What do you fancy doing today, skiing, snowboarding, sledging, cross country skiing or winter mountain walking? Within an easy three hours drive from the Costa del Sol you could be at Pradollano, you may sometimes hear it called Sol y Nieve, in the Sierra Nevadas, take your pick.
The Sierra Nevada, at 86,208 hectares, is Spain's largest National Park. It also contains the highest mainland peak, Mulhacen, 3,482 metres, and 14 other peaks over 3,000 metres. 20,000 years ago, at the time of the last glacial maximum, the upper parts of the Sierra Nevada were covered in permanent ice. Since then less snow and ice has accumulated over the winter than has melted during the summer. This process accelerates as more darker rock and earth is exposed for longer, causing the land to have a greater period of warming each year than when it is covered in snow and the sun's rays are reflected. The last vestiges of permanent ice disappeared from Mulhacen around 1990. Since then the trend has been for a shorter season of natural snow, and that at higher altitudes, each year. The extent of man's contribution to this natural warming is still very debateable but in Pradollano 300 snow blowers have been installed that, briefly, reverse the trend and extend the skiing season.
So, at Pradollano, on the morning of the 13th January with an air temperature of 160C, no snow underfoot and clear blue skies, colourfully clad people of all ages were emerging from the underground car park with skis and snowboards confident of an exciting time on the piste that had been carefully laid down overnight. The lack of snow has been putting some people off and, during what should be the peak season, the town is fairly quiet. Good news for visitors since there are some great midweek offers on for ski hire and tuition.
When snow conditions are at their best there are 79 pistes with 23 lifts. Runs vary from undulating and wide for beginners to mogul fields for the insane. Most however are in the blue to red, easy to difficult, range. The ski lifts take you as far as the Borreguilles station but from here you can go further, deep into the mountains if you wish, on guided or non-guided cross country skiing trips or mountain walking. There is a particularly punishing 22 kilometre route from here that takes you to the top of Mulhacen.
If you want some fun off the piste, particularly those with young children then drive out of Pradollano. Turn right at the car park outside town and follow the signs for Hoya de la Mora. This takes you up high above the town to a car park beyond which you cannot drive further. There are a couple of snack bars. From here you can take short walks to snow slopes (natural) beneath the Pico del Veleta (3,396 metres) that are not frequented by skiers, ideal for sledging. You can buy those plastic sledges that look like large shovels for a few Euros and hurtle down these slopes to your heart's content. Properly equipped (if you have to ask then this is not for you) it is only 5 kms to the top of Veleta from which point you can see, seemingly and enticingly close, the higher peak of Mulhacen.
Mentioning car parks, if you are prepared to walk a kilometre or so then the first open air one you get to, on the outskirts of town, is a lot cheaper than the underground car park in the centre and here is a true story from one of our residents who we shall call Heve Staymes to protect his identity, and his friend, Hike, who needs no protection but we changed his name anyway. Heve went to Pradollano with Hike in separate cars and stayed overnight. Hike parked in the underground car park but Heve, perceptive as ever, noticed that any painted lines to control parking were covered in snow so parked on the roadside. After a day and a night on and off the piste they retrieved their vehicles. Heve's, not surprisingly, had been towed away. He found it in a secure compound a few feet away from where Hike had parked his. Even more surprisingly Heve paid less to have his car released from the compound than Hike did for parking his legitimately.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.