Stalling is something that I am certainly well versed in. And once more I was showing a distinct talent for it as I sat sipping coffee, while the warmth of the mid-morning sun ensured my newly acquired skis stayed firmly in the spot I had dumped them an hour before.
The day started with the greatest intentions and the eight o’clock alarm call was unwanted but obeyed as I rolled down the hill from the Frontera Blanca to the beginner’s class, it being the first day of ski school.
The lesson was a quick one and set the agenda for the week. Have you skied before? I have, but… Okay, you come back in the afternoon for the intermediate class.
While my ego was certainly boosted by the fact that I wouldn’t be spending the first half of the week side-stepping up the nursery slopes, as was the case on my maiden ski holiday in Arinsal last year.
Another part of my brain was reminding me of that very trip, and the tumbles and trauma that were experienced as I managed to progress through the necessary stages of learning to ski.
With a three-hour lesson lurking in the long grass, I was reluctant to waste too much energy, but I had to get back onto the horse at some stage, so off I went.
Skis on, eventually, I pushed myself over to the bottom of the gentlest of slopes in the beginners’ area. It all came back, if not immediately, and an hour later I had put in enough turns and snow ploughs to feel a bit more confident heading into the afternoon session.
So back to school and they don’t mess around in these parts. The instructor’s job is to get you skiing as quickly as possible and, sure enough, ten minutes into the first lesson, we were off up the mountain to take on the blue route that rolls gently into the heart of the town of Pas de la Casa.
While others in the class, obviously in the same boat as myself regarding levels of proficiency, were a bit anxious as the lift rose into the cloudless blue sky, I was more concerned with the disembarking from the said lift.
It was a skill I failed to master in Arinsal – despite nobody else seeming to have a problem with it – but this time there was to be no embarrassing spread-eagled Irishman and within minutes we were in formation following Martha, our instructor for the week, slowly, all the way back to the end of the run.
Stopping every now and again for little lessons in parallels and the like, the progress was remarkable. And while confidence is a necessary ingredient for skiing, it can also bring you back to earth with a bang.
The blue run was quite gentle but tricky in places and it was the short narrow stretch that proved to be my downfall. I turned the corner and found a bottleneck of skiers in my path with only a little gap to get past. It was only inches but those small margins were enough to see me clip the skis of one, then two and then some more as I went barrelling along past the rest of my class and bemused instructor, coming to a snowy stop a bit further down the hill.
Luckily I wasn’t hurt but the confidence was shot and the jelly-legs had surfaced calling a premature time to my first day back at school.
But it’s not all about the skiing on these holidays. An immediate bond is struck up with the rest of your class in the ski school as you empathise and encourage each other throughout the highs and inevitable lows of falling face first into a the snow-covered slopes.
There is a good chance that you will spend more time with your classmates than with the friends you go on holiday with, as everyone is at a different level, along with the inevitable divide of snowboarder and skier. But this is what makes ski trips the most social holiday you are ever likely to experience.
Breakfast dates are made, although not always kept, as you make plans to get some skiing in with your peers ahead of ski school. Then everyone meets up for a well-earned lunch – always outdoors that week as the spring temperatures soared – before going their separate ways again for the afternoon lessons and back for a final rendez-vous for the après ski.
One of the main incentives for finding your ski legs in the early part of the week is to allow you to get out beyond the home slopes and explore the rest of the runs and neighbouring resorts.
Pas de la Casa is one of the liveliest towns in Andorra, located just across the French border, two-hour’s drive from the airport in Toulouse.
Pas, as the locals call it, is ideal for all levels of skier and is part of the Grandvalira resort, which is the biggest ski area in the Pyrenees with close to 200 kilometres of slopes throughout. Grandvalira is made up of seven entrances to the slopes, alongside Pas de la Casa sits Encamp, Canillo, El Tarter, Soldeu, Peretol and Grau Roig.
The weekly ski pass allows you to get out and use the 67 ski lifts to explore all 110 slopes and four snowparks throughout Grandvalira, while heli-skiing, snowmobile rides and paragliding trips are also available.
The town centre wraps around the base of the ski slopes, with bars and restaurants hugging the perimeter of the skiing area and the surrounding streets. Pas de la Casa is renowned for its nightlife and most bars in the vicinity have après ski offers to get the crowds in, while tour operators also put on nightly entertainment in the bars and restaurants.
The best bar in the resort is the Underground Bar with great music and friendly staff keeping the nightlife going until the early hours. Milwaukee gets big crowds and is a great place to watch the midweek football, although the DJ can get a bit annoying as the night progresses and the waitresses will try to flog you anything, including shots of laughing gas, which appears to work, for a few moments at least.
The restaurants in the resort are far from fine dining, however, the Olimpiades Inn is run by an Irish couple and offers a quality menu with very wholesome dinners and they even puts on a very tasty carvery roast dinner every week. Another quality restaurant is KSB, which overlooks the slopes, and serves grilled meats, cooked on an open fire that adds to the homely atmosphere. And the obligatory Irish Bar, Paddy’s, prides itself on the all-day breakfasts.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Frontera Blanca apartments, a two-star establishment located in the heart of the town centre and a mere stone’s throw from the ski lifts. In essence, the residence was a place to sleep and leave your belongings as it was pretty basic, however, it did encourage you to get out and about during the day and night, which is what a ski holiday is all about. The clientele is young and noisy, which probably accounts for their very strict cash deposit policy and pre-check out room inspections.