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TR Soldeu half term 2019

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Finally got this written up, before I forget everything. This was a pretty last minute decision to go somewhere, especially for half term. I started booking things about three weeks before we left. I think it was still good value although a bit of forward planning could have saved a bit on flights, car hire and probably accommodation.

The details: Family of 4, the children are 8&7, both started skiing at 3. They have overtaken Mum now. We live in Manchester so that is the most convenient airport, then Liverpool. Times and prices were much better for LPL-TLS on Sunday than other options I looked at. We have self-catered for the last two years and wanted to do the same again. I really fancied Ax-les-Thermes or Baqueira-Beret but accommodation and the wife’s worries about small children and 2 -man chairlifts swayed us to Grandvalira.

Getting there: Sunday flights do make for a much less rushed start. We had plenty of time for the usual football and drama clubs on Saturday morning followed by a stress-free afternoon of packing. A fairly early start on Sunday saw us driving the back roads of industrial Eccles since the M62 was shut for overnight repairs but we got to LPL in reasonable time to stand in a usual EasyJet queue. 5am alarm was a lot more manageable than the 3.45am last year. No queue for Europcar at TLS. The booked Qashqai turned into a VW T-Roc then a Ford C-Max. As long as I could fit the luggage in, I wasn’t bothered. Drove down to Ax for lunch, less than €6 in tolls. Satnav directed us round a long queue of traffic just beforehand. No idea what caused the delay but we could see the stationary traffic as we drove the minor roads through a few tiny villages. Ax was lovely. 20C and sunny. It didn’t feel much like a ski resort despite seeing a few people wandering around with skis over their shoulders. Lunch at Restaurant Sud-Ouest, just off the main square was excellent. Walked back to the car seeing skiers bathing sore feet in the outdoor thermal pool in the main square.

Got back in the car to head up, up, up to Andorra. The road is pretty steep with plenty of hairpins. No problem on a sunny afternoon but I did keep a careful eye on the forecast, both before travel and during the week. The forecast was for sun all week and indeed we barely saw a cloud. There was heavy snow across the Pyrenees for most of the first week of February and this route needed chains then. After a 3 course lunch, I was starting to flag a little by the border so took the tunnel rather than the mountain pass. €6.80 each way!!!!! Ouch. Soldeu is only a few kms on. Found our accommodation and checked in, then back into the village to collect gear and provisions.

I booked all the ski stuff through Andorra Travel Service. This was cheaper than booking direct from the lift company and was very straightforward. Walked into the office and got everything despite having made 2 separate bookings, one only a day or 2 before arriving. Ski hire was from the hire shop beside the Gondola, in the same building and very efficient. After we got the kit in the car, we did a quick shop in one of the supermarkets, opposite the Andorra Travel office.

A brief description of the package options might be helpful here, because I hadn’t come across this arrangement before. I ordered hire, passes and ski school for the children as a package, which was good value, £271 each. Adding lunch vouchers to this was going to be £55 pp. For myself, just a pass was £243 but adding lunch vouchers cost only £9 so I did that, £252. At the last minute, the Mrs decided she might as well ski. When I showed her the options, she went for 5 days of group lessons having previously maintained that she definitely wasn’t up to skiing, so I booked her the same as the kids, but costing £353. I also booked a dogsledding trip (£136) as we all enjoyed it so much in Finland. As we booked last minute at half term, everyone was on afternoon lessons.

The first morning we had a leisurely start and got the apartment shuttle bus to the Gondola. After a bit of a queue, we were sitting in an 8 man lift together. This is fast, modern and comfortable. It takes you up to a very flat and wide plateau area with a restaurant with a large terrace to the left and ski school a little way to the right. There is a tea bar, 2 restaurants and a champagne bar behind the ski school office. There’s a covered magic carpet to the right, 2 short buttons to the right and 1 short button to the left. There’s a rope tow to get back from the left side. We spent the morning on these tows and went for the burger restaurant. I spent 4 of my vouchers on burger, fries and a drink (beer, Diet Coke, water) each. The ‘price’ of each meal was €12-14 so my £9 outlay was well worth it. The vouchers are all dated but the staff happily ignore this, in fact they asked for vouchers first. Pretty basic standard food, quite busy when we arrived and crazy busy when we left. Good thick hot chocolate though. The start of kids lessons was mayhem (as usual) but I got the kids into the queue for the magic carpet as this seemed to be what everyone else was doing and they got on with things. I went off to explore.

Immediately after the button tows past ski school, there is another short rope tow. This one is of limited benefit IMO. I tried staying on the run and barely needed to pole. If you are slow or have little children it’s just about worth using.

There are a few confusing bits of the piste map and heading from here into the plateau above El Tartar is one. Here there is a tunnel and the entry to the lower section of Aliga run is above it. I’m not really sure what the tunnel is supposed to do, separate the skiers on the runs in from those coming off the chairlift (from El Tartar)? It’s not really at the best angle and it’s just as easy to keep left. All the traffic (apart from the 1 black to El Tartar village) is funneled into a wide easy piste but the base of each lift is hidden by terrain and restaurants so it’s a bit confusing. There are 2 slow chairs for ‘easy progression’ slopes and 2 fast sixpacks to actually get around the ski area. The longer slow chair is above you but keep heading down to the left for both the big lifts, which are before and left of the big terrace. The main beginners area is to the right but if you end up to the left you can get round the big restaurant, at the top of Esquirol run and back to the slow, short chairs. The 2 big chairs are Tosa Espiolets and Llosada. Tosa E goes over the terrain park and big kickers and accesses short blacks and a red back to the plateau above Soldeu and red (with a short black option) back towards El Tartar. Not on the piste map but very useful is a short blue linking into the blues heading to Soldeu and elsewhere in the domain. By far my favourite run was Falco, always reasonable underfoot down the left side and quite steep for a fairly short distance. Unfortunately ends right at the bottom of the rope tow so you need to do a sharp left at the bottom and are a bit far and low for cutting back right to the plateau above Soldeu. Llosada is a very long chair and takes you right up to one of the highest points in the domain and a famous toilet. Heading right to Canillo is definitely worth it. The blue Rossinyol has the best views in the whole domain. Unfortunately the black Gaig was shut. There was a distinct snow deficit at the top. In a prime holiday week, these tows were busy all day. I do remember once getting on it with a minimal queue and the French guy beside me making a gentle witticism about Spanish part timers, it was after 4pm. Getting down to Soldeu at 4.30 on Os was an absolute shitshow the first few days. Below mid mountain lifts, it’s a narrow cat track and had awful man made snow on it. Barely controlled turns and a lack of control in evidence on an overcrowded run. Not pleasant, especially when you are trying to keep an eye on 2 gung-ho kids and a timid snowplougher. I have no idea how we did this run without incident. On the 3rd day, Mrs w...s lost her group on the last run, followed the Soldeu signs and was at the village before she realised where she was going. Having got the chair back up, she had no wish to repeat the experience so she headed to the Gondola and the kids and I skied to the reds on the other side of the restaurant, to find them...deserted. You do have to do the last couple of bends on Gall de Bosc, which was just as bad as Os but this was a much more pleasant way of getting home.

On the morning of day two we decided to go on a treasure hunt. Our friends were randomly in the same resort for their 1/2 term, the week before ours and had left us buried treasure to find. I reckoned we could just about get there and back by lunch but this adventure had some mishaps. I still regularly expect to stuff a quart into a pint pot and this was no exception. First, we had to hang around for the minibus to go to the lifts and back, then there was a hefty queue at Solana (fast six pack with a badly designed entry as explained later), then I got lost at the top of Sollanelles and we all had to do an unnecessary red with a short steep, narrowish section then into a hefty queue at Pla de les Pledres, Grau Roig, when I heard in the queue that it was 1245!!! Oops. Due to the lift system, we had to go back down to the other Pla de les Pledres so I thought we might as well get our treasure. Shortly after, the Mrs got wiped out by a lady's front bottom on a snowboard. I shouted rude words at him, especially since he sped off trying to blame her for the heinous sin of ‘turning too much’. No you bell end, the slow people doing lots of turns are the ones to stay well clear of. By this time we were well late and I suspect I made yet another poor decision by taking Assalladors back over into the next valley (where we needed to go). No queue, but it’s a slow lift. Unfortunately the only other choice is Solana, way down the valley. It has been put in with three ticket gates just before the lift entry gates so there is no time/space for people to sort themselves out into rows of six. The result is each chair goes up half full and there’s often a queue. There’s not even a singles line. If you’ve come from Grau Roig along the top of the ridge (Serrat de Pinos) or take Obaga under it, you’ll get another little rope tow to take you up to it. Hammer it down the last steep section and you can bypass most of it. Everyone missed the start of lessons but ski school did a great job of getting the Mrs to link up with her group and the kids into a group. Half a cookie for lunch so we went to Hotel Bruxelles after lessons for crepes. I checked out all the local black runs, Avet was steep and firm, not easy, Aliga was very easy, Muflo has only a very short steep section, Cabirol was short, not that steep but very firm. All this ‘research’ confirmed that Falco was my favourite.

On day three we did a gentle bimble around to make sure we were all well early for lunch and lessons. Much less stressful than the day before. Pasta in the restaurant beside ski school followed by drinks. Champagne is €9 per glass, red/white wine €6, beer is €3, sun beating down. The pasta was pretty average again.


Short blacks above cheap booze

While everyone went to ski school, I headed across to Pas de la Casa and skied most of the blacks over there. The FIS and the one beside it were nice. As is often the way, what I skied was directed by the queues and oddly Font Negre had no queue but the parallel PDLC had a big one. Nice set of moguls under the Pic Blanc lift. Had to head back early as there was a massive queue for Cubil (not the last time I saw this, who knew having 4 lifts on one side of the valley and one 4 man on the other would lead to queueing).


Pas de la Casa. Not exactly pretty or traditional.


Looking up it’s much better

On Thursday, I’d booked some dog sledding for 10am so we drove to El Tartar. Very big car park and a hefty queue for the Gondola. Some efforts at getting the maximum numbers into the big 10 man cabins so it was fast moving. But we had to stand (there are flip down seats for when it is quieter). Dog sledding was okay. Not like the magical experience of Finland though. I wasn’t really sure if they supplied boots so I brought them. They do. The start point is near the bottom of the runs down from Llosada. There is a Yurt on the right as you look up from the base of the chairlift. I decided we should eat at Cortals as it has a great view and I didn’t think it was too far. Easy blue off the back of the mountain to a chairlift. Bit narrow but nothing difficult. Arrived about 1210, then waited ages for burgers, easily 30 mins so no chance to enjoy the view, I was just stood in a massive group waiting...then another rush to gulp down most of lunch and try and get back to lessons. Getting back takes much longer as the lifts all go in the wrong directions. Other than walking up 50m of red, you have to go down to Pla des Pedres. After missing lessons by taking Assaladors last time I thought Planell de la Font would be quicker, as it is shorter. Think it was and everyone got to their lesson but it was again a bit more stressful than necessary. I went back to the car to dump the boots and then back up to check out the blacks above El Tartar (Corb, Voltor) and then drifted over to Canillo. Tip here, this is much easier if you get skiers right of the Llosada drag lift! I spotted the kids in their lesson waiting for their turn on the speedtrap and said hi, then went and checked out the reds and free ride area which take you back to The plateau above El Tartar (looked like very hard old snow, it hadn’t snowed for over two weeks by then).


Gone to the dogs

Friday was, of course race day so we just did a couple of gentle blues off Solana and stayed above Soldeu for the morning and went back to the Soldeu burger joint for lunch. With the Mrs in her lesson I HAD to be in the right place to see the kids racing so inevitably I spent well over an hour twiddling my thumbs on the sidelines. Even a tame blue seems relatively steep once you’ve walked up and down it a few times to stave off boredom and cramp in the feet. Anyway the kids did great and we had a slap up meal out to celebrate.

The Mrs booked herself into the spa at the Park Piolets for the day (great value she said) while the kids and I went for a blast. Soldeu gondola, Solana chair, Fura to Sollanelles chair, Enllac and Enradot to Lac de Cubil chair is all pretty easy, mostly blue with a very short bit of red. The ideal warm up for the kids first black run, Mirador, I thought. Really not sure why this is a black, it’s a sustained pitch I suppose but wide and never steeper than a decent red IMO. Hey ho, the kids were chuffed. I did explain that not all black runs are like this! Anyway, if you want a confidence boosting black, this is it in Grandvalira. This leads to Grau Roig which is more a big car park than little village. We took Coma Blanca chair as there were big queues for Pic blanc (to Pas) and Cubil (to head back) and there is a kid zone down from the button lift above it. After lots of little jumps and hitting many, many objects, we joined the hefty queue at Cubil, then skied down the red Cami des Pessons. This is a gentle road (I’ve definitely been on harder blues) leading to some restaurants (some bookable with table service, one self-service). The food was a definite step up and the view is excellent so I would definitely recommend it even though you have to use one of the busiest lifts twice. After lunch we whizzed over to Canillo via the easy red Serrât de Pinos to PDP Soldeu then the blue to Assaladors. The alternative reds here are steep and were all firm to icy. Knowing that we had to drag ourselves over the top of the Llosada lifts was invaluable and we headed with as little uphill as possible for the chair Els Clots. Then down the lovely blue and up a short chair into Canillo. After messing about trying to get tickets (handily nowhere near the start, actually in the ski depot office) we did the coaster. Similar to the one in Flachau for reference. There was some mangled info about heights that wasn’t very clear but the kids were allowed on together so that was fine. It was about €10 for the 3 of us.


Looking down Rosinyol en route to Canillo

Skiing back, my son managed to ski into an unmarked rock field near the base of the lifts. I had actually spotted it on the way over (the snow was steaming off dark surfaces by this point) but it was over a slight lip and he crashed with no grace or style. Luckily he shrugged off the pain and it’s a fairly easy ski back to Soldeu with just 2 lifts needed. Dumped the hired gear and the wife met me with footwear so I could take my gear home.


View from the apartment. Note the queue of cars past the petrol station. This sometimes went up the valley and back into Soldeu

Packing, another meal out, early start and an easy drive back to TLS. Messed about looking for a petrol station but otherwise very straightforward. Some tooing and froing with my skis that I could have done without ‘join that queue’, ‘see that man’, ‘he’s just sent me to you!’ etc

Got home just after lunch to find that summer had come early and went out for a long bike ride with my son.

Meals out:
Après ski crêpes/drinks at hotel Bruxelles. Fine, good view of the bottom of Avet, just in the sun, overly officious at getting you out for no apparent reason.

Snack bar La Palmera: highlighting our lack of organisation, unable to get into any restaurant on our first night and ended up here (seemed likely there was nowhere else). Avoid the reheated pastas, go for something deep fried and Spanish if you need to eat here. Cheap.

La Cort del Popaire: good food, nicely decorated, stools and high, narrow tables which kids love to muck about on rather than concentrating on the job in hand (eating and not spilling drinks).

La Caleta: lovely food, cramped but proper seats, not as nice inside but cheaper and equally tasty food as Cort del Popaire.

Edited to add the photos. As always, feel free to ask any questions.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Thanks @what...snow, I always love a TR! I've been to Soldeu a few times and it's a great place to ski in a large skiing area. Never been in half term though so I've never encounted any queues.
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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?
Great place for a family trip if all are happy with cruisey blues......and mostly blue skies. My wife was surprised to see herself in your pic looking down Rosinyol !
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