So in the weeks leading up to my first visit to Andorra I was sent a Pas De La Casa info pack by Crystal Ski, and also given access to their online customer portal which displayed my flight info and additional service, such as equipment hire. Had I purchased any tuition, the details of those purchases would also have been shown within the portal.
I also downloaded the Crystal Ski IOS app which is pretty sleek! The app includes location tracking, distance tracking and speed tracking, as well as including a whole host of resort information and locations. I certainly put the maps and speed tracking to good use.
Other than reading up on the resort, printing my hotel and flights details, and downloading the app, there wasn’t an awful lot for me to do pre trip, just simply turn up and the airport on time and meet the Crystal Ski reps at Toulouse airport upon arrival.
I chose to fly out of London Heathrow, as it’s just around the corner from my flat in west London, and because our flight to Toulouse in France landed us with a 2 hour (ish) transfer to Pas De La Casa. Some friends who flew out of London Gatwick on the same morning as us landed in Barcelona and then had a 3 hour transfer ahead of them. The ease of flying from Heathrow and the reduced transfer time was a winning combo for me.
The transfers from Toulouse were well organised. We simply had to find the right coach to hop aboard, and then sit and wait until we had crossed the French-Andorran border and arrived in Pas De La Casa. The whole transfer took around 2.5 hours in the end, but that included a 30 minute break at a lovely little French town called Tarascon. The journey afforded us to get to know our Crystal Ski rep for the week, and to also arrange a few night time activities that were on offer in resort such as practicing other sports like golf, which can be done indoors, using a golf simulator enclosure which can be found online.
The return transfer was very much the same, stopping in the same town for a quick toilet break and the chance to grab something to eat if you were a bit peckish. Allowing for the stop, each transfers took around 2-2.5 hours and were relativity painless … aside from a 5am wakeup call when leaving to go home at the end of the week.
Arriving in Pas de la Casa + Hotel
Upon arriving in a bustling Pas De La Casa, we were promptly dropped off at our humble abode for the week, the Hotel Catalunnya.
Located just a mere 2 minutes walk to the main ski lift, our room on the 5th floor (there was a lift thank god) was basic, but comfortable, and well equipped with essentials such as a safe. Room 507 was a triple, and might have been a touch bigger and allowed for more spaces to dry out snowy/wet closes, but in truth more than covered out needs. The steaming hot power shower was most welcome come the end of a hard days snowboarding (and apres ski).
Whilst in Pas, my friends and I were staying at the Hotel Catalunya on a half-board basis. Breakfast and dinner were taken in the dining room on the 1st floor of the hotel. Both were of a buffet style setup, but with drinks only being included with breakfast. The food itself was really quite tasty and a wide variety of food was provided, adequately catering for the vegetarian in our group. Breakfasts came in the form of cereals, yoghurt, meats (hot and cold) and pastries. Dinner was usually a mix of meats, pastas, rice, salad, soup and all manner of desserts. We didn’t go hungry … but then we quite often returned seconds.
As mentioned above, our hotel was located just 2 minutes walk from the main lifts, but that would have meant nothing had we been required to collect and then store our boards and skis at the hire shop on the other side of town. Lucky for us that wasn’t the case, the hotel basement being filled with lockers to store equipment meant no such traipsing across down, and with use of the basement lockers requiring only a key deposit in return for a weeks use, we were somewhat relieved.
… We were all set to take to the Grandvalira slopes
Snowboard Hire + Lift Passes
As I alluded to above, both our lift passes and equipment hire were pre booked prior to arriving in Pas De La Casa.
The snowboard/ski equipment hire vouchers were given to us by our rep on the transfer from Toulouse to Pas, whereas our lift passes were handed out at a welcome meeting conducted by the Crystal Ski rep on our first evening in town.
With equipment hire, I would recommended visiting your hire shop and using your voucher as soon as you have checked in to your hotel and dumped all your other gear. Hit the bars first and you might leave getting your equipment till the Monday morning (7 night trips are Sunday-Sunday), and that could mean a long wait in line at the lifts. Best to get everything sorted on Sunday afternoon/evening, and then be on the 1st lift come Monday.
With regards to equipment hire, a quick shout out to Zach at Surf Evasio would sorted my friends and I out for our weeks snowboarding/skiing.
So to the snowboarding and skiing, the best bit :) , and despite Pas De La Casa’s reputation for apres ski, having a quiet first night and getting the first lift allowed our squad a great head start on the (probably hungover) masses. The Grandvalira mountain range is actually broken up into 6 different sectors, Pas De La Casa being just one of those, so there were plenty of reasons to rise early and get out.
There is a more than adequate learners area within Pas, but as our group were all accomplished boarders/skiers, we were straight over the mountain and into the areas of Grau Roig, El Tarter and Soldeu. Even with it not having snowed in the 5 days previous to our arrival, the slopes were still in good shape for the most part. Every lift we required was up and running, and very very few runs were closed entirely. There were some sporadic icy patches keeping us on our toes (or heals), but over the week (5.5 days) I worked out that we still glided/slid our way down roughly 175km of slopes. Grandvalira as a whole covers 210 km of ski run spread over a total of 128 slopes, so I think we did OK.
What with some seriously awesome WIFI coverage over the mountain, I was also able to use all my gadgets to get what are some pretty cool shots and upload them as live coverage, my friend even took his drone and you can see some of its footage below, or if you missed any of my other coverage, you can check out my Instagram and Facebook feeds.
Of of the 5.5 days we spent skiing and snowboarding (we had a half day on the last day and went for fondue), one of those days was spent largely in 1 of the 3 snow parks across the mountain, first having a freestyle lesson, and then putting our new found ollie, box and 180 skills to use. If freestyle is your thing, you’ll be pleased to here that there are 3 different snow parks across the 6 different mountain sectors, and all are fairly sizeable!
Freestyling and freestyling fails (of which there were many on my part) aside, I think my favourite sectors across Grandvalira were Soldeu and El Tarter, as between them they offered some lovely tree lines blues and reds, perfect of lazy boarders like me who simply like to cruise along.
El Tarter is also where I had a burger for lunch which broke into my top 5 burgers of all time, and this was fairly representative of the food that could be ordered for lunch all over the mountain. There were some really nice places around, enough that we didn’t have time to check them all out actually. I saw a mountain resort with entertainment, plenty of ski gear shops, and a prety nice variety of places to get food at. A week of burgers, pizza and chips can’t have been good for us, but it was all good quality and reasonably priced, the most expensive coming in at just shy of €20. €11 of that was THE burger though.
After Soldeu and El Tarter, Pas De La Casa itself has a nice looong red/blue run taking your right back into the heart of town, you really want to save that one until the end of the day, the home stretch as it were. Your mornings are best spent working your way across the valleys to either Soldeu or El Tarter, or if you’re feeling overly adventurous, making the trip all the way over to sector 6 and a blue blue named ‘Rossinyol’, AKA ‘the edge of the earth’.
The views at the edge of the earth (possibly bending the truth a little with its name) are spectacular, and although it’s a days trek to get there and back again from Pas, it’s a journey that undoubtedly rewards you, and if done early in your stay, will give you glimpses of other areas of the mountain which are well worth your time and effort.
Tax free booze during dry January. Those two don’t really go together do they.
Boozing and partying plays a fairly large role in Pas’ reputation, but I guess that what happens when booze is tax free right!? Happy hour squally kicks off around 3pm, but the party actually seems to start around lunchtime where a beer or two with lunch seems the standard. In addition the spaceship looking Coll Blanc KSB Restaurant looking down over Pas itself offers a picturesque spot to have yet another beer before heading down to Pas for happy hour.
… Can you spot the reoccurring theme?
Come night-time, and if you’re not too full from dinner, bars such as Underground, Les Marseille, Paddy’s, The Dubliner, The Red Lion, Funky Rooms and Milwaukee allow you to fill your boots with yet more beer. Most of the above also have some kind of live music at some point throughout the week, and TV’s showing an array of sports.
When not on the slopes or in the bars, there is of course Pas De La Casa itself to explore. I say explore, but in truth Pas really isn’t that big a’ place. In fact it’s fairly condensed, despite the height of some of its buildings.
As mentioned, we were staying half board while in Pas, but decided to venture out most nights after dinner for a drink or two, and on our last night decided to eat out. Being Catalan, the food and drink mainly stuck to French/Spanish themes, but that was good by us.
Favourite Bar – Pas 83
Favourite Restaurants – Bo & Gola + La Granja
Now booze and partying seems to be a reoccurring theme in Pas, but of course the party has to stop at some points … or does it? Should you not yet have filled your boots by the time your week in Andorra comes to an end, and you want to carry on the party once you get back home to the UK, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up tax free beer, wine and spirits (and Toblerone) throughout Pas’ shopping streets, and it’s all tax free of course.
There are also a number of clothing and electronics stores offering heavily discounted goods also, but I for one wasn’t sure that the prices in Pas worked out any cheaper than back home, or that some of the branding clothing was even legitimate. My shopping efforts therefore extended only to a fridge magnet and some chocolate.
Please don’t take these as gospel, costs will depend on destination, duration, time of the year, extras etc.
Anyway, here are my rough costs using a rate of €1.25 to £1 …
Flights + Transfers + Hotel (half board) – £632 / €790
Equipment + Lift Pass- £300 / €375
3 Hour Freestyling Lesson – £60.00 / €75 (based on cost of €150 for 2 people)
Spending Money (lunches, drinks, souvenirs) – £160 / €200
TOTAL – £1152.00 / €1440.00 for everything.
Could I have done it cheaper? Well flights out of Gatwick are usually cheaper than flights our of Heathrow. Likewise holidays during Feb or March are cheaper than Jan. I could also have gone out less during the evenings and packed my own lunches rather than bought them up on the mountain.
I also didn’t have to get that lesson … but my friend bullied me into it,
My Crystal Ski Conclusion
And so comes to an end my first ever package snowboarding trip. It was fab!
I’m struggling to think of anything major that went awry, or which I or my friends disliked. Truth be told we didn’t see a lot of our Crystal Ski rep during our time in Andorra. Save for the transfers and a quick call when one of our groups boot bag went AWOL for 15 minutes, we didn’t really have any need to call them. Over the course of the week everything went to plan and as expected. No nasty hiccups or issues that needed sorting in the middle of the night. No injuries and basically no worries. We were able to simply get on with what we had travelled to this part of the world to do – ski/snowboard.
The one time we did talk to a rep during the week was at the weekly quiz. This gave us a chance to enjoy a night out, meet other Crystal ski guests, and do a little bit for Crystal’s charity DSUK . Of course we won, but were robbed of that win by a calculation error. That being said, winning a jug of cocktails doesn’t really do a lot for a group where only 1 of us drinks (me). The other 2 tee-totallers were lime and soda all the way.
I not sure ordinarily that I’d be so keen to spend over £1000 on a trip within Europe, but I’d never been to a BIG ski resort before the start of 2016, instead choosing to focus my boarding efforts on smaller resorts such as Bansko in Bulgaria and Vogel in Slovenia. Would I send over £1000 again, yes maybe … although I am trying to save for a house at the moment, so I might have to ask the girlfriend (AKA – The Boss) first.
A huge thanks to Crystal Ski for choosing me to be their 2016 Gadget Guru Ski Explorer.