With a wide grin on her face, and her red scarf and skirt flying behind her, a skier is shown airborne against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. In a second picture, a svelte figure follows a piste marked with red flags; while in another, an elegant couple in matching sweaters hold hands as they ski gracefully down the mountainside.These were the figures used to adorn posters advertising the first winter sports events in Catalunya between 1911 and 1913. Their confidence and poise belies the fact that just five years earlier, during the Christmas holidays of 1908, the sport had been introduced to the region for the first time. This winter, a whole group of cultural and sporting events will celebrate the centenary of skiing in Catalunya. On the sporting side, Catalunya will host its first alpine skiing World Cup event as well as Spanish championship competitions in snowboarding, downhill and mountain skiing. Among the cultural events on offer, there will be a roving exhibition of photographs showing the evolution of the sport over the years as well as a separate exhibition of the clothes and materials used in the early days.
The story of skiing started here when members of the hiking organisation Centre Excursionista de Catalunya (CEC) set up a mountain sports section to promote winter activities. In 1908, a group of intrepid sports people led by Albert Santamaría—a CEC delegate at the first International Winter Sports Competition in Chamonix the previous year—went to Rasos de Peguera, near Berga, to practise skiing for the first time. Such was the success of the trip that, by the following year, skiers could be found in Montseny, La Molina, Núria and Ull de Ter.
By dint of trial and error, these skiers began to learn techniques that would allow them to traverse the snowy slopes safely. As interest and enthusiasm grew, sledging competitions were organised in La Molina, while the CEC, together with the town of Ribes, launched the first of many Winter Sports weeks in 1911.
In 1919, the pioneering mountain climber and skier Lluís Estasen i Pla, wrote: “Since the Mountain Sports Section celebrated the first winter sports competition, skiing, which was almost unknown, has taken root in our lands, not only as an interesting sport but as a practical means of transport which serves as a way to visit high mountains in winter, and to enjoy the beautiful snow-covered landscape and the thrilling descent down slopes which allow you to pick up great speed.”
Skiing was given a further boost following the opening of a train line to La Molina in 1922, where two years later the first Spanish skiing competition was held. In 1925, the CEC opened a chalet for skiers there, and in 1943, La Molina officially became Catalunya’s first ski resort when it installed a drag lift. It later continued its pioneering approach by introducing snow-making equipment and a four-seater chair lift.
In the meantime, during the Thirties, a new type of skier was emerging—one who instead of using skis to explore the mountains, chose to go up and down the same slopes perfecting their style. The 25th anniversary of skiing was celebrated in 1933 at Rasos de Peguera when a commemorative plaque was placed in a refuge built for the occasion. While the Spanish Civil War put a stop to civilian skiing, both sides used military units of skiers.
After the war and during World War II, amateurs returned to the slopes despite the limited resources available. The first ski school had opened in La Molina in 1944, and three years later its instructors went to Alp, Ribes, Espot and villages in the Vall d’Aran to teach the villagers to ski. In 1947, a ski resort opened in the Vall de Núria and in the Sixties, in Baqueira Beret, Masella and Espot.
From the Seventies onwards, resorts would open at Port del Comte, Vallter 2000, Port Ainé and Tavascan among others. The centenary represents an important milestone for skiing in Catalunya, according to Diana Larrahona, of the Federació Catalana d’Esports d’Hivern (FCEH). “It’s part of our tourism. We have a lot of people coming here to ski. In one day you can ski in the morning and then go to the beach in the afternoon."
Ski resorts for beginners and families:
Rasos de Peguera is just 114 kilometres from Barcelona and 14 kilometres from Berga. It is where the seeds for Catalunya’s modern-day ski industry were planted, although the resort did not open until 1974. It has a skiable area of eight kilometres, including one green, two blue and six red runs and is perfect for beginners and families. www.ajberga.cat
Vall de Núria, in Queralbs, is one of Catalunya’s oldest resorts having opened in 1947 and is specifically geared towards families, with seven kilometres of downhill skiing, including three green, three blue, two red and two black runs. Access to the resort is by a rack and pinion railway known as the Cremallera de Núria (Zipper of Núria). www.valldenuria.com
Vallter 2000, situated in a glacial cirque in the Vall de Camprodon, is the most easterly resort of the Spanish Pryenees. It opened in 1975 and has just under 18 kilometres of downhill skiing including two green, three blue, six red and two black runs. Located just over 150 kilometres from Barcelona, it attracts day skiers and is a popular family resort. www.vallter2000.com
Ski resorts for intermediate skiers:
La Molina, where it all started, has a skiable area of 53 kilometres, including seven green, 12 blue, 15 red and six black runs on pine-covered slopes in the Vall de Nuria. In 1999, a new telecabin joined La Molina to the neighbouring resort of Masella (see below), offering a total skiable area of 121 kilometres. www.lamolina.com
Masella is the second biggest resort in Catalunya and has its own microclimate giving it more sunshine hours than any other Pyrenean ski centre. It opened in 1967 and has a skiable area of 68 kilometres with eight green, 21 blue, 20 red and seven black runs, 80 percent of which pass through forest.
Just one-and-a-half hours from Barcelona, it is a popular family resort and offers a good range of skiing to suit all abilities. www.masella.com
Baqueira Beret is Catalunya’s largest ski resort and is favoured by King Juan Carlos and his family. Located in the Vall d’Aran, 200 kilometres north of Barcelona, it has 108 kilometres of marked slopes, including five green, 33 blue, 25 red and six black runs. It opened in 1964 and has an Atlantic climate, which guarantees good quality snow and the longest skiing season in Catalunya. www.baqueira.es
Multisport ski resort:
Boí Taüll, which opened in 1991, is the highest ski resort in the Pyrenees at a height of 2,750 metres and offers one of the widest ranges of winter sports, including extreme, mountain, downhill and cross-country skiing. It is located in the Vall de Boí, 270 kilometres from Barcelona. www.boitaullresort.es