SNOW NEAR MADRID!!!
Where are you on the issue of white stuff from the sky? Do you love it, hate it, miss it terribly or wish for a little but without scraping your car windows or tiptoeing across icey sidewalks? Or maybe snow is an entirely new experience for you?
If you want to play in the snow, you can usually cure that craving in about an hour from the city. This article is a basic guide to finding snow: with a highway map, walking maps and some imagination you can find lots more.
Madrid’s mountains usually have snow from late December to mid February. That’s usually – some years there is next to none, other years there is snow from early December through April or even beyond. Use the resources below to know before you go. And…. keep these places in mind for the rest of the year, some are good for summer picnics.
Downhill skiers: Serious downhillers usually go elsewhere. The slopes in Madrid are not long and usually quite crowded, unless you can get away during the week. Even so, if you need a ski-fix, you can reach Madrid’s mountains in a fraction of the time it would take you to reach better slopes in Sierra Nevada or the Pyrenees.
Downhill ski stations nearest Madrid: Navacerrada pass station and Valdesquí station near Cotos pass. For both, take the Coruña highway from Madrid, turning off after Villalba following signs to Navacerrada pass. Navacerrada ski station is in the pass, to find Valdesquí, turn right in Navacerrada pass following signs for Cotos and Rascafria, then turn right in Cotos pass. Valdesquí usually has more and better snow, though that depends on how the storms come through. Ski rental at both places. Both stations are accessible by public transportation, either the train (changing in Cercedilla, shuttle bus from Cotos pass to Valdesquí. See important note below) or bus, Larrea line from Moncloa underground bus station. A little farther away: La Pinilla station usually has better snow, though it can be icey. No public transportation. Take the Burgos highway to just beyond the Somosierra pass, turn right towards Riaza near Cerezo de Abajo. Turnoff to La Pinilla marked from this second highway.
Cross-country skiers: Madrid has two free tracks and a small ski station on Madrid-Segovia border. One free track is in Puerto de Navacerrada, near Escaparate downhill run and near (but not the same as) the walking trail Camino Schmidt. This ski track is about three kilometers long, almost all on a narrow trail in the forest and has some very challenging parts. Don’t let that discourage you: it’s not for beginners or for days with icey or thin snow, but for experienced skiers on good snow days it’s a blast. The other free track is in Cotos pass, starting in a pasture to the left of the highway beyond the parking lot if you are coming from Madrid. This track is easier and quite pretty, looping back and forth in a pasture with a bit of forest, has space for skating as well as classic technique. (See below for ski rental information). The cross country ski station is in Navafria pass, just above the village of Lozoya, and with snow is one of the best places near Madrid for this sport. About 20 kilometers of track when fully open, ski rental and classes available.
Backcountry skiers, snowshoers, hikers: if you’re an experienced outdoors person, the mountains are yours. Get a good walking map to see exactly where these (and other) forest roads are located. Over 1700 meters altitude: Cotos, Navacerrada and Morcuera passes, the last above Miraflores de la Sierra with wide rolling pastures and some forest around the edges (wind sometimes sweeps snow from this area). 1500-1700 meters altitude: Canencia pass above Miraflores de la Sierra, Leones pass on the A6 and Malagón pass above El Escorial all have forest roads or good paths that often have snow. Below 1500 meters altitude: If you’re lucky enough to catch a heavy, low snowfall, head for the Lozoya valley and start up from La Isla recreational area between Rascafria and Cotos pass. If there is a lot of low snow, going down from Cotos pass to either La Granja or Rascafria is a lot of fun, though skiers may have to walk the more difficult or lowest parts. Both routes accessible by public transportation. Walkers: please walk to one side, leaving untouched snow for skiers, and please don’t walk on the ski tracks, it spoils the fun for skiers.
Sledders, walkers, snowballers: Cotos is a good choice for a day in the snow. It’s high, has some infrastructure (cafeteria / restaurant), a big parking lot, good public transportation, lots of open space, and is less crowded than Navacerrada. Best places for sledding in Cotos: the big pasture that used to be the baby ski slope (across highway from parking lot), edge of pasture where the cross country ski track starts (see above) and another pasture to the left of highway to Valdesquí station. Navacerrada pass is ok for sledding, but it’s more crowded and doesn’t have a lot of space that isn’t downhill run; on the other hand, it has more infrastructure and is a bit closer to Madrid. There are rental sleds in Navacerrada and maybe in Cotos pass, second unconfirmed as now natural park and they’ve eliminated some of the buildings. Sledders note: you cannot sled on downhill or cross country ski slopes.
If you have a car and don’t need coffee or a hot meal, Morcuera and Canencia passes (see above) are great places for sledding, Morcuera has better hills. Both can be crowded, but you can usually find your own space with a short walk.
SUGGESTIONS: When leaving Madrid in the winter, take a shovel and chains for your tires, a full tank of gas, charged up cell phone and a basic emergency kit. Go early, both for driving and on public transportation. Parking lots fill up and tickets for train and bus run out early on weekends. If driving, make the effort to find or create off-highway parking, often at a premium in Navafria, Morcuera and Canencia passes. The Guardia Civil patrols these passes and fines are stiff if you’re on the wrong side of the white line. Especially if going with kids but even for adults: take extra socks, mittens, hats and extra shoes, extra sweater(s) and maybe a second jacket for afterwards (yes mom!). The caldo (broth) at bars in Cotos and Navacerrada pass is a great way to warm up after your day in the snow. If you take the train to Navacerrada or Cotos, you must change in Cercedilla station and MUST reserve your return trip on the train, telling them the time you want to come back. They will ask to see that reservation / return ticket when you change train in Cercedilla and will not let you on a different trail.
Websites for more information:
Venta Arias (Puerto Navacerrada): www.ventaarias.com Classes, equipment rental, store, bar/restaurant.
Venta Marcelino: Bar-restaurant with webcam in Cotos pass www.ventamarcelino.com/
Navacerrada downhill ski station: www.puertonavacerrada.com
Valdesqui downhill ski station: www.valdesqui.es
La Pinilla downhill ski station: www.lapinilla.es
Navafria cross-country ski station: www.navafriaesqui.com
Weather forecast: www.aemet.es/es/eltiempo/prediccion/municipios mouseover map for province, click then click on a town for forecast and snowline (cota de nieve).
Highway information: www.dgt.es/es/el-trafico/ weather and construction, good to check before any long trip.
Renfe (trains): www.renfe.com
Larrea buses www.autobuseslarrea.com , line 691, read schedule carefully as some buses end in Navacerrada VILLAGE not the pass.