The First Skier
The first documented appearance of skis in Andorra was in 1924: Miquel Farré, a postman from Soldeu, is credited with importing the first pair when he returned from a routine cross-border collection in France.
He had noticed that his French counterparts had swapped their snowshoes for long wooden skis. Observing that they were able to move about a lot more quickly and easily, he promptly got a pair for himself. The postman's newfangled mode of transport caused quite a stir back in Andorra and quickly caught on as a way of moving around during the winter months.
THE FIRST SKI SLOPES
The leisure and sporting possibilities of this new mode of transport were also quickly realised. The first recreational ski slope was opened in 1931, in a field in the Vall d'Incles near Soldeu, and the Ski Club of Andorra was founded during the following season.
The first rudimentary ski lifts didn't appear until 1952; just simple rope tows powered by lorry motors. Five years later, the first mechanical ski lift was in operation: the Coll Blanc button tow in Pas de la Casa, marking the foundation of Andorra's first official ski station. The demand for facilities grew, and Andorra's second ski station was founded in 1964 at Soldeu; followed by Arinsal in 1972.
All three ski stations were private enterprises, established by local enthusiasts who enjoyed their skiing just as much as they desired to run a business.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SKI AREAS
Beginnings of an Industry
The growing popularity of skiing had not gone unnoticed by the Andorran government, and in 1982 the first publically owned station was opened at Pal. Ordino parish then followed suit a year later with the development of Arcalís.
In 1999, construction began on the cable car connecting Pal and Arinsal.
Soldeu by then had already added the huge El Tarter snowbowl to its domain, and Pas de la Casa continued to stretch out further beyond Grau Roig. This brought these neighbouring ski areas steadily closer together, eventually to the extent that their pistes overlapped, yet the two enterprises stayed resolutely divided. Soldeu and Pas de la Casa each belong to different parishes (Canillo and Encamp), and a long-running feud over communal grazing pastures got in the way of a union, creating a ludicrous situation whereby each resort's visitors skied together on some pistes but were confined to their own sector's lifts.
Faced with increased competition from low-cost Eastern European ski areas, Andorra needed to develop a more serious, less down-market image. Therefore, in late 2004, the communes of Encamp and Canillo swallowed their pride and created a joint company to administer and market their two ski areas as a single linked domain (christened Grandvalira), capable of competing with Europe's largest ski areas and helping to catapult Andorra into the world's premier league of wintersports destinations.
Andorra's ski stations have continued to commit serious investment and effort into improving their infrastructure and services. As a result, the country now boasts the Pyrenees' most extensive and most modern ski areas: with almost 200 pistes extending to a total of over 300 km (186 miles), covering more than 10 per cent of the country's entire surface area; a long way from that first field back in 1931!
Continued investment and improvement of existing facilities are the current focus, but an interesting proposal has been the topic of après-ski conversations among station personnel and regular visitors for years now: Pas de la Casa has recently expanded into the undeveloped slopes on French territory immediately next to the town, and the peaks above are only one valley away from the slopes of the small French ski station of Porté-Pumoyens. The development of the Pyrenees' first cross-border ski domain is tantalisingly close; watch this space!
UPDATE December 2010: unfortunately, this project has been axed.