Winter walking & snowshoeing in the Spanish Pyrenees

“You have this beautiful scenery,” says Lucy Woollons, co-founder of our winter walking specialists Aragon Active. When I spoke with her, she’d just been snowshoeing that morning.
“You get a clear blue sky and the snow, trees and mountain landscape. And the geology, as well: it’s all highlighted by the snow. It’s spectacular… Doing something like snowshoeing in the Pyrenees in Spain, in the middle of nature – you’re away from all the crowds of the ski slopes, where people are queueing up on top of each other.”
With snowshoeing, you can literally get off the beaten track and explore the wild places.
“The beauty of it is that you can escape everybody,” adds Simon, Lucy’s partner and co-founder. “With snowshoeing, you can literally get off the beaten track and explore the wild places.”

The fact you can go winter walking and showshoeing within a few hours’ drive of the beaches of the Costa Dorada is a surprise to many – especially when you find out that the blue skies tend to stick, even in the mountains. You might start out in your winter layers, but by late morning you could be snowshoeing in t-shirts in full sunshine.

Julio Gallego Escribano, from our partner Estarrun Travels, hosts snowshoers and winter hikers in his family’s farmhouse in the Aisa Valley. He says that snowshoes can open up otherwise inaccessible parts of the Pyrenees: “When you see these mountains in winter with the snow it’s very different from the summer. You can easily reach lakes and forests that elsewhere you would need expertise for. Here, with snowshoes, it’s easy to get guests there and show them some parts that are very, very nice.”

Our top Spanish Pyrenees Vacation

Winter hiking vacation in Spain, Spanish Pyrenees

Winter hiking vacation in Spain, Spanish Pyrenees

Snowshoeing and sunshine in the spectacular Spanish Pyrenees

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Chasing snow

Tourism workers in the Spanish Pyrenees are far more worried about the effects of climate change when compared to their neighbours on the coast. Sometimes, the only reliable thing about the winter weather is that it’ll be unreliable.

Spain recorded its lowest temperature in history in the Pyrenees in January 2021: a painful -34°C. As climate change causes the mountains to become less predictable – either because of too much or too little snow – winter tourism businesses find more extreme ways to entice tourists. Damaging snow cannons top up powder at ski resorts and forests are felled to expand runs and draw more skiers.
But there’s a better way to experience the mountains in winter. Our winter walking and snowshoeing vacations in the Spanish Pyrenees offer alternative, more sustainable winter activities. They’re run by local people who have unbeatable knowledge of the mountains around them because they live here year-round.
Sometimes they live in a miniscule hamlet, where the snow starts right on their ungroomed doorstep. Other times, you might be driven 40 minutes up mountain roads to where the powder is. And because your accommodation is so well-placed, itineraries can move with the weather.
You can always get snow if you go high enough.
“You can always get snow if you go high enough, but it has been changing and walking gives us more flexibility,” says Simon. “But I’m going to touch wood; we’ve not had a year where we haven’t been on snow.”

You’re helping to extend the tourist season, too. Away from the ski hills, villages go into a slumber in winter. The innkeepers and restaurant owners who decide to stick it out here year-round struggle to make ends meet with so few visitors and a shrinking population that has historically looked to the cities for work – and then stayed there. When you visit off-season, tour guides, B&Bs and even everyday shops like tiny tobacconists can stay open.

A vacation of two halves

Winter vacations in the Spanish Pyrenees are usually a week long. You’ll probably spend half that time hiking and half snowshoeing – although the itinerary is completely flexible, depending on the weather and abilities or preferences of the group. Snowshoeing is more challenging than walking, so you might want to stick to half-days. Or perhaps you’ll find that you become one with your inner yeti, and decide on a whole week on the snowy trails.

You’ll be based in a mountain village with easy access to both activities. You could wind up exploring the high mountains of Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park or the snowy valleys of Western Valleys Natural Park. You’ll also be a few hours’ drive away from the coastline for ice-free hiking.
“We’ve got a lot of choice around us,” says Lucy. “There are canyons as well, but they don’t get the sun at this time of year and it’s absolutely beautiful… It’s not powder, but you still get wintry scenes.”
You can do great geology lessons in the snow. We have a huge canvas.
Most winter vacations are guided for safety, so you’ll navigate tricky, largely unmarked terrain with an expert who knows the trails completely. Our specialists use local guides who range from lifelong locals to conservationists who have helped persecuted (but impressive) bearded vultures make a successful comeback.
“You can do great geology lessons in the snow,” says Simon. “We have a huge canvas… One of the guides has been here for 24 years guiding in this area, so he knows local customs – which plants are used for medicines and so on – so our guests always go away with a completely rounded knowledge of the area where we live.”

And finally… forget France

For many winter tourists, the Pyrenees simply means the French Pyrenees. “It’s ironic,” says Lucy, “because the scenery is three times as dramatic on the Spanish side as on the French side.”

Thanks to the rugged geography of the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, you’ll find steep-sided valleys, iced gorges and forested foothills. It’s far harder to establish towns on this wilder terrain, so isolated villages are more common than ski resorts. Or as Simon adds: “You get a feeling of wilderness that is still something to treasure in this day and age.”
Photo credits: [Page banner: ikeofspain] [Topbox: Michele Benericetti] [Mountain : Andreas Riemenschneider]
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