This is how skiing should be. The sound of birdsong and the hum of a chairlift.
Days spent on uncrowded pistes, no lift queues, where no one cares what brand of goggles you’re wearing, or how many blacks you’ve done in the week. People who are pleased to see you. Evenings spent in cosy stonework restaurants where someone cooks you a steak on an open fire to be washed down with excellent and inexpensive wine.
Having previously restricted myself to some of the better-known Alpine resorts, and one foray to the US, I was eager to see what my first visit to a resort in the Spanish Pyrenees would offer.
Resort isn’t a great description. Cerler really feels more like someone just happened to drop a load of pistes and chairlifts next to a charming Pyrenean village.
The first thing that strikes me is that it is utterly, resolutely Spanish; over four days, I only hear two other people speaking another language. Many people working on the slopes and in the village were keen to practice their English, and were genuinely excited that a non-Spaniard was in Cerler. Not a welcome I’ve often found in the Alps…
The second thing that strikes me is just how relaxed and unaffected everyone is (check out our Flickr gallery), again something which seems positively strange to someone familiar with the likes of Val d’Isère.
This runs true of all the skiers, who encompass the spectrum from couples young and old, to multi-generational families, to groups of lads in their 20s. But even the teenagers don’t seem like they can be bothered trying to impress each other. On my very first lift ride up the mountain, I got talking to a girl from Zaragoza, whose father worked at the ski station as a ski ambassador and instructor. As she was by herself, on hearing it was my first time in Cerler, she offered to accompany for the morning so neither of us would have to ski alone – it’s that kind of place.
Waving goodbye to my impromptu guide, I headed off to meet another local expert: Anna, our principal ski instructor. Born and bred in Cerler, she is a font of local knowledge, and along with her sister Miriam, two very good reasons to come to this charming place. They simply love the slopes, and want you to love them too.
It’s a theme wherever you go in Cerler: people are pleased you’re there, and want you to have a good time. Which to be honest is not in the least bit difficult. The 50km of lovely pistes are seriously under-populated, perfect for brushing up rusty techniques, or opening up without fear of hurtling into a crowd.When you throw in an efficient infrastructure, plenty of great food at reasonable prices (it’s Spain), and fantastic facilities for children of all ages, it’s really hard to think of anything missing.
You don’t even have to be all about the downhill skiing to love Cerler. There are dedicated circuits for snowshoes and Nordic skiing if you’d like to mix it up. There are snowmobiles if you don’t want to do any of the work yourself. And if you want to forget you’re this far south, why not sign up for a husky sled-ride?
When I completed my last run down on the morning of my departure, I noticed an advertising banner on the main lift for some new 4×4. The strapline was, ‘Vivimos para nieve’ (‘We live for the snow’). In Cerler, that pretty much sums it up.
And if you don’t believe us about how quiet this place is, here’s a helmet-cam video David took at Cerler this past Monday at 10.30am. Count the other skiers!