Spain is not world renowned for its ski resorts but this is the second most mountainous country in Europe, after Switzerland, with more than 20 ski-ing areas. The Spanish ski centres may not offer the extensive range of lifts and pistes to be found in the Alps but many international skiers opt for a ski-ing holiday in Spain for the very reason that they can expect something a bit different from the standard package deals on offer in the more popular resorts.
Many of the ski resorts here are still relatively unspoilt and attract a largely Spanish clientele. There are many challenging runs to be found and the off-piste entertainment is typical of Spain - relaxed, friendly and cheap. The main ski-ing areas are in the Pyrenees, in the north of the country, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the south. But you can also ski in the mountains immediately north of Madrid and to the north west of the coastal city of Valencia.
The Sierra Nevada resort is the only one with an established international reputation. It's Europe's most southerly ski-ing area with peaks rising to 11,000 feet which are covered with snow for most of the year. The snowy mountains can be seen from the beachside resorts of the Costa del Sol - if you're holidaying between December and April you can ski in the morning and sunbathe by the Mediterranean in the afternoon. The resort is just half an hour's drive from the historic city of Granada, home to the beautiful Moorish palace of Alhambra which is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Spain. Malaga's international airport is two and a half hours drive to the west.
The resort, which hosted the 1996 World Championships, is popular with Spanish and international skiers alike and boasts a good range of hotel and self-catering accommodation, bars, restaurants, health and leisure facilities.
One of the biggest and best resorts in northern Spain is Baqueira-Beret in the beautiful Vall d'Aran area of the north eastern Pyrenees (west of the independent state of Andorra). Wealthy Spaniards from Madrid and Barcelona (including the Spanish royal family) spend long weekends enjoying the challenging slopes, gorgeous scenery and excellent après-ski to be found here. The resort provides good ski-ing for all abilities - there are five tough blacks among the extensive runs, the most infamous being the "Scornacrabes" which translates, somewhat ominously, as "the place where the goats die!"
Other Spanish Pyrenean resorts include Vielha, Salardu, Candanchu, Cerler, Formigal, Panticosa and La Molina. These are quiet resorts by Alpine standards with a limited number of runs and low-key nightlife. But there are many seasoned skiers from as far afield as the USA who come to these resorts because they offer good ski-ing on beautiful mountain slopes which are uncrowded and uncommercialised. Candanchu is a particular favourite with experienced skiers - the apres ski may not leave you reeling but some of the black runs certainly will. More than 30% of the pistes here are for experienced skiers and the off piste ski-ing rivals that of the Alps.
Masella, in the eastern Pyrenees north of Barcelona, is a popular resort for Spanish youngsters, especially school parties. So steer clear if you don't fancy being over-run by ski classes of teenagers by day and blasted by late night clubs geared to the under-18s by night.
Valdelinares is a small resort in a beautiful mountainous region to the north west of Valencia. It's not the place for expert skiers and there are no hotels and night time haunts within miles of the ski slopes. But it's good for beginners and this is a really lovely region to explore with gorgeous scenery, delightful ancient villages and superb restaurants specialising in delicious local cuisine.