When you arrive at this place it feels like you’ve been let in on a secret. You’re a hobbit holding a key, and a single ray of sunshine reveals the hidden door. Behind it lies a Utopian-esque snow globe packed with boundless 360-degree views of virgin snow blanketing 8,000-foot shark-tooth peaks. This is the King of Spain’s secret stash and he’s inviting you to poach his line.
Tucked in the Catalonian Pyrenees, Baqueira Beret is the largest Spanish ski resort, yet most North Americans fly right over top of it on their way to more popular European ski destinations in France, Switzerland, or Austria.
“Fly on,” say the people that know how good the skiing is here. Since it’s first lift started turning in 1964, Baqueira Beret has evolved into a major resort that boasts more than 90 miles of on-piste skiing, four miles of marked off-piste trails, and a whole lot more.
Here are 10 tips for poaching the King’s secret stash.
1. Quaff an Ocean-sized “Lake Effect”
The Atlantic Ocean is to Baqueira Beret what Lake Erie is to Buffalo, New York. The 5,350 acre resort sits on the southern end of the Val d’Aran (Aran Valley) in northwest Catalonia along the French border.
The Atlantic Ocean is just a few hours away as the crow flies, and Baqueira’s westerly aspect and Northern latitude means it receives a good dumping of snow. By spring, average base depths of 5 feet or more are common.
2. Roll Like Royalty
Skiing is a family affair for Spain’s constitutional monarchy. King Felipe VI, Spain’s current king, grew up skiing with his father, King Juan Carlos, who frequented Baqueira’s slopes often during his rein from 1974 to 2014.
Xavi Ubeira Rubio, marketing director at Baqueira, says the King is an ex-racer and ripping skier who loves getting after the most challenging lines. The King and his family stay in their own royal mountainside enclave, La Pleta del Rey.
Baqueira is truly family-friendly, and like many resorts in North America, children’s beginner lessons are taught mid-mountain, meaning you can check in on your little prince and princesses without breaking your ski stride.
3. Grab Your Goat on Escornacrabes
Baqueira’s signature run is appropriately named Escornacrabes, meaning “the place where goats die.” The line starts with a five-foot cornice that drops into a couloir-like chute in between towering chimney’s of Pyrenees cliff. Part of the challenge is staying focused on your skiing while flying down such amazing geology.
A steady 40+ degree pitch dumps you out into rolling backcountry. The terrain from here out skis like a roller coaster with the exception of a few steep pitches and the occasional ravine that can swallow you and your livestock whole. Extend your vertical and lessen your traverse out by staying left and wind up back at the Jorge Jordana lift for another lap.
4. Get After it in the Glades
On my trip to Baqueira, I was part of an annual meeting of more than 200 journalists from around the globe. My friend Astrid Wendlant of France said the landscape reminded her of an ice cream sundae covered in chocolate chips.
The confection is dark rocky spires, too jagged to hold snow, and scattered patches of glades made up of spruce, pine, and beech trees. Unlike much of the big mountain skiing in Europe, Baqueira features fun glade skiing through well-spaced trees, particularly on the lower portion of Baqueira Cap.
5. Stoke the Steeps
Baqueira is really three areas in one: Baqueira, Beret, and Bonaigua. The most advanced terrain is off of the Baqueira Cap peak and Bonaigua. Some of the best resort-accessed steeps are under the TS Teso Dera Mina lift.
To get there, follow the lift line down from the top to about the midway point. From here, scamper through loose-knit glades and keep your eyes peeled on the chutes that fall off to skier’s right.
These are 40+ degree pitches, meaning you can’t see what’s down below and getting cliffed-out is a real possibility. Start small and work you’re way up as you become more familiar with the lines.
6. Get Pumped for Primavera!
When it comes to prime spring skiing, you have good reason to sleep-in until the snow softens up, which is good because the Spanish have dinner at a time when most North Americans are thinking about going to bed. Here leaving the disco at 3 a.m. is quitting early, so plan to set your party clock back at least four hours.
Start your day around 10 a.m. with a few laps on the south-facing terrain off of the Blanhiblar lift on the Beret side. Take the T-bar to the Tuc de Costarjas Summit for one of the best views in the resort.
The runs here are mostly intermediate but you can poke around a little to find some shorter steep pitches and a few mellow cliff rocks to huck if you’re into that kind of thing. From here, tackle more challenging south-facing terrain off of the Manaud lift and move on to north-facing runs in the afternoon.
Boost your uphill mobility with a pair of skins or a helicopter and the skiable off-piste options multiply to the power of 10 or more.
7. Explore the Local Culture
The Val d’Aran is steeped in the culture of the Aranese making this a must-visit no matter what time of year. This is a mountain biker’s mecca in one of the most remote regions of Spain. Folks here were cut off from the rest of the World until a small mountain pass leading to France was built in 1924 followed by a tunnel connecting it to the valley’s capital, Vielha in 1948.
There are dozens of small villages with streets of small stone cottages and shops punctuated with 12th century Romanesque churches. Our group enjoyed touring Salardu, home of the PyrenMuseu and the Church of Sant Andreu de Salardu and the famed wooden sculpture of Christ of Salardu.
8. Tap into the Tapas
Tourism is now the central economy in the Val d’Aran meaning there is no shortage of exceptional places to eat and drink. I arrived at Baqueira at night and was greeted with a super-sized image of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar with his teeth being projected on the outside walls of a building across the courtyard.
It was Albert at B.B. Art, a local’s hang out where you get a triple dose of apres ski, music, and movies. You also can’t pass up having a cerveza with Dibie at the C-Roack bar, and Tiffany’s disco will keep you out much later than you intend.
Get your foodie fix by taking a short drive down to Vielha where a mecca of small tapas bars await. My favorite was La Tasca del Pastor where the chef creates his tasty artistry on an open-air stove behind the bar counter. Other great spots are the Basteret and Tauerna Urtau.
9. Fly On Voodoo Child
To get to Baqueira, fly in to either Toulouse with about a two-hour drive to the resort, or Barcelona for a four-hour drive. From here your best bet, and perhaps only bet, is to rent a car. You’ll definitely want to do some freestyle exploring while in the valley.
10. Mucho Gracias
When you get to Baqueira, be sure to thank the King for letting us poach his line.