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Europe’s Pocket Principalities in the Pyrenees

Skiing the Pyrenees

Travel Cheaply in Andorra

By Scott Shefloe

Skiing in Europe sounds like a great way to spend the winter. Unfortunately, glitzy resort towns in the Alps do not exactly cater to budget travelers. Skiers in search of an affordable alpine adventure, however, can combine good skiing and seasonal work in Europe’s other spectacular mountain range: the Pyrenees.

The Principality of Andorra is only a spec on a map, nestled high in the mountains and narrow valleys between Spain and France. Yet this small country has five extensive ski resorts that offer the best skiing in the Pyrenees. Sunny skies, modern lifts, and excellent accommodations keep steady streams of Europeans coming to Andorra from the first day of the ski season to the last (typically the third week of December through April). A continuous influx of skiers on holiday gives the entire country a festive atmosphere. Many northern Europeans come more for the sunny slopes and cheap drinks than the vertical footage and fresh powder.

A 1-day lift ticket at Ordino-Arcalis, Andorra’s most spectacular resort costs about $30 dollars—considerably less than skiers pay at comparable resorts in the Alps and the U.S. A season pass for unlimited skiing at all five of Andorra’s resorts (just over $500), may be free for those employed at a resort. Additionally, shoppers find good deals on everything in this duty-free haven—from alpine equipment to liqueur.

Catalan is the official language of Andorra, although most Andorrans easily communicate in both Spanish and French as well. There is a large English expatriate community in Andorra, so English-only speakers get along just fine.

Working in Andorra

As with its neighbors, Andorra adheres to European Union regulations. If you are one of the lucky ones with European citizenship, working in Andorra for a winter season could not be easier. Demand for help is high throughout the service industry: from retail sales to bartending to ski instructing. Otherwise, the requirements are strict. However, as with many resort locations throughout Europe, places may be found where the requirements are not strictly enforced.

Ski instructing positions for Americans in Andorra require professional certification of Level II (raised from Level I three years ago). This seems a bit unreasonable, but, again, some rules may be bent in times of need and English-speaking instructors are always in demand. Talking with ski instructors and remaining available to work can lead to employment during peak vacation times or to private instruction opportunities.

English speakers tend to congregate in the town of Arinsal, the base of the Arinsal-Pal interlinking ski stations. This is the best place for securing employment as an English-speaking ski instructor. The ski school at Soldeu-El Tartar Resort is Andorra’s largest and also employs many English-speaking instructors.

Finding monthly or seasonal rentals can be difficult. The vast majority of hotels and apartments are geared toward weekly and weekend rental, while the remaining apartments and houses all seem to be for sale rather than for rent. However, a number of hotels that offer cheap accommodations in dormitory-style rooms. Otherwise, rental opportunities can be found by inquiring in the many immobiliarias, or real estate offices.

Modern studio apartments, furnished and with balconies with nice views, rent for $350-$400 a month. Week-to-week stays in hotels are not out of the question either, since modest rooms can be found for $20 per night. Word of mouth can be the most valuable means of finding appropriate accommodations for a seasonal stay. Chatting with the semi-locals (those northern Europeans who winter in Andorra and have their own apartments) could lead to a very affordable room rental.

Finding work or accommodations prior to the ski season is very difficult. Prior to the opening week in December, most shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels are not open. Indeed, the resort towns are almost unrecognizable and ghostly vacant in the off-season. Everybody shows up in the middle of December, and seemingly empty stone barns open their doors to reveal night clubs and restaurants that will be bursting at the seams nightly. Even the snow often waits to make its appearance just before opening day. Do not be discouraged by unsuccessful attempts to establish contact or employment before the season starts or before arriving in Andorra.

For More Info

The following websites offer information on Andorra: www.andorramania.com, www.skiandorra.ad, visitandorra.com.

Ski Resort websites:

• Pal / Arinsal: www.palarinsal.com
• Pas de la Casa/Grau Roig: www.ski-europe.com/resorts/pasdelacasa.html

Andorra Ministry of Tourism and Culture: C/ Prat de la Creu, 62, Andorra la Vella, www.turisme.ad.

Getting there:

From Spain, two direct buses daily from Barcelona (3 to 4 hours); daily shuttle bus from Barcelona International Airport.

From France, daily connections from Toulouse Airport.

SCOTT SHEFLOE is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

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