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Arinsal trip - Jan 2018

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
With the missus' 40th looming and her preferring something special (i.e. a snow holiday) and not a party in the UK, we decided to book something for the new year, minus the kids, after a 5-year break from snow trips.

We were nearly booked to go to Tignes on NYE but despite the amazing conditions, a crippling credit card bill didn't feel a great way to see in 2018 so we opted for a 5 night trip to Arinsal, flying from Stansted on the 2nd. Booked through Neilson, we opted to stay at the Hotel Montane in Arinsal, literally a stones throw from the main gondola up to the ski station. Trip was £330 each for flights (Jet2 charter, transfer and the HB accommodation), so pretty good value I thought. We couldn’t get our equipment on the flight due to allocation being full - although the flight wasn’t actually full - so we decided to rent in resort; €50 each for a superior snowboard, we took our own boots in the generous 22kg hold luggage.

Flight was fine, despite it leaving 40 mins late due to a technical error with ground staff at the airport. Plane was a 737-800, plenty big enough, very comfy and enough room for a 6' 3" guy such as myself. We flew to Lleida-Aguaire, a provincial airport that just deals with charter flights for Neilson and Thomas Cook, plus some freight into Cataluyna. The passport control was woeful – one lady in a hut seeing through our flight and I think a Manchester flight that had arrived earlier too. That took a good 60 mins so pushed us back to leaving the airport at gone 7pm.

The transfer to resort was over 3hrs with a 30 minute stop halfway, but the rep kept us informed of upcoming distances and time, and when we’d be getting to the drop offs in resorts. They also took orders for things like ski lockers, additional equipment (etc), and answered any questions we had.

Arrived at the hotel late (10:30pm I think) so well past the dinner service, but got to the room to find a lovely setup of some local produces – meats, cheese, bread, pickles – and this kept us going. We hit the pub for a few beers and return, suitably plastered, at 3am!! This was going to bite me I was sure of that….

The main gondola never seems busy – we only had to queue on the last day, Kings Day, which is a busy public holiday apparently - and it takes you from 1400m to 1900m in a few minutes. Great views along the valley and over the town. With a first day hangover I was glad for the peace!

The ski station was compact but ended up being a perfect place to store the kit in a locker in Pic Negre ski shop. I think I remember paying something like €30 for this. Just store a pair of trainers and you can de-kit and just head straight for après at the end of the day. There are a few hire shops, lift pass office, eateries, locker area and toilets plus a sweet shop for the kids. There’s also the Derby Bar up there and Refugi restaurant just across the slope, which we ate at a few times and was good value.

The Arinsal lifts are fast chairs, although the main 6-man was the only one open to serve the upper area, probably because crowds weren’t busy and winds were strong on the first day (you couldn’t get to the top cable cable car). The smaller, slower chairlift for the green run, which is perfect for beginners, takes you half way up and there’s a twin magic carpet for the nursery slopes. From the top of the 6-main chair you can ski down a little, get another chairlift up to the top of Pic Negre (the mountain) and then you have access to blues, reds, blacks and the Arinsal>Pal cable car link, which is pretty swift and open opens up a further area of more tree-lined runs. These are great for when the weather closes in but we had bluebird condition for 3 days, with temperatures above 10˚C…. it was sweltering at times!

The Arinsal area is limited, lets face it. It’s something like 40km with only one run that gives access down to the resort, albeit at the upper end of the town but with the fast Josep Serra chairlift back up to the ski station. This is a wiggly blue run down through a series of switchbacks that’s fun and never seemed crowded. The blue runs down from the top are wide and you can see why this resort is so popular with beginners as we’d find out on day 3…

We’d not snowboarded for a few years but with a freeze/thaw happening that saw a lot of ice (with no new snow cover), the missus suffered a dip in confidence after a big fall and I had an ongoing foot problem that made boarding near impossible. So after a few beers in El Cabin (50yds uphill from Hotel Montane, very relaxed and €3 for a pint of beer) we cooked up the plan to ditch the boards and rent skis, poles and boots… a masterstoke is turned out to be!

The magic carpets on the nursery slopes are perfect for learning, although the covered lift was boiling in the morning sun. After doing our best bambi on ice impressions and a few snowploughs completed, we conceded that we needed a lesson; €90 gets you a 2hr peak time lesson (it’s €75 before 10am and after 3pm) and our instructor, a wonderful lady called Magadelena, had us turning within the hour and after two, we were ready for the green run. We spent the rest of the day doing this, beaming with delight at how enjoyable skiing is. We’re both converted, although I won’t be ditching the board when there’s a powder day!

Stupidly, we’d not simply swapped boards for skis at the shop (I rented us a set of boots, poles and skis at €24 each for the day) but on the last day the shop just agreed to let us keep the skis at no extra cost, since we'd booked boards for the duration of the stay. Foot pain gone and confidence high for both of us, we spent the day zipping down the mountain and when we finally got some fresh snow at 3pm, I thought it rude not to head to the top and do the full hill… magical doesn’t describe it, I felt like Franz Klammer! We’re already planning the next trip!

The journey home was a pain, being a 5am transfer and with delays at the airport and a breakdown on the M11, but that didn’t quench our thirst for more, especially Andorra which proved to be everything people had said it is; friendly, relatively cheap, good slopes and a beautiful country.

Bad points? I can think of very few.

The après in town is fairly central so if you’re either end of the resort you have an uphill walk at some point.

The food in the cafeteria at the ski station was poor; the chips had been fried to an inch of their lives and the tuna salad I though was gi9ng to be great turned out to be a tin of tuna on an iceberg lettuce with a mountain of sweetcorn. We headed over to refuge instead for further meals and they’re good; the goats cheese salad is impressive, and if you’re a cheese fan then go for the 4-cheese pizza… it’s impossible to eat it all, it’s that rich!!

If you’re self catering there’s enough supplies to be had from the two supermarkets we visited (St Moritz is the bigger) and drinks around the bars are cheap enough, cheaper than what I remembered in France.

A nice little place for coffee and a snack is either the snack bar just down from the Derby - next to Moles supermarket – or head to Factory, next to the Gondola, which is friendly, serves brilliant food at cheap prices and has some great Spanish beers I’ve never seen before.

Despite seeing all this snow that’s falling in the Alps and will surely make for an epic rest of the season, I’m very, very tempted to wait and book an Easter trip with the kids and return, if not Arinsal, to Andorra simply because it’s a great place for beginners and families.


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Wed 10-01-18 16:33; edited 1 time in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Lovely positive report!

I didn't quite get your last day, did you zip down on boards or skis?

I always wondered how to get into Lleida. Seems I either post myself or stick to BCN Very Happy
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I’m going there in two weeks, wondering what the snow conditions are like? It’s due to get very warm next week - up to 10°
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Orange200 wrote:
Lovely positive report!

I didn't quite get your last day, did you zip down on boards or skis?

I always wondered how to get into Lleida. Seems I either post myself or stick to BCN Very Happy


yeah, kept the skis, ditched the board - loved it. Had a ball in the fresh stuff, and with it being empty there was tons of space to just do you own thing without getting in anyone's way.

Lleida was a strange old airport, out on a plateau in the middle of nowhere. On the way home there were 4 flights leaving within minutes of each other (gatwick, EMA, Manchester, Stansted) and the system fell to pieces... drains overflowing, hardly any supplies or food, long queues to get through check-in and security. And we'd had to leave the resort at 5am so it was a long day, probably the one major failing of the whole holiday, made worse by the airport being unable to cope with so much baggage and people. But 99% of people kept calm and just put up with it. We ended up leaving about 80 minutes late. I also had a breakdown on the M11 when we left Stanstead, which was a kick in the jacksy

moseyp wrote:
I’m going there in two weeks, wondering what the snow conditions are like? It’s due to get very warm next week - up to 10°


It was warm for 3.5 days of our stay. The main problem seemed to be the left hand side of the resort (as you look up the mountain) never totally comes out of the shade so it was rock-hard down the red run because there'd been no new snow and it was scraped down to sheet ice. The blues and greens in the sun became slushy late-morning but still froze thanks to strong, cold winds in the night so had that 'crusty slush' thing going on when you got up there early or after 3pm. Still, that's the extreme of it because there'd been no new snow. With fresh stuff it's an ace resort as we found out late on the last day.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
moseyp wrote:
I’m going there in two weeks, wondering what the snow conditions are like? It’s due to get very warm next week - up to 10°


It was powder day on Monday apparantly. I missed out not being there. More snow coming this week. Hopefully I'll get out to Arcalis on Saturday or Sunday.

Snow levels have been good at times and OK on others. You should have enough snow. Remind me and I can tell you what it looks like by the end of next week.
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Thanks @Specialman and @ysb33r

What aspect does Arinsal face?
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
@Specialman good review; very much spot on. Montane has a good chef - so hopefully the food was good.

BTW if the weather is bad at Arinsak, like which you saw with the wind, ski down the blue run that you mentioned and take the free skibus to La Massana where you can get the gondola to Pal.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
moseyp wrote:
Thanks @Specialman and @ysb33r

What aspect does Arinsal face?


Roughly speaking, Arinsal funnels west to east from the top of the mountain (notice that I said roughly). This causes one half of the slopes to be slightly north facing (those ones that @Specialman referred to as being on the left). The main cause of that shade is Pic Alt de la Capa which blocks a lot of the sun in winter (not so much in spring).

Unfortunately the runs on that side are actually the better one IMO, but due to shade can be very icy if there has not been any fresh snow.

This leads to some 'interesting' skiing. The 2nd part Bony Vaques run (a reddish black) is in a gully of which some days the LH has sun and snow-cover and the RH is in the shade with ice and micro-crevasses. Makes for some entertaining tight turns!!
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Thanks @ysb33r
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ysb33r wrote:
@Specialman good review; very much spot on. Montane has a good chef - so hopefully the food was good.

BTW if the weather is bad at Arinsak, like which you saw with the wind, ski down the blue run that you mentioned and take the free skibus to La Massana where you can get the gondola to Pal.


Forgot to add that Pal was great, despite the packed snow and ice in places. Very different to Arinsal, moreso because it's mainly trees and it's bigger. We got the bus back from la Massana (the paid bus, think it was €3 each) although it wasn't massively clear where you catch the L5 from.

Wished we'd gone to Arcalis as advised by so many people I talked to but maybe on another trip when we have more time. The whole bus thing between resorts sounded awful at first but the scale of Andorra quickly reminds you that a journey is not actually going to be that long.

And yes, the food at Montane was good. Food in factory was was good too.... €5 for some of the best fried calamari Ive ever eaten.
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Specialman wrote:
Wished we'd gone to Arcalis as advised by so many people I talked to but maybe on another trip when we have more time. The whole bus thing between resorts sounded awful at first but the scale of Andorra quickly reminds you that a journey is not actually going to be that long


Arcalis is the best. Just don't go there on a day when the weather is bad.

Skibus (free with ski pass) schedule is here -> https://all-andorra.com/free-bus-schedule-vallnord-andorra-ski-resort/
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Hey Specialman (and everyone else - just joined today, probably should've been working though)!

Great review, I'm going snowboarding to Arinsal on the 25th of February for a week, well excited. I am, however, WELL confused about what my baggage allowance is.

Booked flights to Lleida-Aguaire like you, and am flying with Jet2. I've booked board carriage (£40 return) coz I've got all the gear (and no idea) and yeah, great.

My question to you, Specialman, is whether you got your hold luggage as standard without having to book anything fancy? I emailed Neilson to ask whether I could bring my board bag, a medium suitcase AND some carry-on luggage (just a backpack) and they never replied, so I emailed Jet2 and they DID reply and said that no, I could only bring my board bag and my carry-on luggage, and would have to contact Neilson to book a suitcase too. I then called Neilson and they reassured me that I did have carry-on luggage, 1x hold luggage and 1x board bag.

Just wanted to make sure I wasn't up the creek without a paddle when I arrived at the airport.

Cheers!
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Just back from a week in Arinsal and echo pretty much what Specialman says...if you're a beginner its the perfect place for you. If your advanced/expert you need to look elsewhere as there is not enough to meet your demands. We had pretty much skied out the whole Arinsal/PAL area in 4 days. Didn't venture to Arcalis as we had people in our group on lessons at various points... If you book group lessons with Crystal, they do 9am-12pm and then 3-4pm each day!
Why on earth they make them go back at the end of each day for an hour when tired is beyond me... it also spoils "meet" points as they had to be back in Arinsal for 3pm!

Snow conditions for late March were superb...everything from whiteouts, heavy snow, to barmy 18degrees and sunshine at one bar high up at luchtime. The snow got a bit "sugery" on the runs back to resort in the afternoon but to be expected. PAL has more to offer slopes wise than Arinsal, but on numerous times we ventured over to PAL to ski only to find the gondola back into Arinsal from PAL shut each time due to wind rolling eyes That leaves you stranded and you must then ski down to La Massana and get the bus back each time as there's no other route to ski back into Arinsal... This really got on our nerves tbh.

We stayed at the Xalet Verdu with Neilson... great family run hotel with good food and cheap drinks.

Thomas Cook at Manchester airport were a pain on the way out...got stung for excess baggage for being 1.5kg over rolling eyes ... yet my travel buddy was 3kg was under and she still insisted I pay the charge... Evil or Very Mad

I probably wouldn't go back as we've done it all but what a cheap week it was! Cool
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@Spike107 You nneed to spend time at Arcalis, especially when the snow is deep and the freeride lifts are open.

Unfortunately you hit bad weather this last week - the Pal-Arinsal gondola is not usually closed that much.
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