31 Jul Day One in the Spanish Pyrenees: Unlimited Heli-Skiing & Delicious Tapas
What would your response be if I told you I was going heli-skiing in Spain?
If you are anything like my friends or our guests who I told then you would have the same reaction – a giggle, a smirk and a confused repetition of my statement “Heli-skiing in Spain?? Really?” But earlier this year that is exactly what myself and Richard Lumb did, and we were blown away!
We flew from Zurich – Barcelona, but anyone in the know would fly direct to Toulouse (France) which is just a one hour 45 minute transfer to the Val D’Aran and the resort of Baquiera-Beret in the northern/central Pyrenees. As we arrived in the evening we met our guides in a beautiful, no thrills tapas bar half way up the valley, complete with open fire, comfy couches and enough stunning tapas and Rioja to help you sleep like a baby.
Next morning we met up with our guide and prepared for an action packed day of heli-skiing, beginning with equipment fitting and safety briefings. Once we were kitted out with the latest Black Crow Skis, ABS backpacks and avalanche gear we were off to meet the helicopter.
For those that have heli-skied in Europe before, you will know that you can only fly on certain days, to certain drop off points and are limited on your choice of runs – quite often meaning that on sunny blue bird powder days the helicopter drop offs are more a kin to a high speed four man chair lift.
Prepare to be BLOWN AWAY! When we say unlimited, we mean unlimited! The only boundary is the National Park and the French Border meaning there are countless possibilities. If you can see it and the pilot can land then you can ski it! If he can’t land then you can ski tour but that’s tomorrows adventure!
Once out the helicopter you will find all types of terrain beneath your powder skis – steep and deep, soft and cruisey. Steep pitch, flat pitch, forest runs, open slopes, gulleys, chutes, drops and did I mention the unlimited expanse of open faces to enjoy? It really is a skiers playground.
Four heli drops later we had skied a mixture of snow. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t waist deep powder, in fact it wasn’t powder at all – it was firm to start with and then softened with the sun to great spring, firn snow. The next best think to powder in my opinion – hard underneath but soft on top allowing for the powdery floating feeling. It was an absolutely fantastic ski experience, the quiet, peaceful mountains enjoyed by just the four of us with a private helicopter. Note that I used the word ‘experience’ as that is exactly what this is; it’s more than a holiday.
It doesn’t end here. The FOOD – wow! Spanish food is one of my favourite, so I may be a bit biased – but once you have tasted the food, experienced the tapas bars and indulged in the local gastro culture, you will be hooked. When you realise the price – you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.
Traditional houses or restaurants, some of them no thrills with stone walls and years of tradition are the ones to seek out. The hotels (the 4 and 5 star ones) have some fancy, excellent restaurants, with fondues and raclettes, and steak houses – but it’s the local gems that you really want to find.
We had a delightful welcome in a no thrills tapas restaurant, with endless amounts of the stuff. Including dishes you don’t expect, like fois gras (in abundance), sturgeon fish carpaccio and cavier, as well as all the traditional sausages, meats and cheese and pimientos de padrone. The main course being a HUGE steak of course, cooked rare over a charcoal grill and served tapas style – just incredible!
After our first day heli-skiing we enjoyed a meal that would not have been out of place in any Michelin starred restaurant in the world. The staff informed us that they were in the Michelin guide, but got taken out because of some regulation or other and since then, their customers have been writing regularly to Mr Michelin to get them back in – but in true chef style – they don’t want it now!
Richard who graces the best restaurants Courchevel 1850 can offer agreed that as a meal and a restaurant, this place deserves at least a star!! The chef spoiled us with a delightful 10 courses, including deer carpaccio with fois gras shavings, squid with bacon and chorizo jus, salmon and avocado tartar, tomato and olive oil gazpacho with avocado ice cream, scallops with pork belly and main courses that included monk fish, lamb and duck. We stumbled out (full – not drunk!)