Destination of the day: Arinsal

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Andorra_Arinsal 001The beginners’ destination is now a place for piste post-grads.

You don’t think of Andorra as an off-piste ski destination, but it has some of the best safe ungroomed runs on the continent, within easy walk of the lifts.

Up the hills the biggest ski areas have been linked. Down in the valley, new tunnels mean the resorts are now twenty minutes away from each other.

For a small place with a big experience, Andorra has come of age.

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Andorra_Arinsa_6430When we got there, there was so much snow that they cannot keep the pistes clear.

The road to Toulouse is under an avalanche. They are still trying to dig out the ticket office at Arcalis.

The footpath was five feet higher than the road, which makes the walk from the St Gothard hotel to the lift a precarious perambulation.

The delight of Andorra is that the snow here is fluffy and powdery and a little salty, straight from the Bay of Biscay and not like the heavier wet stuff you get in the Alps.

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Andorra_Arinsa_6407It may have been the coldest I ever was. Myself and Síofra (my daughter) were trying to ski downhill in zero visibility.

We travelled whenever there is a break in the driving blinding snow and fog and proceed with caution because along the slope there were little groups of huddled figures in the driving, cutting, icy snow, waiting for the ten yards visibility to get them a little further downhill.

Down in the beginners area, kindergarteners were being blown off the magic carpet like skittles.

After one descent we upped sticks, literally, and took the gondola to the bottom. “That was fun, but I wouldn’t want to do it again,” said Síofra in her classically understated way.

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Andorra_Arinsa_6310There we found that the bus to the neighbouring resort Pal had gone out that morning and never come back, stranded on some snowy mountain by-road. So we took the public bus, Eu1.45, to La Masana where there is a gondola up to Pal, which is south facing and has lots of trees. When we arrived there, it was sunny and fresh, with blue skies and glorious pistes extending in each direction. The other side of the mountain, different planet.

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Andorra_Arinsa_6216They opened a new tunnel through the mountain just before Christmas which has taken half an hour off the journey back to Soldeu where I spend the day skiing with Mike Wilson, an Anglo-Italian guide living in Andorra who used to be a racer.

He took off like the clappers and I tried to follow, blues, red, and black. He brought me down the world cup slope and despite several heart attacks, I made it.

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To escape the chilly breeze, most skiers excursion to the Caldea in La Vella, a big spa and wellness centre with Icelandic pools, hammams, saunas and an outdoor pool where you swim in heated luxury while the snow dusts your hair. We also shop for the cheap electronics and booze that makes Andorra famous. The Hiper Andorra shop is now a Le Clerc, sign of changing times, but it still has the cheapest bottles in town.

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Eoghan Corry travelled to Andorra with Topflight, who feature Arinsal in their ski brochure.

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