People are often confused by the name Sierra Nevadas, since there are more than one mountain range with that name. Literally, the name means “snowy mountain range,” so you can understand why more than one mountain ranges might have this name. The Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain, however, are truly unique and one of a kind.
Sierra Nevada Mountains: Highest Point in Spain
The Sierra Nevada mountains is located in Andalucía, the southernmost province of Spain. Andalucía is mostly known for its warm year-round climate and sunny skies, so it may come as a shock that the highest point of Spain, at 3,478 meters (11,411 feet) is this mountain range. In addition, to get to the ski resort, you take A-395, the highest road in all of Europe. At the base of the mountain range is the wonderful city of Granada, located only 21 km (13 miles) from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Ski Resort Town
There are a few towns located near the ski resort, the closest being Pradollano. There are many hotels, hostels, apartments, and houses for rent in Pradollano, and from anywhere it is only a 3-10 minute walk to the center square of the skiing area. There is nowhere in Pradollano that rents ski equipment, but there are plenty of hotels and stores along the way (A-395) or in the center square itself that rent everything from clothes to equipment. We actually found it cheapest to rent at the base of the mountain in the center square because there is so much competition around, prices are pretty negotiable. For one day, ski pants, jacket, socks, boots, helmet with GoPro mount, and skis will run about 55 euros. A lift ticket on a non-peak day (Mon-Fri in the off-season) is 43 euros. You can also reserve equipment by phone beforehand.
Getting to the Sierra Nevada Mountains
This is a popular area! Locals, tourists, and buses crowd in on the weekends making parking very difficult. On a week day, such as a Thursday, it’s easier to find parking either in the garage at the ski resort (which charges by the minute with a maximum price for the day depending on the season) or free on the street in the village. By Saturday, you will be parking on the highway leading up to the mountain and walking for a long time. Not to worry, there are plenty of vendors selling food, drinks, sunglasses, gloves, and small sleds for the little ones along the street and in the square!
What to Do if You’re Not an Athlete
Personally, I’m not a skier or snowboarder. I tried it once and I’m happy to sit at the outside cafes and do “shot-skis” instead. (A shot-ski is 3, 4, or 5 shots glasses drilled into a ski and everyone has to take the shot at the same time by lifting the ski up.) However, there was still plenty to do while the boyfriends had the time of their lives up on the mountain! The 43 euro lift ticket allows you to reach any of the facilities on the mountain for the entire day, but for someone like me who just wants to see the beautiful views from the top, you can buy a chair lift ticket for 6.60 euros. It’s only good for one trip each way, but you can get out and walk up the mountain a bit to get some gorgeous scenery photos. On the way down, it will drop you off right in the heart of the cafes and restaurants of the center square, or take it halfway down to the hotel zone of Pradollano.
Also, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars, and specialty shops to enjoy. Being in Andalucia, it’s usually a safe bet that the sun will be shining brightly. Even in the cold winter months the sun can warm you up. On nicer days, sit outside with a typical Spanish tinto con limón and watch the skiers and snowboarders walk by like robots in their boots. Of course, it helps if you have a friend with you.
Andalucía typically has a mild climate in winter with very hot summers. The Sierra Nevada mountains are at a high enough altitude that they stay snowy most of the winter, although by late February, they are usually making snow at night for the skiers. The season usually runs from the end of November to the end of April or first week in May. If you prefer real snow in colder conditions, December/January would be best. But if you prefer warmer conditions where you can ski without goggles or a jacket, March/April is ideal.
Want to know what it’s like to cruise down one of the highest mountains in Spain before you go? Check out this video and others on my YouTube channel for a first-hand account with a GoPro head mount!
As someone who visited for a day trip in cold January and for a Thursday-Saturday trip in warmer March, I would say for both skiers and non-skiers, March is a great time to go. People were skiing in jeans and a t-shirt. The snow was icy in the morning and slushy at night, but at midday it was perfect skiing or snowboarding weather (according to James). For me, it was wonderful to sit outside and enjoy a 4-hour Spanish lunch in the warm sun! Also, staying in Pradollano was very convenient and I recommend that as well.
There are plenty of hotels to choose from, but you won’t find competitive prices because it’s always crowded. Thursday to Saturday was perfect because we easily got free parking outside our apartment on Thursday night, skiing Friday was lighter than on the weekend, and lift tickets were cheaper. We stayed in Apartamentos Bulgaria, the cheapest place in a 2-month range. If all you’re looking for is a place to sleep, this is a good option. The small studio apartment overlooked the mountain and had 5 twin beds, a kitchen with a big table, plenty of closet space, and a big bathroom. It was clean and comfortable, but it wasn’t luxurious. The reception was at a hotel down the street which wasn’t specified and was confusing, causing us an hour-long check in with lots of walking up and down hills in freezing cold temperatures. On the outside and even in the staircases and hallways, the place looks like a dump in desperate need of repair, but the rooms seem to have been recently updated. The locks are sturdy and everything is safe. It’s well located only a few minutes’ walk to the chair lift, about 7 minutes walk down the stairs to the center square, and just above a tapas restaurant, night club (you couldn’t hear the noise), pizza place, and a few other restaurants.
The Apartamentos Bulgaria is a party hotel so beware: you probably will not sleep. Both nights we were there, the partiers were up until 5 or 6 am, and the skiers and snowboarders then woke up around 7 am. Overall, it was an ok place to stay and well worth staying rather than commuting.
Be ready to pay higher than average Spanish prices in Sierra Nevada – these are tourist prices! Restaurants will charge anywhere from 14-30 euros per plate. A round of 4 drinks at the nightclub cost 20 euros. Sounds on par for America, but not when the rest of Spain has €2 tapas and €1 drinks, and nearby Granada has free tapa meals with each drink!