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sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder

Sierra Nevada Day Trip: General Info, Prices, Tips & Recommendations

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.

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Yours truly at The Sierra Nevada last December

General Info

 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.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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The Sierra Nevada, Andalucía

Getting There

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.

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With friends at the end of 2012-2013 season. Yes, we’re wearing onesies.

Prices

Parking

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.

Forfait/Subidones

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!

Ski-hire/clothes hire

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.

Ski School

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).

Shopping

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.

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Plaza Andalucia

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!

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Beginner Section

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.

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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.

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.

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That’s less than €7 right there… (Source: Trubble FlickrCC)

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.

Après Ski

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.

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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 icon smile Sierra Nevada Day Trip: General Info, Prices, Tips & Recommendations

Here’s last season’s official highlights video:

sierra nevada, spain, granada, snow, powder

Day 3 at The Sierra Nevada: Bluebird

img 0430 copy Day 3 at The Sierra Nevada: BluebirdFrankly, I’m ashamed to admit this outing marked only my third of the season. Perhaps if I was a student, or clever enough to forge one of these elusive student-status-corroborating matrículas like several of my friends, then I’d have gone up six or seven times by now. But I am neither of those things. So when I do go up I invariably end up having to shell out somewhere within the region of €60. And that’s without ski-hire. It ain’t cheap. But when snow and sun are in such abundance, as is the current case, skiing conditions are superlative in the most positive of senses.

Presently, The Sierra Nevada is enjoying its best spell in years, and last weekend, my trusty clan of skiadores and self set out to make the most of it. We took the early morning bus, aboard which there was none of the usual dosing and dim lighting – just people grinning from ear to ear and buzzing with uncontainable excitement.

The pistes couldn’t have looked any more inviting when we finally arrived. They were caked in the white stuff, gleaming under the cloudless sky. Curls of snow swept along the ridge of each mountain like silver linings, occasioning us to lick our lips in eager anticipation of what lay in wait.

img 0422 copy Day 3 at The Sierra Nevada: Bluebird

Anxious to get into the thick of it, we immediately headed leftward toward where we hoped would be a glut of vast, untracked powder fields. A second foray later in the day would prove that there were, but before we could reach the end of the annoyingly flat traverse that would take us there, our vehement spirits got the better of us. We ducked in and glided down a marginally mottled section of off-piste. Tracked or untracked, it was still a slice of hoary heaven.

More of the same ensued. It wasn’t long though, before we decided it was time for a spot of hiking. The fifteen-minute ascent aboard La Telecabina I not only serves as a means of transport but also as the perfect vantage point. Watching skiers and snowboarders alike hurl themselves down the off-piste sections to the right of the gondola, reachable only by foot, had wet, sorry, dowsed our appetites. We navigated a path and got to it. Twenty minutes and coughing fits later we had at last reached our zenith. We stood breathlessly on the same ridge that we had climbed on our last visit, staring into the pristine powder-bowl in the offing. I skulked across to steepest looking part, glancing over the edge every so often, and waited for friend, who had already plunged forth, to give his signal. He had been instructed to film me attempting to conquer a large boulder which had on the previous occasion defeated me. The signal came, and in I dropped, making a beeline for the rock. Don’t hold your breath. I’d love to be able to tell you that I span a perfect 540 with a flawless landing but, alas, I did not. Instead I landed awkwardly and performed another one of my textbook cartwheels. Defeated again.

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After lunch, I lost my friends, and, as I was to discover, my phone too, owing to one unzipped jacket pocket. There goes every contact ever made since moving to Spain. Oh well.

‘What better way to cheer myself up than going to the snow park for a couple of hours?’ I thought. ‘Perhaps there I’ll be able to make amends for the tumble taken off-piste earlier that morning’.

How erroneous of me. Not ten minutes after the commencement of my first run did I take a royally painful nosedive. I attempted to do something that I had no chance in hell of doing, basically. It involved a ‘box’ in the shape of a ‘c’, on a sideward incline, and I had soared towards it exhibiting all that sort of zest and pluckiness you’re supposed to when attempting something so dangerous, and leaped without hesitation…

Thwack! I was doomed from the moment I left the ground. Not even remotely close. I’d landed on the front edge of my board, leaning into the box – viz, I was done for. My board had slipped from under me, causing me to fly forward and smash my ribs onto the aluminum pipe that lined the box’s edge. I performed yet another textbook cartwheel, twice, and landed unceremoniously in a crumpled heap.“¿Estás bien tio?” a nearby voice called out. Winded and visibly wounded, all I could muster back was a croaky “Si. Gracias”. Clearly I wasn’t fine, but for the sake of avoiding further embarrassment, I quickly got to my feet, pretended to laugh and fled the scene. Seconds later, when out of sight, I sank to the ground and swore like a trooper.

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I left the park after that, feeling rather crestfallen and as though I should probably seek out a paramedic. I didn’t. Instead I soldiered on and ignored the pain. Stupid, I know, but these conditions were simply too good to pass up. I stuck to the easier-going pistes for the rest of the afternoon, while trying in vain to find my phone. Soon though, it was home time, but not before what has now become a après-ski ritual visit to 100 Montaditos. On Sundays, everything costs a euro, including beer. Suddenly my rib wasn’t hurting anymore, nor was I particularly bothered about my absent phone. It had been yet another epic day at the Sierra Nevada.

Day four hurry up already.

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Who else has been up to cash in on the perfect conditions we are currently having?

The Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain, winter, sierra nevada

La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada

Ahh yes. This is why I live here – The Alhambra: stunning, majestic and purely effortless on a winter’s day in the aftermath of a week of rain in the city/snow in the mountains. A.K.A. perfect photo-taking conditions. Last year we were cruelly deprived of such vistas due to a prolonged dearth of snow, so I jumped at the chance and took a detour on my way to work earlier this week to ensure that I wouldn’t rue a missed opportunity.

It normally takes around 15-20 minutes to climb the winding, cobbled path to El Mirador de San Nicolas, which provides a postcard-perfect view of the city’s moorish and prodigious palace, but it took me just under 10. There was no need to hurry– I just couldn’t wait to get up there and start clacking away!

Anyway, here you have it (or them, rather)…

img 0312 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0313 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0314 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0315 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0317 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0322 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada img 0323 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada

sierra nevada, spain, snow, powder

Day Two at The Sierra Nevada: KaPOW!

img 0279 Day Two at The Sierra Nevada: KaPOW!

The Sierra Nevada

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a starving vampire, stranded in a faraway place, void of all human life. You haven’t fed in months– a year even*. All you can think about is getting your fix, but it simply never comes. Nary a drop of blood has passed your lips, and you are growing weaker and more despondent by the day; you are essentially ready to give up the ghost. Then, out of nowhere, a mass deluge of the red stuff rains down on your sequestered castle, and you are suddenly spoilt rotten and overcome with euphoric joy. It’s literally a bloodbath. This, in essence, is what has just happened to me. No, I am not a vampire– though I do by my own admission possess a need almost as intrinsic as that of a vampire’s for blood: snow. Living in the south of Spain and all, this may come as a bit of a surprise to you. But, I’ll have you know that not one hour to the east there lies Europe’s most southerly ski resort. If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you may have already gathered as much– I do tend to go on about it a fair bit. Moreover, it won’t have escaped your notice that this post is in fact an account of my second outing into its hoary heights, therefore rendering the aforesaid analogy rather meaningless and inconsistent. However, that first foray, while undeniably enjoyable, lacked significantly in the very thing that makes the trip all worth the while: snow! img 0281 Day Two at The Sierra Nevada: KaPOW! There was some snow, but we were, disappointingly, for the most part dependent on the efficiency of the resort’s ever-droning snowmakers, whose job it is to shower its otherwise ice-swathed slopes with artificial sheets of the fine matter. This was more or less the précis of last season’s woeful showing too. So, last week, when my inbox pinged with the latest weather update and I saw this…

screen shot 2013 01 24 at 15 06 27 Day Two at The Sierra Nevada: KaPOW!

…I was, as you can probably imagine, giddier than a schoolgirl. A schoolgirl, if you’ll pardon the faux pas, on a cocktail of glue, helium, e and too much coke (of the cola variety of course). That, or keeping in line with the original analogy– a starving vampire knowingly on the cusp of a long overdue feeding frenzy. You choose. Either way, I was positively roused by what I had seen. Several misspelt and excited text messages later, and we had a date. We would venture forth on the Sunday, when there were, according to my trusty weather update, purportedly perfect conditions: masses of freshly fallen snow and bluebird skies. The drought looked to be finally over. Then, a profoundly fat spanner was flung into the works. Saturday had been so overcome with wind and snow that the mountain had been forced to close. This was a very unsettling development indeed. We ummed and ahhd at great length before concluding that we would still go– despite having lost our driver and there being simply no way of knowing for sure what the morning would bring. We clung in earnest to the hope that my weather update could be trusted.

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And still the snowmakers whir away…

Next morning we awoke at 06.30am to the sound of rain battering our bedroom windows. Not a good sign. We geared up, called a cab and raced down to the bus station with half an hour to spare– we didn’t want to be left ticketless with so much to lose. There was nobody there. This was also not a good sign, though the bus was still running, and after a spot of good foresight to call the resort’s automated phone line there was no indication that the resort remained closed. Still, anxiety overwhelmed us. Before long though, other similarly dubious-looking skiers and snowboarders slowly began to trickle in, and we were soon crammed into the back of a distinctly upbeat bus. Things were suddenly looking up. We arrived to most welcoming news– the mountain was indeed… open! Albeit not until 10am and half of the pistes were closed. This was a setback, but an understandable and ungrudgingly acceptable one considering the turn of the previous day’s events.

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Good morning!

As we waited inside a ski-hire shop, the sun abruptly broke through the dense clouds, and within minutes, we were staring at the powder-drenched mountain beneath a bold, blue sky. My weather update had proven its worth. The epicness of what lay in wait suddenly dawned on us. This was going to be something pretty special. After a warm-up run spent gliding down the Borreguiles and another all the way back to the underbelly, our exploratory spirits were spiraling out of control. We simply didn’t know where to look during our second ascent aboard la Telecabína; sheer, snow-caked cliff faces to our right, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t so much as draw a glance, were suddenly conceivable, and boulders smothered in untouched, icing-thick layers of snow seduced us to our left. We were basically looking at a new mountain, and anything seemed possible. img 0284 Day Two at The Sierra Nevada: KaPOW! I could regale you with the fine details of every run but that would be ever so self-indulgent of me, and committing to an awful lot more words. One run will suffice. It came after we had hiked tirelessly up and across the Villén ridge– we had seen various skiers and snowboarders hurtling themselves down the off-piste powder fields that lay yonder all afternoon, and had been feverishly trying to figure out the route up. Eventually we had it, and wasted no time as the looming clouds threatened to spoil proceedings. We picked our spot, and dropped, from an almost vertical starting block, into a barely tracked bowl big enough to weave out seven or maybe eight giant carves. I flew over one of those seductive boulders and met an acrobatic end as I performed two textbook cartwheels on my wild landing. But I was fine. I could have cartwheeled all the way to the bottom and come out unscathed; there was simply so much snow that injuring myself, had I wanted to, was a genuinely difficult thing to do.

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Hiking the Villén ridge

And so it went on. We hiked, carved, hopped, popped and wobbled for the rest of the afternoon, lost in the zone and at the mercy of our most harebrained reveries. And it was incredible. I kid you not, there might actually be a smile permanently stretched across my face.

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Picture perfect

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Standard chairlift posing

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WE LOVE POWDER!

*I’ve an idea that according to folkloric rules vampires shouldn’t be able to live longer than a couple of weeks without feeding but for the sake of an analogy…) Who else has been up to the Sierra Nevada recently? Or any other ski resort? Have you had your powder fill yet? Do tell!