Aragon, or the thousand faces of the mountain
In Aragon, amidst the Pyrenees, white landscapes of exuberant beauty await in winter, inviting you to explore a landscape with much more than skiing.
By: Luis Meyer
Those who live in the Valley of Benasque speak colloquially of the surrounding mountains as ‘3000 metre giants’. It’s easy to see why when you set eyes on the backdrop of the town, which lends its name to this area north of Huesca. Here, Aragon rises to almost touch the sky on the shoulders of Aneto, the loftiest mountain in this part of the Pyrenees.
Although Benasque is a small town of just over 2000 inhabitants, it is an epicentre for aficionados of snow sport (and too, at an international level). Not only do the ski resorts of Cerler, Los Picos Madaleta, Perdiguero, Aranüelles, Posets, and the aforementioned Aneto boast spectacular slopes to ski down, but also offer a treat for the eyes in their wild, snow-covered natural scenery. It is no accident that the most seasoned skiers are attracted here: in addition to being the highest ski resort in Aragon, it also has the largest skiable drop in the Pyrenees. For those seeking to stand out from the crowd and try freeriding (skiing off-piste), the Tourism Industry Association of the Valley of Benasque paints a picture: ‘leaving behind the slopes of mountain pines, you will climb to the summit of the Basibé pass, or the summits of Gallinero or Cogulla, from which you can launch yourself down emblematic descents’.
The Posets-Maladeta National Park offers a boundless, rich landscape of glaciers and mountain pine forests
The province of Huesca offers plenty of spots to enjoy skiing or snowboarding, for everyone from the uninitiated to the accomplished athlete: the resorts of Astún, Candanchú, Formigal and Panticosa offer every imaginable type of descent. Yet this wintry region of northern Aragon also offers many other snow-related experiences that aren’t necessarily related to skiing.
The Nordic Spaces of Aragon have recently seen the reactivation of the promotional association of the same name, which describes the area with a short but sweet appeal to the senses: ‘No ski lifts, no noise. Just breathe in beauty and pure air’. One of these spaces is just 13 kilometres from Benasque: a spot called Llanos del Hospital, in the centre of the Posets-Maladeta National Park, at the foot of the Maladeta massif, offers a bountiful, rich landscape of glaciers and mountain pine forests. Due to its sheltered position between the massif and the north face of Aneto, it enjoys a microclimate which is not warm (in the normal sense of the word) but rather just the opposite: here, deep snow is guaranteed for the winter months – sometimes even longer.
The Nordic Spaces are not limited to this part of Aragon, but rather extend between the Pyrenees and Teruel. Most are located in the province of Huesca: in addition to Llanos del Hospital, there region is home to Balneario de Panticosa (Tena Valley), Linza (Ansó Valley), Lizara (Aragüés del Puerto Valley), Oza (Hecho Valley), Pineta (Pineta Valley) Candanchú (Aragon Valley) and Fanlo (Vió Valley). The last of these is La Muela de San Juan, in the Albarracín mountain range of Teruel.
The Association of Nordic Spaces notes that, until quite recently, these spaces were exclusively thought of as places to go skiing (especially cross-country skiing), but this is far from the truth. All areas have a circular route exclusively for excursions using snowshoes, often with expert guides provided by the alpine sports businesses which operate in the area. As the association notes, these activities are apt for all members of the public and do not require a great deal of technical knowledge.
Some more out-of-the-ordinary activities are on offer in some spaces, including mushing, commonly known as dog sledding, in the fashion of the arctic explorers of the 19th century. In some parts of Norway, it remains a common mode of transport. ‘It is a high speed, highly technical activity, which is why you will always be accompanied by an expert sled driver called a musher’, the association notes.
Off-piste skiing is another experience available in many of these spaces. This method of cross-country skiing leaves the pistes and the usual circuits behind. Special skis are required, along with a technique called telemark, in which the heel of the foot remains free from the ski so that the foot has a greater range of movement. There are other unexpected activities such as igloo building, perfect for children, or ice climbing, reserved for the most experienced (and bravest) of mountaineers.
The Pyrenean region of Aragon, in short, offers a rich tapestry of experiences in the snow, as well as a delight for the eyes, proving that we don’t have to venture too far afield to discover scenery that will stay in our mind’s eye for a long time.