its runs allows for a lot of freedom, so most intermediates should be comfortable on any red and one or two of the blacks. The steeper reds are off to the left, coming own the Veleta ridge and a good black to get you started would be either la visera or el trampoline, both short, quick and accessed via the Emilio Reyes chair.
View from la vuelta a zahareña
For the more advanced skier/boarder, there are several pistes worth checking out. My personal favourite is the long, winding agila (meaning ‘eel’) further down the left side of the mountain. This run necessitates the ability to make sharp turns at speed and chucks up a surprise every now and then. Moreover, it’s often very quiet since you have to traverse along the diagonal cauchiles (accessed via the Stadium chair) to get there. We snowboarders do not like doing this, but believe me, in this case it is worth it.
Elsewhere, a clutch of steep, rapid blacks can be found on the right side of the mountain, all of which come to a head at the lower Pradollano station. On a fresh powder day, there isn’t anywhere better to dig out massive carves, especially in the bowl beneath the blue villén. The far right side of Laguna also has some wide, often untracked pistes that are perfect for powder days, cartujo and monaguillo for example.
Hiking the ? ridge
Buying from the street vendors
As soon as you arrive, you will surely notice the profusion of street vendors poking about the place. If you come by bus there will be one waiting when you step off it. Others lurk within the village centre. Generally, these guys do not try to rip you off; they know that you know (and if you don’t know then now you do) that their range of products are of a generally lower quality, so you will pay a fair price (which of course can be negotiated) for what you buy. I’ve friends who’ve bought gloves and sunglasses from these guys and they’ve served their purpose just fine, but they don’t expect them to last forever!
Eating and drinking
If you want to save money, don’t eat in restaurants. It’s as simple as that really. The cost of a burger and fries, for example, is usually in the region of €6 or €7. Taking your own sandwiches is a far more sensible idea and – if you want to get your money’s worth for the day – this also cuts down on lunchtime, as service at restaurants is often slow due to how busy it gets. I often take a bag and use one of the lockers found at the left hand side of the Borreguiles mid-station to store it in. That way, you can just ski down, grab your lunch, eat outside in the sun and rush off again. And it only costs €1 to use.
If you do want to push the boat out though, menus del día are perhaps the best way to go. Expect to pay around €9 or €10 for this at most restaurants, but this does include a starter, mains and either coffee or dessert.
At the end of the day, it’s always nice to kick back with a few beers and tapas somewhere. To keep costs down, I’d recommend 100 Montaditos, found on Plaza de Pradollano. The famously cut-rate franchise actually sticks to its normal prices, so big jarras of Cruz Campo set you back just €1.60 and any of their mouthwatering montaditos just as much if not less. Actually, on a Sunday everything – including the beer – sells for €1. Ordinarily I don’t go for Cruz Campo but at that price you can’t argue.
Ski-hire and Ski Schools
Personally, I’ve never had to hire equipment but friends of mine often use Intersport Riosport (a large, European based company) that offers fair prices for quality equipment. You can find it on Plaza Andalucía.
If you’re looking for native English-speaking instructors to teach you or your family/friends, I’d absolutely recommend The British Ski Centre, set up and co-run by two fully-qualified Brits who have more than fifteen years’ experience instructing in the Sierra Nevada. Click here to find out more about them.
Unless you’ve booked accommodation for the weekend, you are unlikely to properly experience Sierra Nevada’s après ski culture. There are of course various, lively bars to go to straight after the skiing is done for the day, El Golpe or Jaleo for example. But the real nightlife gets going later on at places like Mango and Sticky Fingers, where chupítos are aplenty, or Chimenea and Chicle, where you can use up whatever remaining energy you have left by dancing until 4 or 5 in the morning.
Sierra Nevada Sunset
As for now, the winter has most definitely arrived here in Granada, meaning that – with a bit of luck – some snow won’t be too far behind either. There is already a base level and those ever-reliable snowmakers are working hard to keep the pistes fresh, but ultimately there is a massive dearth of snow at the moment. Skis crossed that changes soon!
Have you been to the Sierra Nevada recently? Do you have any more tips and recommendations? Please leave a comment
Here’s last season’s official highlights video: