Catalonia: A slippery slope

I can't stop thinking about food — last night's melt-in-the-mouth steak and deep, rich Rioja affirming the resort's reputation for outstanding cuisine.

By Jo Gardner
Published 11 Mar 2014, 10:00 GMT, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 17:57 BST

I look at my watch: two hours till lunch.

"Control the velocity," shouts my instructor, trying to snap me out of my foodie daydream. "Widen your skis."

I daren't tell him this isn't my first lesson and that I know how to control the velocity, but conditions are so poor in the Spanish resort of Baqueria that only three slopes are open, making it busier than Piccadilly Circus on a Monday morning.

Once popular with the Spanish royal family, Baqueira's 70 runs, 14,000 beds and 180 restaurants sit in the Val d'Aran valley in the Pyrenees and offer skiing, snowboarding, dog sledging and heli-skiing for couples, groups and families who don't want to spend a small fortune. The trade off is the unpredictable conditions.

"It's called mashed potato," says my guide, sympathetically, as I narrowly miss the spray of a passer-by. "This deep, wet stuff," — he digs his poles in to demonstrate — "it's called mashed potato." Ooh, mashed potato, I think.

This time I'm snapped out of my daydream by a snowboarder who can't see me and knocks me clean off my feet, sending me flying in the opposite direction of my left ski.

"If conditions were this bad on the roads," I mutter, re-attaching my ski while my bum soaks up more than a comfortable amount of water, "motorists would be made to use fog lights or warned not to drive." I look up indigently, willing him to understand. "Si," he shrugs.

Thank goodness for the travelator, a genius idea that makes getting up the mountain much easier — and the comedy exit off the button lift a thing of the past. I use each five-minute 'ride' to think about my last run and come up with ways to make the next one better. By the time my skis touch the snow at the other end, I'm brimming with resolve.

Then I immediately crash into another snowboarder and am back where I started: on my bum.

"Let's try something different," says the instructor, trying to keep my spirits up. "We'll go higher up where there are less people and you can ski right down to the bottom. Si?" "Si," I say, reluctantly.

It's certainly quieter the higher up we go, but the fog is so thick I might as well be wearing a blindfold. "This seems a little dangerous," I shout, as I watch him swoosh down the mountain, leaving me no choice but to follow. Thankfully, the gradient is impossible to determine, and the snow looks like a spongy duvet.

The next five minutes I experience a mixed bag of emotions: the elation of the speed dampened by the high crash potential. I'm almost at the bottom when, sure enough, my skis clip the side of a girl's snowboard and we both land on the floor in a heap. But it's OK because I can finally see something in front of me, and I have a feeling it's the restaurant.

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