Family Nordic Skiing at Guils Fontanera, Catalonia
Fancy a skiing holiday without the cost of a lift pass or the queues to get on the mountain? Have you thought about trying Nordic skiing? It’s a peaceful, bonding, more natural experience than its downhill sister. But be warned; it is more challenging than it first appears, and you’ll struggle to look good in the video…
Nordic skiing at Guils Fontanera
It’s just me and the forest. And a track; one of 25 at L’Estacio Guils Fontanera resort in The Pyrenees. And some skis. I can ski just fine. So why do I keep falling over? Thankfully I’m not alone in this, as this video shows. There are clearly more differences between alpine and nordic skiing than I realised.
A cheaper, softer way to ski
The difference begins with the price. Nordic skiing is far cheaper than alpine; mainly because you take away the high cost of the lift pass. You won’t need one because there aren’t any lifts. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any slopes!
The equipment is different too; more user friendly. You don’t have to cram your toes into foot shaped slabs of cast iron and then force them into torturous bindings. You simply lace up a pair of shoes similar to walking boots (you can hire these from the resort) and hook the front of your boot into a clip on a narrow ski. For us, it’s a welcome break for the feet in a packed week of downhill skiing.
The flat, hilly way round
On first glance the horizon looks flat. We pad our way towards the forest, across a snowfield with only one track. But we soon discover it is more hilly than it looks. What would be a little bump on an alpine ski slope becomes a massive mountain for a beginner on Nordic Skis. I attempt to snow plough while careering down an icy groove, arms out front.
“Do not lean forward,” advises my instructor. Too late.
Into the wild
Nordic skiing may take a bit of practice, but the rewards are instantaneous. There are far fewer people around; even at the weekend Guils Fontenera can only kit out 400 people. This is small fry compared to how the other resorts are packing them in. So it feels a wilder experience. Humans aren’t top of the food chain at Guils Fontanera; a resort in the Cerdanya region of the Catalan Pyrenees. This spacious resort, on the northern side of Puigcerda, is the territory of trees and wildlife. You don’t own the mountain here. It’s clear you are just visiting trails which stretch for 45 kilometres. But you are invited to roam freely on runs that range from green to black. You can play ‘spot the tracks’, you can go in search of forest animals, or you can just enjoy the white paradise, the lack of sound, the view over far mountains and the sunshine on your face.
Not for the image conscious
But one word of warning, you can’t come here to pose. If you are a beginner at the sport, you are going to look rubbish. Even the professionals look clumsy somehow, although they are just about clinging on to their balance. The Director Joseph Blas Martinez was once 3rd best in the world for Nordic skiing. But even he blasts by looking like he is about to topple over at any moment.
Fun in the snow
There is however a high fun factor in learning to Nordic ski. We spend most of our time on our backsides and it seems incredible that our instructor lets us loose, on our own after lunch. We set off on a green run that defeats us as soon as it goes from flat to downhill. I haven’t laughed so much in years. And then suddenly pantomime becomes fairytale when it starts to snow. The forest quietens down so much I think I can hear the flakes falling on the pearly white banks.
Peace, quiet and a fun day out
Nordic skiing is as peaceful as it gets. It’s a bit of a challenge, and a great day out. If you’re thinking of taking a winter sports holiday you should build it in. It’ll save you money and give you a new perspective on the world. But posers beware; as a first timer on this terrain, you are never going to look good in a Nordic ski boot. Maybe you should opt for snow shoes instead?
Disclosure Note: Our thanks to Costa Brava Girona Patronat de Turisme and the Nordic ski resort of Guils Fontanera whose support enabled us to bring you this story. The views and experience are, as ever, entirely our own.