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Skiing in Andorra
Sitting snug in the Pyrenees mountain range in Andorra is Arinsal. Pine trees flank the sides of the steep slopes leading down to the pretty village.
Everything is very compact and near in Arinsal. My hotel was just a two minute walk to the gondola, which took me up to the large ski area.
I had come skiing with my 24-year-old son. Although neither of us were yearly skiers, we had skied a few times in France and Switzerland, and were eager to see how Andorra compared.
One the first day, we hired boots and skies and stowed our walking shoes in lockers. It all happened very efficiently and orderly in a laid-back kind of way. As we were to learn, everything is quite relaxed and easy going in Andorra.
Wanting to regain our ski legs, we decided to book ourselves into ski school, and met up with a group of like-minded English people all bubbling over with enthusiasm but at the same time feeling hesitant about getting onto two long pieces of wood.
Our fears and worries were soon dissipated when the Andorrian ski school instructors arrived, wearing their bright green jackets, and asked us each in turn to ski down a gentle slope to test our ability so they could put us into groups.
Although I ended up in a different group to my 24-year-old son, I was with people who were going through the same fears and anxieties as me - how not to fall over and trying to remember how to do a parallel turn.
Arinsal is the perfect ski resort for beginners or those who have not skied for a few years and want to regain their confidence. There's a large nursery slope area, and once you have mastered stopping, the 63km of slopes are wide and gentle, perfect for practising those parallel turns. (There are seven green runs, 15 blue runs, 16 red and four black). But more comfortingly, the instructors mainly from England, Scotland and South America, all seem to have endless patience and empathy with novice and less confident s kiers.
My ski instructor Michele, who came from Chile, never tired of saying 'you must push down with your big toe and lean forward' during our three hour lesson. But putting the 'big toe' theory into practice was a lot harder then it sounds, and a wobble here or actual tumble there into the soft snow was par for the course.
To get to the top of the mountain there is six-man ski lift. Once at the peak, we then followed Michele in a snake-like file down the slope, stopping every so often to regain our stamina, ease our aching thighs, and learn more theory. We hung onto Michele's every word as she instructed us with her ski mantra - 'push down on your big toe and lean forward'.
In the afternoon, the time was our own to, as Michele said, to 'practik, practik, practik' our new found ski skills.
Arinsal isn't a vast ski resort, I soon got to know the runs which helped to boost my confidence as I got my bearings as to where I was on the mountain, how to get home, and more importantly where not to go - down a black run.
So often in the Alps, the area is so vast that it takes a while to get to know the runs let alone learn how to stay up in a vertical position on your two skies.
There's also village-like atmosphere here, everyone gets to know each other very quickly. By the middle of the week, I felt as if I knew most people, and often met fellow skiers on the slopes as I stopped to take a quick breather before carrying down to the bottom; or in the village at the end of the day when I went shopping in the supermarket or had a welcoming cup of hot chocolate.
Apres ski is just as important as skiing in Arinsal. The pubs are friendly and inviting. On the first night, Directski organises a pub crawl so that you can meet up with fellow skiers and get to know the drinking holes. Then through the week, the tour operator offers a selection of activities from sledging with children to a night of entertainment and dancing, which all encourages a great party atmosphere.
One of my favourite places was in a bar in one of the larger hotels where a crooner played at the grand piano from 8pm every evening and I sank down on the comfy, soft sofa sipping a glass of wine listening to him.
The area, known as Vallnord, lies at an altitude of 1,550 and 2,560 metres and covers three ski resorts, as well as Arinsal, there's Pal, which can be reached by ski lifts, and Ordino Arcalis. Each area is aimed at different types people. Whereas Arinsal caters mainly for families and couples, Pal is the place for large groups, especially men, and it is getting known as 'Mandorra', and Arcallis is an area 40 minutes by bus which is know as Andorra's 'best kept secret' because the views are so spectacular and it is where Andorran's like to ski.
Arinsal may not have the French chic style of Val d'Isere or Concherel, where the ski apparel is just as much in competition as skiing ability, but it is very friendly and welcoming and perfect for building up skiing confidence.
At the end of the holiday, as we were taking off our ski boots in the locker room for the very last time, and proud that our skiing ability had improved. One woman said: "Andorra wasn't my first choice, but I have had such a good holiday here I am definitely coming again". It's because it is laid back and so friendly that makes the holiday such a success and there isn't any snobbery here, people just want to ski and have fun.
As another woman said: What a great stress buster skiing is'. I agreed with her, for an entire week my only worries were pressing down with my big toe and what runs I was going to attempt.
Directski.com has a week's ski holiday in the Andorran resort of Arinsal from £395 per person, including return Gatwick flights (Manchester £415pp) transfers and half board accommodation. To book visit www.directski.com Directski.com Directski.com