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Unos dias muy divertidos con u tiempo genial. No queremos regresar Smile

Francisco view all

Surfing the snow

Picture the scene: the board seems to hang in a clear blue sky, the white spray glistening in the sunshine against a backdrop of the mountains of Morocco. It’s the classic image of a kitesurfer on a Tarifa beach. But swap the sea for snow, and it could also be a snowboarder in the Sierra Nevada – even down to the view across to another continent.

No wonder, then, that the kitesurfers of the Costa de la Luz feel so at home in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Indeed for many, it’s quite literally their second home. Daniel Taillefer Grebstad is typical of just such a group who may spend half their year in the Sierra Nevada and half in Tarifa, often with businesses in each place. “The snow season only lasts from December until the end of April, so people who work in the mountains have to do something for the rest of the year – so they go to Tarifa,” he says.

The snowboarders turn naturally to kitesurfing, wakeboarding and windsurfing, and vice versa. “These snow and water sports go together,” explains Daniel. “People who like one like the other – they both bring you that same sense of freedom. When you’re in the Sierra Nevada, you see many of the same people that you see on the beaches of Tarifa in the summer. I could see them in the water today, and tomorrow we could be snowboarding in the mountains.”

It’s a nomadic existence that sounds close to idyllic. Ernesto González Jiménez owns Waxsurfers, a snowboard school and hire shop in the Sierra, and has another premises selling clothes and swimwear in Tarifa. “I’m lucky because I work but I also have time to do what I love doing,” he acknowledges. “In both winter and summer, I work in the shops until lunchtime, then I snowboard or kitesurf all afternoon before returning to the shop later on.

“The only thing that makes working worthwhile is the quality of life that it brings you. And I have an incredible quality of life. I work hard but I play hard too.”

The Sierra Nevada certainly suits the laid-back lifestyle of the snowboarders and kitesurfers. Just a few hours from the beach, it’s known as the sunshine ski resort. Even taking the lift to the top of the Veleta peak (at 3,400m it’s one of the highest in Spain), you’ll still feel warmer than if you were at the same height in, say, Val d’Isère or Courcheval.

In the bars and restaurants around the main plaza and on the slopes themselves, you’ll find Spaniards from Madrid, Valencia and Granada but also Scandinavians, Austrians, English, Italians and Russians who come up from Marbella. “Spain doesn’t have the same ski tradition that places like France and Austria have, so there’s a very different feel to the Sierra Nevada,” explains Daniel, who until recently owned a school and hire shop there. “These are really beach people who come up from the coast so it’s quite cool and laid back. It’s very much a young resort.”

It’s perfect for snowboarders, too. There are no trees so the runs are wide and you can get off-piste fairly easily. There’s something for all levels, but head for the runs on Las Lagunas or chill out at the end of your day in the Crescendo bar at the bottom of the Rio. A special park provides jumps and rails for snowboarders and freestyle skiers alike. Where speed used to be the main appeal, today’s snowboarders go more for tricks and jumps so the Sierra Nevada has it all.

The resort is also renowned for having the best-groomed snow. If the natural white stuff isn’t in abundance, the team of artificial snowmakers steps into action and a lot of money has been invested to extend the season and guarantee snow. If you’ve any energy left after a day on the slopes, there’s a vibrant nightlife scene with a range of bars, restaurants and nightclubs to suit any taste. Some people even come just for a night out.

The only downside is that the place can get overcrowded at weekends and fiestas. The small roads become clogged and parking your car is near impossible. Traders are therefore pinning their hopes on a proposal to build a 12km long cable car to link the city of Granada directly with the resort. But this has not so far been given the go-ahead by the authorities.

Away from the crowds, however, at the summit of the Veleta, you feel as though you’re quite literally on top of the world. “On a clear day, you can see the boats in the Straits and even the mountains of Morocco,” says Ernesto. “You just feel like you’re a free spirit. And the silence – just complete silence, nothing but the wind.”

Today’s snowboarders and skiers could be looking to Morocco even more in the future. Just as kite and windsurfers currently go to Essaouira, the High Atlas mountains behind Marrakesh could be set to become the new draw for snow sports. The resort of Oukaimeden is so far undiscovered; a 50 minute drive from Marrakesh, there are few facilities and the lifts are the old ones from the Sierra Nevada. But King Mohammed VI is aiming to attract ten million visitors to Morocco every year by 2010, and a project has been unveiled to build a big complex at Oukaimeden with 2,000 hotel rooms as well as 300 shops and restaurants. The developers boast that it will be Africa’s first golf and ski resort.

Cheap flights are opening up Morocco to the outside world, and France has just signed an agreement to build the continent’s first high-speed rail link between Tangiers and Casablanca. The 320kph trains should be in operation by 2013, with plans to extend the link on to Marrakesh cutting the journey time from eight and a half hours to three and a half. It could make snowboarding in the Atlas Mountains an even more attractive option for the kitesurfers of the Costa de la Luz.

In the meantime, however, people like Ernesto are happy with the best of both their worlds. “I wouldn’t change my life,” he says. “That feeling of satisfaction when you get to the beach, pick up your board and head for the sea. You’re not aware of anyone or anything. It’s just you, your kite and the water. And it’s the same sense of freedom and passion when I’m snowboarding in the Sierra Nevada. Just you and the wild. I love it.”

Waxsurfers, Plaza de Andalucía,

Pradollano Snowboard shop, school and hire Telemark, Plaza de Andalucía, Pradollano Ski and snowboard shop, school and hire

Bar El Sol Tia Maria - restaurant with terrace

La Lonja – excellent food

Pizzeria Tito Willy