While European skiers and snowboarders often eye the Alps for annual winter getaways, Spain and its formidable Pyrenees offer a much more feasible mountain alternative within driving distance of both Madrid and Barcelona.
In recent years, ski resorts in Andorra and Spain have gained international recognition for affordable ski vacations, consistent snow and friendly terrain. Formigal in Spain’s Aragonese Pyrenees has taken that charge a step further, adding a dash of Spanish nightlife and a load of off-hill activities suited for families, thrill seekers and snow lovers to its 176 kilometers of ski slopes (the most in Spain).
It has looked to mountain masters in Austria and France to create an all-around ski and snowboard experience, cementing itself as a Spanish favorite in the process.
For those looking for a weekend out of the city or a long vacation in the mountains, here is how to get the most out of Spain’s liveliest winter resort.
With its ample terrain and wide trails, Formigal is a perfect place to learn to ski. But the resort goes a step further, connecting its 176 km of terrain with beginner and intermediate terrain so that skiers can travel the full length of the resort with ease.
It may seem like a small gesture, but it gives beginner skiers and boarders a chance to see and experience the whole mountain, rather than being banished to a small handful of beginner runs at the edge of the resort. A real difference maker for groups of varying ability levels.
A 30-minute hike above the Collados quad chairlift, Formigal’s Freeride Zone serves up thrills for the advanced skiers in any group. With big chutes and bowls, the Freeride Zone is unmanaged terrain perfect for powder skiing and off-piste adventures. Terrain leads back into the resort or continues all the way down to the access road for Sarrios, where a bus picks up skiers and boarders and brings them back to Sextas.
Make sure you have proper off-piste knowledge and gear (avalanche beacon, shovel and probe) before venturing into this advanced, and dangerous zone (as well as a partner).
When hunger strikes on the slopes, Burguer Izas serves up a delicious resort burger from its mid-mountain sundeck. Easily accessible for beginner skiers and riders, the outdoor restaurant is located right off the Sorrios double chairlift in the Zona Izas. Weekend visitors are usually treated to a live DJ on the sundeck as well.
For those looking for a more exclusive experience, La Glera is a gastronomical and alpine delight. Situated at 2000 meters, this small cabin kitchen serves its flame-grilled chuleta with sweeping mountain vistas. Only accessible via snowcat ride and ski during the day, La Glera isn’t the easiest on-hill restaurant to get to, but it is well worth the journey. Make a reservation to ensure your place in this unique lunch hideaway.
If you are trying to save a few euros, the Repsol station down the street from Sextas base area sells cheap bocadillos and drinks at a fraction of the cost. Stock up on snacks for the day or grab a quick bite at lunch time and save those euros for a night on the town (or more food, of course).
Despite a whole array of ski terrain, Formigal’s claim to fame in recent years has been its dedicated apres ski tradition. When the lifts close for the day, Formigal’s Sextas base area transforms into Marchica, a one-of-a-kind, post-ski dance club. Sip mixed drinks with your ski boots on, and dance along to live DJ sets from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. When things shut down at Marchica, head up to town to keep the party going, or grab some dinner and get to bed early. Remember, tomorrow is another day.
After a few hours of partying at Marchica, wind down with a drink and small plates at La Luna in the town of Formigal. Offering a decent array of beers (both bottled and on draft), and a full list of appetizers and small plates like nachos and chicken wings to hold you over until dinner time.
La Luna’s kitchen opens at 8:30 p.m., so there is no rush to get there early. Space is limited however, so don’t wait too long to grab a table in this downtown bar and eatery.
A local favorite with a reputation to match, La Tosquera is a diner’s paradise. Featuring the freshest seafood and chuleta in town, La Tosquera is one of the hottest plates in Formigal, often requiring a dinner reservation a week in advance. The family-owned restaurant is right in the heart of Formigal village, easy walking distance from the smattering of hotels dotting the hillside.
And yes, the plates are huge, so order wisely and share graciously.
Lift passes range from €38.80 – €44.60 for adults and €31 – €36 for children aged 11 and under or over 65s depending on whether you go mid-week or weekend or during holidays.
There is a rental place at Sextas for all your skiing and snowboarding needs, including helmets. And there's also a well-stocked shop if you need to buy some new gloves, googles or even a whole new outfit for the slopes.
For rental prices for boots and skis see below:
There is no shortage of lodging options in Formigal, but if you haven’t booked a private villa or townhome yet, chances are hotels will be the only options available. But worry not, because hotels are aplenty and often come with a nice lift ticket deal.
The YOY Villa de Sallent often builds lift tickets and breakfast into its price, consolidating costs for those traveling on a budget. Located just a few minutes walk from the free buses that shuttle back and forth between the resort and town, this is an easy option for families as well as groups looking for a weekend in the mountains.
For those that need more than a day on the slopes, Formigal has a collection of non-skiing activities worth dropping in on. The most entertaining of these has to be the toboggan and dinner package at Sextas. For €42, participants dine at the mid-mountain Trattoria Cantal (an experience in it of itself) before descending 2.5 kilometers on a specially-equipped toboggan. The slope is lit for the occasion, which takes place every week on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Formigal is a five-hour drive from Madrid, and a four-and-a-half hour trip from Barcelona. Bus companies like SKI-BUS connect the ski resort to major cities throughout Spain, and the nearest airport is Huesca Airport, located an hour and a half from the slopes (shuttles to the resort are available, but expensive).
More information: For more from the resort, including up to date snow reports and live webcam visit the resort website.
Kade Krichko is an international journalist and photojournalist focusing on the intersection between sport, culture and current events. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Outside, Thrillist and Condé Nast Traveler among others. Kade currently splits his time between Madrid and Bilbao. Follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram or at his website.