There is an infamous ski story that everyone who tells it claims happened to someone they know.
It’s the one where a female skier is ‘caught short’ on the piste and in her desperation for a ‘pee’ she skis into some trees just to the side of the slope, quickly drops her salopettes, and squats down to relieve herself. But to her horror her skis start to slide beneath her, and she gently and serenely glides out onto a piste of crowded skiers and snowboarders still in her squatting position with her clothing still around her ankles.
Some people insist it is a true story while others say it is apocryphal. But whatever its authenticity, the Andorran resort of Soldeu – El Tarter has come up with its own version, except in reverse!
The resort has built a toilet on one of the pistes close to the top of the Chairlift TSF4 Assaladors for skiers and snowboarders which has a one-way picture window – that is, people using the facilities can see out, but those skiing and snowboarding past, cannot see in. What you might call a loo with a view.
It is a bit disconcerting when you are inside ‘doing your business’ in a state of undress to have such a clear view of everyone on the snow covered piste outside. And most visitors to the facilities, after they have finished, immediately go outside to check the window really is only one way.
But this is just one example of the fun side of Andorra and how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s not to say this tiny, independent principality, perched between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains is immature.
The country made a serious name for itself as a tax-haven that encourages visitors to take advantage of its duty-free shopping – although outside pressures on the Andorran government to increase taxation has made the country less of a tax haven in recent years.
Its skiing history goes back to the 50s when ski champion Francesc Viladomat organised for the first ski lift to be installed in Pas de la Casa which then gradually formed itself into a larger resort. At the beginning of the 60s the neighbouring area of Soldeu also put in its first ski lift. Other ski areas followed and some eventually linked up. Skiers now have a choice of two major destinations – Grandvalira, (210km of piste) which includes Soldeu – El Tarter and Pas de la Casa – Grau Roig, and Vallnord, (93km of piste) which contains the unlinked resorts of Pal Arinsal and Ordino Arcalís.
The linking of these resorts into these two larger areas has helped put Andorra on the map as a major ski and snowboard destination and this in turn attracted the interest of several leading tour operators including Britain’s biggest ski company Crystal.
A small dark cloud did hang over the future of Grandvalira a few months ago while preparations were being made to host an FIS World Cup Finals in the country for the first time in March this year. In the summer of 2017 President of Grandvalira, Joan Viladomat, whose interests lie in Pas de la Casa, officially announced that he was prepared to do away with the joint lift pass with Soldeu as he was allegedly unhappy with the attention he expects the latter will get in the future because of the millions being spent in the resort on new developments for the World Cup Finals.
The two sides now appear to have put their rivalries behind them, and the future is once again bright. This has encouraged Crystal to increase their investment in Andorra to tempt more customers to the ski areas. Next season Crystal is introducing a new flight route from Bristol to Toulouse to improve access, plus, early booking offers include £75 off childcare and a deal on a half price lift pass and equipment hire bundle when booked together.
Andorra is certainly a family friendly destination and Crystal’s childcare offer will be an attraction. But make sure you take plenty to keep the kids occupied during the transfers to and from the airport as the journey from either Barcelona or Toulouse can take around three hours. But don’t let the transfer put you off as it is certainly worth making the journey to Andorra. After all, it’s not every place you get a loo with a view.
Frank travelled to Andorra with Crystal Ski Holidays – www.crystalski.co.uk where he stayed at the 4* Hotel Piolets Park & Spa in Soldeu – www.parkpiolets.com. Andorra has its own 22 bedroomed ice hotel in Grau Roig which is rebuilt each season.