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Skiing the Alhambra: Granada, Spain

A trip to Spain’s Granada presents a delicious dilemma — whether to go 10,000-feet up the Sierra Nevada and crisp, corn snow or wander the hundreds of seductions that make up Granada. Al Auger did both, and writes about his experience.

(Above): Pistas de Esquí. A total of 19 lifts convey 23,000 skiers an hour over 23 pistes that reach near the 11,000-feet peak of Veleta. Crisp, blindingly white snow framed by a spotless, deep blue sky — the Sierra Nevada in Spain is a skier’s paradise.

“I see you raise your eyes to the snowy summit of yon pile of mountains, shining like a white cloud in the blue sky. It is the Sierra Nevada, the pride and delight of Granada; the source of her cooling breezes and perpetual verdure; of her gushing fountains and perennial streams. It is this glorious pile of mountains which gives to Granada that combination of delights so rare in a southern city — the fresh vegetation and temperate airs of northern climate, with the vivifying ardor of a tropical sun, and the cloudless azure of a southern sky. It is this aerial treasury of snow, which melting in proportion to the increase of the summer heat, sends down rivulets and streams through every glen and gorge of the Alpuxarras, diffusing emerald verdure and fertility throughout a chain of happy and sequestered valleys.

“…The cypress trees are awake and their languid movements fill the atmosphere with incense, while the wind turns Granada into an organ, the narrow streets its pipes. Granada was a dream of sound and colors.”

— Washington Irving

Imagine, in your wildest dreams, skiing long, wide-open soft snow bowls. The skies are blue and the day just cool enough to invigorate each run. The next day you’re strolling through magic gardens filled with vibrant color surrounded by elegant buildings with fragile filigree, sculptures of myths and legends. This fantasy is the snow-blanketed slopes of Sierra Nevada rising above the fabled city of Granada, Spain, and the delight of the Alhambra.

Early April the Sierra Nevada is sun-filled and warm. More aptly described as above the “rock line” as opposed to the “tree line,” skiing in the Sierra Nevada is more attuned to the lazy, hazy sense of spring skiing with user-friendly runs where extreme drops are rare, but definitely available. The ambience is the perfect groove. Lounge chairs are spread all over the lodge deck and on the snow. Skiers from all over Northern Europe are enjoying the blue skies and brilliant sunshine they rarely see at home.

The first day was spent familiarizing ourselves with the skiing environment of the Sierra Nevada. Giant bowls are everywhere. The Sierra Nevada bowl runs were expressly favored by novices and intermediates as they could ski the long, cruising runs from the top to the bottom unimpeded.

The ski spa not only hosts the World Cup ski series every year but has grown into a sophisticated and major ski area with all the expected services plus a few surprises. A total of 19 lifts convey 23,000 skiers an hour over 23 pistes that reach near the 3,398 meter (approximately 11,000-feet) peak of Veleta.

(Above): The ski spa in the Sierra Nevada features all the amenities of any major ski resort from fine restaurants to the elegant lodgings of the Parador de Sierra Nevada.

The tantalizing cruiser runs remain, but a host of advanced and expert runs have been added. The Sierra Nevada resort features all the amenities of any major ski resort from fine restaurants to the elegant lodgings of the Parador de Sierra Nevada. In addition to hotels and hostels of all ratings, there are a number of chalets and apartments available for rent or exchange; a gymnasium, banks, heated swimming pools and plenty of nightlife featuring discos for dancing and fine restaurants and cafeterias specializing in French and Italian cuisine, in addition to Spanish dishes. The village restaurants offer an eclectic choice of fine dining; the cuisine of Andalusia is a unique and tasty treat that should not be missed.

(Above): Closer view of some columns of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, shows the intricate relief work with Arabic calligraphy.

For those American skiers who haven’t skied Colorado or Utah, it’s easy to be overcome by the wide open expanses of Sierra Nevada. Here the only obstacle is your own ability. The runs dropping off the Veleta peak at approximately 11,000 feet are awesome, dude. Or, head in the other direction. Cruise down the vast bowls on Lagona de Las Yeguas. These are marked dificil, or difficult for intermediates. For muy dificil, we head for the inner bowls off the telecabina, or gondola. Here are the runs with the infamous black diamonds; such as Montebajo, Puenta or Fuente del Tesoro. There are two additional levels of marked runs: facil or easy, or muy facil or very easy.

The resort is a sportsman’s paradise with full track and field facilities, a larger than Olympic-size pool, a team sport gymnasium equipped for volleyball, basketball, handball, tennis and badminton. There’s even a field for soccer and floor hockey. Other activities include weightlifting, boxing, fencing, karate and outdoor running tracks. If the day of skiing has tired out some muscles, there’s massage experts, sauna and hydromassage rooms. There’s also a medical staff including a sports physiologist and two sports medicine specialists.

(Above): Sleek and elegant, the columns inside the Alhambra bear witness to the architectural genius of the Moors over 10 centuries ago.

The people of Iberia have always treated me with warmth and cordiality, even with my poor excuse for the language. They love to meet strangers and are especially fond of small children, which is a good reason to put your children in their excellent escuela de esqui (ski school).

A unique break from skiing is the short drive of 35 minutes to Granada to visit the beautiful city of Granada and the wondrous walled structure known as La Alhambra. Rising out of La Sabika (the red hill), this complex of various military, administrative and palatial religious buildings overlooks the over 1,000-year-old city founded in 1013.

(Above): View of a section of the interior of the Alhambra.

As Irving so lovingly describes it, the Alhambra sits serene and idyllic guarded by the heroic mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Fantasy-like hours wandering the Courtyard of the Myrtles; soaring rooms with delicate filigreed ceilings where scholar and statesman Washington Irving wrote his “Tales of the Alhambra.” Palaces and gardens of the El Generalife abound built and designed by a number of Moor and Spanish royalty since the 9th century. Another “don’t miss” is the Alcaiceria, the ancient Moorish silk market — now a crafts center. It’s definitely a problem of deciding where the priorities lie: 10,000-feet up the Sierra Nevada and crisp, corn snow or wandering the hundreds of seductions that make up Granada. Not to mention the urban environment of Malaga, just 75 minutes away by car or the massive cathedral and Moorish baths of nearby Jaen

Other Places to Visit

In addition to skiing at Sierra Nevada, Spain has a chain of ski resorts in the Pyrenees from Catalonia above Barcelona to the west coast deep in Basque country. There are also ski areas north of Madrid in central Spain and Teruel north of the Costa Brava near the east coast.

For information on skiing in Spain or Granada:

Visit www.go-sierra-nevada.com

Spain Tourism at www.spain.info

Every major U.S. city has a Spanish consulate

Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Redding, Calif.


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