Iain from Skipedia went out to the French Pyrenees last month for the first time (since 1988…) and came back a complete convert.

He was so impressed, he put together this video to explain a little more clearly what the different resorts have to offer, who they’re suitable for and the various options for travelling there:

Iain’s view on the French Pyrenees

“My accommodation, ski hire and lift passes were provided for this trip (I paid for my own flights and hire car). However, I’m not a convert because of this: I’m a convert because the whole region was such a pleasure to tour round, ski in and spend time in.”

“If you watch the video, you’ll get a much better idea of the geography of the area, and where I visited.”

Saint Lary

“I started in Saint Lary, just 20 kilometres from the Spanish border. The Spanish influence is evident throughout the resort, with lots of tapas bars and churros for sale. Depending on the time of year you go, you’re almost as likely to hear Spanish spoken as French and you certainly won’t hear many other British tourists.”

“The ski area is large, with 100km of pistes and plenty of options for all ability levels. I was lucky enough to be guided round and two days after the last snowfall there weren’t just powder stashes everywhere, there were whole pistes with ungroomed powder! There are great backcountry options down through the trees and no-one else around.”

“Don’t let the height of the village (800m) worry you either.¬† The two lifts from resort take you up to 1700m and all the pistes go up to 2300m.”

saint lary

Empty slopes in Saint Lary

 

Peyragudes

“On day two, I drove (about an hour) to Peyragudes, one of the other resorts in the Pyrenees 2 Vallees ski region. This is a smaller ski area and not really suitable for advanced skiers for any more than a couple of days. For a family it’s fine and you could do exactly what I did, which is to make a it a road trip and combine with some time in Saint Lary.”

“The ski area is very straightforward, on two sides of one ridge, and there are some great couloirs and steeper options for advanced skiers, as well as a good snowpark. I had great snow and three days since the last snowfall there was still powder to be skied. I hardly need to add that there were no queues!”

“The day finished wonderfully with a visit to the Balnea spa in the Louron valley just 20 minutes below Peyragudes. This must be the most impressive spa complex I have ever seen, with more options than you can possibly have time for in one visit. In particular, I loved the outdoor Japanese pools, which increased in temperature from one section to the next. It was very hard to get out, I can tell you!”

The outdoor spas at Balnea

Grand Tourmalet 

“My next port of call was Grand Tourmalet – the collective name for the ski area that covers La Mongie and Bareges.

“La Mongie is high (1800m) and it had snowed the evening before, so getting into resort required chains. Parking was simple and free and after a delay while my guide checked the conditions from the top, I had the opportunity to ski the freeride area from the Pic du Midi.”

“I’ve already written up this experience for InTheSnow Magazine, so you can read the full article there, but suffice to say that I was so impressed I’m already looking at returning next year.”

Backcountry powder in Grand Tourmalet

Pic du Midi

“That evening I didn’t stay in La Mongie or Bareges, but took one of the 27 beds available each night at the Pic du Midi – Europe’s highest observatory.”

“This is a unique experience that I highly recommend. Following everything the guide said was a test of my French, but even if I missed out on some of the technical details of our tour of the planetarium and telescopes, it was worth it for the impressive sunset and even more incredible sunrise.”

“I’d strongly recommend at the very minimum a visit in the day (allow yourself at least an hour if you want to take a look at the excellent museum) and if possible book in to stay overnight.”

Cauterets

“My trip finished with two nights in Cauterets. It’s hard to pick a ‘favourite’ of these resorts as they all have advantages for different reasons, but Cauterets really struck a chord with me.”

“The ski area is relatively small, but it’s high (1700-2300m) with a great snow record. Lots of resorts talk about their ‘microclimate’, but the stats do appear to back up Cauterets’ claims. Certainly the fact that they have so few snow cannons is indicative of their confidence.”

“The highlight for me wasn’t even skiing, but the sector known as the Pont d’Espagne. This does have a couple of lifts, but they are only open at peak season. Otherwise it’s purely for ski du fond, snow-shoeing and walking. I went for a trail run and loved it.”

“You are surrounded by nature, with waterfalls, forests and rivers, and very few other people around. For me, going to the mountains isn’t just about skiing, it’s about space and the chance to connect again with nature, rather than the internet! Pont d’Espagne is perfect for that.”

 

“Sometimes in life we tend to go to the same places again and again. We know they work; it can seem simpler for parents who just want to keep their children happy.”

“By all means you can keep doing that, but if you want to try something new (and a less expensive alternative to the Alps), then maybe it’s time to head to the French Pyrenees. I will certainly be going back.”