Crowd-free Spanish ski slopes in and plenty of space to carve out some turns
This is my first package ski holiday - and it's to Spain, so I'm expecting a bit of a scrum at the Gatwick check-in. But Formigal is new to British ski operators so there are only 11 of us on the flight - and that includes the cabin crew.
Our rep, Alastair, from Neilson, introduces us to the ski area. This is made up of four almost-parallel valleys interconnected by a network of lifts, covering 137km of runs. The resort has undergone a major revamp, and it shows - free ski buses to the four ski base stations, brand-new lifts and cleverly planned runs that allow you to ski all the way to France and back on either red runs or blue - perfect if you're holidaying with skiers of different abilities. There are blacks, too, of course, marked on the piste map from muy dificil through solo expertos to dificultad extrema - even if you have no Spanish at all, it's obvious which ones to avoid.
The great appeal of skiing in Spain is the promise of sun, but on day one we have the sort of cloud that promises snow. By day three it's dropping out of the sky like a blanket and we head out first thing in search of powder. There's hardly anyone around, and my husband is nervous of the fact he can't see two yards in front of him, so he stops for a hot chocolate while I make the mistake of heading up the mountain on my own, and down what I know to be an easy red. Hampered by appalling visibility and deep powder, I almost crawl down the narrow trail as I can't even see the piste markers. My heart is pounding, but thanks to Alistair's constant quizzing on the first day about which run we're on and which valley we're in, I have a clear map of the area in my head as well as in my pocket and am confident that the one set of ghostly tracks I'm following won't suddenly drop off the edge of a cliff.
By nightfall, the wind has risen to a howling fury, flinging ice needles so sharp in our faces that we wear goggles just to make it to the bar of the Nievesol Hotel. This is a relic of the old Formigal, a family-run affair with a good bar, cosy corners and hearty meals. In contrast, our hotel, the Aragón Hills, is ultra smart and perched up at the top of the town, with a stunning circular glass-sided lounge and panoramic views.
For lunch each day we choose either the restaurant at the Sextas base station, where Spanish families spend hours over the three-course set menu, or the Cabana Izas, up on a high plateau, with a terrace perfect for sitting out in the sun with a drink and a baguette. This is my favourite spot as it's close to the button lifts that take you up to runs ideal for perfecting fast, carving turns - any sort of drag lift is poison to snowboarders and means that you won't smash into a group of them loitering halfway down the slope in a blind spot. But there are few boarders on the pistes in Formigal - they prefer the jumps and rails of their own snowpark.
On the day we leave, all the lifts are open again after the storm and Formigal is bathed in sunshine. The resort has been relatively empty all week, so the absence of British voices has not seemed unusual. But now the Spanish are out in force and it strikes me that if you want a real away-from-it-all ski holiday, forget Brit-ridden France and Switzerland, Spain is the place to come.
Seven nights half-board with Neilson at the Aragón Hills costs from £605 per person (£459 at the Nievesol Hotel) including flights and transfers. The Skier's Pack (including lift pass, equipment and tuition) costs £258/£314 low/high season. To book, visit www.neilson.co.uk.
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