Arinsal ski resort
Arinsal has long been one of the most popular ski destinations in Andorra. Originally known back in the 1980s as a rather down-market duty free party town, its image has been gradually evolving over the past few decades.
Some major changes that have contributed to this include the introduction of the ski resort collective, Vallnord, with the ski area of Pal (which Arinsal is physically linked to by lifts and pistes) and the principality’s snowiest destination, Ordino-Arcalis. Additionally, dramatic improvements have been made on Arinsal’s own slopes, with fast new comfortable lifts being installed, and the introduction of extensive snow making equipment. The result is that Arinsal can now compete as a resort for serious skiers – not just serious drinkers.
Of course that doesn’t mean the famous après-ski nightlife has diminished. Down in the village, beautified with natural local stone and solid wood, two dozen bars keep the party thumping into the early hours, a lively ambiance that’s enjoyed by friendly locals and visiting skiers alike.
Arinsal is part of the Vallnord ski resort, which takes up much of the northern half of the small principality of Andorra. Andorra is sandwiched between Spain to the west and France to the east, in the Pyrenees mountains, and is about 160km (100 miles) north of the Mediterranean Sea.
On the slopes
Arinsal has a reputation for offering family-friendly skiing on wide, sunny slopes. This once served as a deterrent for more advanced skiers, but thanks to the relatively new gondola connection to the more challenging slopes of neighbouring Pal, plus a second gondola from the village to the central ski area, the choice of terrain has greatly increased – maximising the resort’s appeal.
Beginners normally start off in the Prat de la Coma sector, also suitable for intermediates with runs like La Solana, one of the longest in the principality at 6km (nearly 4 miles). But intermediates will most enjoy the slopes of Pal, particularly its contrasting tree-lined runs.
Experts, meanwhile, have a more limited choice; but the La Devesa black directly above Cota is reputed to be the steepest in Andorra; and there is a second black, La Comellada, on the Pal side. Four International Ski Federation-approved slalom slopes can also be found around Arinsal.
In recent seasons, Arinsal has made a major effort in developing freestyle facilities, creating ‘freestyle start’ areas in both Arinsal and Pal where first-timers can try freeriding. There are also extensive terrain parks and pipes, rated as some of the best in southern Europe.
Holders of the local Vallnord lift ticket are entitled to ski at Ordino-Arcalis, which has a reputation for steeper runs and off-piste terrain – a 15-minute helicopter transfer service is available to this area. The Ski Andorra ticket also covers the principality’s other resort, Grandvalira, with skiing at Soldeu and Pas de la Casa about half an hour away.
The ski season in Arinsal runs from the end of November until late April.