Andorra lies between France and Spain in the Pyrenees. The main resorts of Soldeu, Pas de la Casa and Arinsal are all within easy striking distance of one another and so it is possible to ski all these areas in one week. This adds variety to those who will find each single resort a little restrictive. Anyone intending to ski a number of different resorts would, however, need to hire a car or drive to Andorra.
Arinsal is a small village with a few lively apres-ski spots, some excellent restaurants and a decent variety of hotels and apartments. We stayed at the Sant Andreu, which has half-board and self-catering accommodation. The hotel's apartments put most French, high-rise accommodations to shame and was as spacious as some of the Canadian rooms at which I've stayed. An excellent buffet was available for those taking half-board (eat as much as you liked - only 10 Euros for those self-catering). Better still, the rooms were cleaned regularly and towels, etc. provided.
The main ski area could be accessed via a 300m uphill or downhill walk and the ski bus stopped outside the hotel. When we were there, in late January, it was possible to ski to the bottom of the double chair which left about a 3 minute walk downhill to the hotel.
The skiing at Arinsal/Pal is mainly for beginners and intermediates and is excellent for families. The ski school appears to provide a good service and is very much British orientated.
Confidence building blue runs abound in both the Arinsal bowl and amongst the tree-lined Pal area. The areas are linked by a new cable-car but you need to be able to ski a steepish blue run to make the connections. A regular ski bus between the two villages would greatly improve matters, especially when high winds restrict the skiing in the Arinsal sector.
There are designated freeride areas in both resorts and plenty of tree skiing for better skiers. There is a sensible mix of the types of run enjoyed by most recreational skiers. One of our party, who has only skied in the big French resorts, was impressed by the quality of some of the runs, especially the jump off a cornice onto the short but steep run at the side of the top chair in Arinsal.
Probably the biggest attraction of this area is the lack of rip-off French prices both on and off mountain. A litre of vodka cost a quarter of the Toulouse Duty-free price! A coffee in Toulouse cost nearly five times as much as a larger coffee in a moumtain restaurant in Arinsal!
A note of caution - when the wind gusts, the lifts tend to shut in Arinsal and there seems to be no ski bus service to get skiers round to Pal. This is a problem which the area's authorities need to solve. Otherwise, I'd certainly recommend Andorra to anyone who wants a good, cheap family holiday or to anyone like myself who got an extra week's skiing for less than the cost of a couple of day's lift-pass in a Colorado resort.
An exciting development for Andorran skiing is the new Grandvalira lift pass, which covers the now interconnected areas of Pas de la Casa, Soldeu, Grau Roig and El Tartar.
This has created an extensive skiing terrain, most of which is well within the capabilities of intermediate skiers looking to get miles under their feet. When conditions are right, there are some excellent opportunities for powder skiing in the bowls above Soldeu and Pas.
Pas is a fairly soulless resort, full of duty-free supermarkets, but there are some nice restaurants and hotels. There's no ski bus, so beware of long walks to the lifts when booking accommodation. Soldeu is probably a better place to stay, especially for families. It appears to have good facilities for children and plenty of relatively easy runs on the higher slopes.
The whole area has the advantage of cheap prices both on and off mountain. Pay for your holiday by making savings on duty-free goods!