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Spain ski area offers untold stories

BY PETER SCHROEDER
Most Americans think skiing in Europe means the Alps. But the Pyrenees on the Spanish-French border hold more than 30 ski resorts.
Last year, my wife Risa Wyatt and I skied at Baqueira-Beret, Spain’s largest ski resort, in the northern Pyrenees. Compared with Europe’s better-known ski resorts in Austria, Italy and France,
Baqueira-Beret offers distinct differences.
Located in the Catalonian Pyrenees, where the Catalonian culture and language have made a proud resurgence, you’ll find no signs in English, French, German or even Spanish at the ski area and surrounding villages. A world atlas shows a neat line dividing France from Spain, but nothing could be further from reality. Catalonia is in the process of trying to gain its independence from Spain. To its east sits Andorra, an independent country. To the west is the Basque region, which although technically part of Spain, is nevertheless autonomous. Few people in these mountainous regions even speak Spanish, which is considered their third language.
All postings are in Catalan, although staff at large hotels, restaurants and ski-rental shops speak English.
Chairlift names, with titles such as Blanhblar or Costarjas, are neither pronounceable nor memorable, with the possible exception of the double-diamond-plus run, Escornacrabes (which translates as “where goats fall”). But the area offers an experience you won’t forget.
The magnificent skiing includes almost 100 miles of trails, 3,500 vertical feet, spectacular views of 8,000- to 10,000-foot peaks, and limitless off-piste opportunities. From each of the three peaks that define the resort, one can look down on snowfields that seem to go on forever. It’s easy to imagine Mammoth, Breckenridge and several other Colorado resorts fitting comfortably within the area’s boundaries.
In the evening we hit the lively nightclub scene, where the sangria flowed continuously and foods of the region catered to every appetite. Whether you call them tapas (the Spanish word) or pintxos (Basque), they’re delicious and hit the spot après ski. For wine pairing, think bubbles: Catalonia is the home of cava, Spain’s signature sparkling wine.
Only 2 percent of the visitors to the Pyrenees are from the U.S., and local tourism organizers are eager to increase that number. They offered us story ideas beyond just the skiing, from the 12th-Century Romanesque churches and frescoes in the region to numerous well-stocked alpine fishing lakes.
Local tourism representatives in Baqueira-Beret expressed interest in hosting members of OWAA in their professional capacity. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, outdoors adventures throughout the year in the region include lake fishing, hunting, camping, mountain biking, birding, hiking and more. The gateway to the region is either Barcelona or Toulouse, France, which are in themselves worth a stopover for a few days. Information about Baqueira-Beret is found at http://www.baqueira.es. ♦
[box size=”large”]The Ski Club of International Journalists
The Ski Club of International Journalists is com – posed of 2,000 journalists working in broadcast, print and digital media from 46 countries. OWAA mem – bers interested in learning more about the Ski Club of International Journalists should visit www.scij.info or email U.S.Team Captain Risa Wyatt at words@ risawyatt.com.[/box]
— Peter Schroeder is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in recreational boating, cruising under sail, scuba diving, snow skiing and worldwide adventure travel.

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