Trip duration: 7 days | Approx cost: £650 | When: December to March
Doinit factor: It’s just so much fun, not to hard to get the basics and you’ll meet some great people!
I’ve always wanted to try snowboarding, but it can be quite a daunting prospect. You need the right gear, you need to know what you’re doing and above all you need to know where to go. The Alps are the obvious choice but they come at a price and presumably with loads of crowds. With my nature of trying to stay away from the obvious it is the ‘Principality of the Valleys of Andorra’ which captures my attention.
After working out the cost of the kit hire, lift pass, flights, transfers, accommodation and lessons it turns out beneficial to book a package with an online agent, especially for my first time. So with big hopes I head to the tiny nation of Andorra. Wedged in between France and Spain high in the Pyrenees, with no airport of its own, visitors will most likely be flying to Barcelona or Toulouse where a three hour bus transfer awaits to take you up the gradually winding roads up through the mountains. Andorra has a number of resorts but I had to north west to Vallnord in the small village of Arinsal which caters well for beginners and intermediates; the slopes are also connect by a network of cable cars to neighbouring resort of Pal for those who want to venture out. Arinsal is picturesque and friendly with a handful of shops and a few fun bars all hosting a good range of ‘Apres Ski’ deals like a beer and a nachos for 1 Euro! But it’s the boarding I’m here for, well mostly.
Snowboard school starts at 10am so there’s not much chance for a lay in. Students pick up their boots and boards after being measured up. Everyone is asked if they are “Regular of Goofy”? Basically this relates to which foot you intent to lead with. Regular means left, Goofy means right. For someone who’s never boarded before this is a difficult question to answer, but going by the fact I kick a ball by my right foot I tell them I am Goofy.
Once we’re kitted up we meet our instructor, and we familiarises ourselves with our boards. Sliding back and forth with one foot used to push against the ground, much like a skateboard. It’s maybe 30 minutes before we get on to the first baby slopes. Here we learn how to balance the board, first facing downhill balancing on our heel ends, later facing uphill balancing on our toe edges. By the afternoon we are learning how to turn the nose of the board (with our front foot – in my case goofy) downhill and come to a halt on one of the edges of the board, and thus learning the first part of a turn, but just not quite following it thought yet.
Above: Andorra gets about 300 days of sun a year – great for weather for boarding
The next day we’re learn how to evolve this manoeuvre to a full turn. It’s basically the Mr Miyagi approach to learning a new skill, and it works. Different people will get there at different times as it can a bit tricky. It’s the middle part of the turn were you feel like you momentary lose control which is the hardest to part to get to grips with. It feels like your free falling for a second, comparable to the sensation of diving into the ocean from a high cliff. Turning is what takes most of our time to learn, but with each day we improve and our confidence builds. We go for rides on some of the higher slopes where we can see the below peaks and valleys, truly stunning. It is well worth taking some time to take in the landscapes, blue skies contrasting with the white powdery in the distance.
We’re deemed ‘skilful’ enough to try some ticks and our instructor who happens to be a Snowboard Cross rider is the perfect person to show us a few basic tricks, Spinning, Heal Press, Front Tail Press amongst others. This of course results in a number of hard falls but by the end of the week we’re starting to get to look pretty cool.
Above: Danny teaching Emma how to turn, it’s not long before she’s going tail presses
Andorra has proved to be a perfect destination for someone who’s eager to learn how to snowboard (and Ski). The instructors offer encouragement and will happily join you for a beer afterwards in one of the bars. A couple of the bars have their staff filming you on the mountain during the day so in the afternoon you can laugh at yourself as see yourself tumbling down hill on the big screen, but it also helps you see your technique.
The super friendly atmosphere and banter between skiers and snowboards adds to the charm of Arinsal. We’re gesturally referred to as ‘gays on trays’ to which we’re told to call them ‘prinks with sticks’ but at the end of the evening we laugh it off together over a cheap pint.
The week goes quickly, the earlish starts, late nights and bruised bodies mean that when I return home I wouldn’t mind having a few extra days to relax but there’s nothing stopping you to taking a day or afternoon off snowboarding. There are no detentions at this snowboard school for skipping lessons. I learn snowboarding is a tough sport, but after a few days you can start to feel like you’re a boarder, and whilst the pros can make it seem effortless you can still look pretty cool yourself by the end of the week. As for me, I absolutely loved my week here. I’ve made some friends, learnt a lot and not broken any bones. It safe to say I’m hooked and have been back for a second instalment and have already booked my third.
Above: Most mornings are spent in lessons with the afternoons being free time to put into practice what we learnt
WHERE TO STAY
There are loads of options in including hotels, apartments, B&Bs but they book up quick. A package holiday including flights accommodation, lift pass, ski/board hire and lessons may work out financially attractive.