The plan was to travel to Spain's Andalucia region to drink good rioja, admire Moorish architecture and get lost in ancient neighborhoods. But the sight of the snowcapped mountains above the city can rouse any skier from a paella-induced coma. That's why, wearing running pants, rain jackets and baseball caps, my husband and I drive our tiny rented Opel from Granada up 20 miles of switchbacks to Europe's southernmost slopes.
Sierra Nevada, Spanish for "snowy mountain range, is a large resort with a solid vertical drop of close to 4,000 feet. Still, despite the name, it isn't known for luscious powder or stomach-in-your-throat terrain. The resort relies heavily on man-made snow and extensive grooming to keep its 79 mild-mannered runs white from November through May. Given the laid-back topography and 60-degree March weather, we don't have great expectations. Our motivation is to check out the views from the Veleta summit — one of six that comprise the resort — then ski enough to justify more paella and rioja.
Like proper Spaniards, we stay out late and sleep until the clock ticks into the double digits. By the time we hand over 70 euros (about $94) for two lift tickets and shuffle onto one of the resort's 23 lifts, the locals are already gathering at outdoor tables to eat lunch and work on their tans. A voice in my head begs me to sit down and cool off with a glass of sangria, but my husband chimes in: "Let's just do a few runs and see how we feel, he says, wiping the sweat from his brow.
From the Prodollano — a complex of hotels, restaurants and ski shops clinging to the side of the mountain — two gondolas take skiers up 1,500 feet to the Borreguiles ski station. From there, you can ride to the 11,145-foot summit and head left to a handful of runs rated muy dificil or cruise down El Rio corridor, an intermediate route that crisscrosses a snow-covered river. After sliding down a few slushy blues, we're ready for a greater challenge: riding a T-bar up to the Veleta summit. After 15 minutes of "Stop pushing me! and "Get your ski off of my boot, we arrive at Spain's third highest peak. From here, we can just make out Costa del Sol, where, less than 24 hours ago, we were happily sunning our still-pasty bodies.
"It's beautiful, I say wistfully. Pause. Sigh. Now back to business — and to the midmountain hut for a snack of salmonwrapped asparagus and the best glass of rioja we've tasted all week.
Skiers fly into Granada's airport, a half-hour drive from the resort. Lift Tickets are about $47; $15 for nightskiing.
Information: 011-346-461-784-07; sierranevada.co.uk