In the past, skiing in the French Pyrenees has played a secondary role to its more glamorous rival, the Alps. In the last decade however, great advances have been made to turn what was perhaps considered rather dull Pyrenean mountain towns and villages into excellent skiing resorts.
There are black runs in all the Pyrenean resorts, but the pistes are less crowded than the Alpine slopes, so there is less chance of the beginner being involved in an accident, or incurring the wrath of the chair lift operator for holding up the loading because of a tangled the ski pole. And who hasn’t done that, at least once?
Many of the Pyrenean resorts were thermal spa centres before expanding into snow- based activities. This can be a very useful asset to a skiing holiday if you suddenly find painful muscles in places you never imagined.
If you can’t contemplate a skiing trip without all- night après ski, then perhaps it’s best to stick to St. Moritz or Klosters, as there aren’t many resorts in the Pyrenees that offer a great deal by way of ritzy nightlife. The skiing takes priority, with well-maintained pistes, ski schools, and plenty of family activities.
Whilst there are lots of places to eat, from quick re-fuel snacks to traditional Pyrenean fare, all- night bars and noisy nightclubs are not a major feature.
Full, half-day and weekly ski passes in the Pyrenees are modestly priced compared to Alpine resorts, and drinks and meals put less of a strain on the budget as well. It’s possible to enjoy a week’s skiing on a modest allowance, or splurge on a five star chalet or hotel.
Most of the Pyrenean resorts have snow canons, so snow is guaranteed during the season, but the best of the natural snowfall is from early New Year onwards, usually lasting through until the end of March.
Here is a selection of the popular resorts, all of which are easily accessible from two of the regions airports – Toulouse and Pau.
Nearest airport - Pau - (90 mins)
This spa town definitely has an après ski scene. It is a resort for skiers and party people. There is a wide selection of restaurants, lively bars, and all night revelry in the nightclubs for those with plenty of stamina. The town is situated in the heart of the Pyrenean Aure valley and, out of season, is a great base for walking, horse riding, and mountain biking.
The resort has one of the longest runs in the Pyrenees: 3 ½ kms with a vertical drop of 700 meters. There are splendid activities for children: - Kidpark for 6 -12 year olds, and Altikid (3-12 year olds) where you can safely leave young children for the day in the care of hostesses. If parents and children want to have fun together there is a family park with activities such as snow skate, half pipe, and big air.
Ski facts - Saint Lary
There are 11 green, 19 blue, 10 red, and 7 black runs over an area of 700 hectares.
Day passes €25 all season.
Ecole de Ski Francais
Pistes accessed by cable car from the centre of town or free bus.
Nearest airport - Pau (90 mins.)
The largest ski resort in the Pyrenees, but sadly, not the most picturesque. The village is uninspiring, with only a handful of bar/restaurants and a cluster of unattractive apartment blocks. If good skiing is more important than aesthetics, this is your sort of place. Combined with the adjoining Pyrenean resort of Bagneres (which is a more pleasantly situated spa town) there are 69 ski runs covered by a single pass. Bagneres has one of the finest spa facilities in Europe with saunas, hammams and hydro pools. The perfect antidote to a hard day on the pistes.
La Mongie lies in the shadow of the Pic du Midi, which, at 3000 meters, is the highest mountain in this part of the Pyrenean chain. For the experienced skier with nerves of steel, or a penchant for extreme sports, it is possible descend the mountain off piste, accompanied by a knowledgeable Pyrenean guide. The La Mongie information office will supply you with the necessary information.
Ski Facts - La Mongie
There are 23 green, 19 blue, 21 red, and 6 black runs.
43 lifts, which are combinations of telecabin, ski and chair lifts and 2 ‘magic carpets’.
Dog sledding, Nordic skiing, snowshoe hiking, and a luge run are also available.
LUCHON / SUPERBAGNERES
Nearest airports -Pau and Toulouse airports, both approximately 90 minutes drive away
Luchon (the resort) is an elegant spa town, with a wide tree- lined boulevard crowded with brasseries and ski shops. A luxurious spa is located at the northern end of the main boulevard. €15 will buy you a whole afternoon of hot rooms, plunge pools and relaxation.
Just off the other end of the boulevard a telecabin will take you up on a breathtaking eight-minute ride to the sunny slopes of the natural ‘balcony’ that is the ski station of Superbagneres.
Ski facts - Luchon / Superbagneres
There are 28 runs, 4 green, 11 blue, 7 red, 6 black. There are snack bars, ski hire, and a large hotel for overnight stays.
Fifteen minutes from Superbagneres by car, or via a twice-daily shuttle, is the ski station of Peyragudes.
This modern Pyrenean resort offers something for everyone, with runs for the beginner and those who relish a challenge. To ensure there is always great skiing Peyragudes has 110 canon, so their season is one of the longest
There is plenty of activity choice as well, such as a snow park for boarders, cross country skiing, and snowshoe excursions. For accommodation, there is a good choice of hotels, chalets and apartments, but for lively après ski, you will need to head back to Luchon. Peyragudes is for snow sport lovers, but the hotels are of high standard, offering leisure facilities and restaurants specialising in traditional Pyrenean fare.
Ski fact - Peyragudes
There are 43 ski runs, 5 green, 20 blue, 15 red and 3 black, and over 105 kms of slopes.
Summary - skiing in the Pyrenees
These are the most popular Pyrenean ski stations, but even so, the ski lift queues are relatively quiet, and except in the school holidays, the slopes are un-crowded.