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Best Resorts for Off-piste Skiing in the French Pyrenees

Daniel Dawson December 10, 2018

Lining France’s southern border with Spain, the Pyrenees have long been a popular off-piste skiing location.

The ancient mountain range stretches for 500 kilometers from the Bay of Biscay all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. For tourists from around Europe and the rest of the world, the Pyrenees serve as a smaller, less crowded and cheaper alternative to the Alps.

That being said, there is not much of a dip in quality, in spite of the dip in price. Numerous parts of the mountain chain, especially along the northwestern section in France, receive massive amounts of snow in the winter, making the numerous resorts dotted throughout the range perfect for off-piste skiing adventures.

In spite of is small size, there are quite a lot of resorts throughout the range. Most guides will take you around to sample a few of them during a trip, but no guides could possibly reach all of them.

To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the top resorts in the French Pyrenees, in order to save you some time.    

Le Mourtis

 

Receiving fantastic snow and located in a picturesque forest just a few minutes away from the village of Boutx in the central Pyrenees, Le Mourtis is a classic Pyrenees resort.

With several large, but not very challenging vertical runs and superb mountain views, it is an ideal place for beginners to experience the fun and excitement of off-piste skiing. There are also tougher spots for more advanced skiers to enjoy as well.

Grand Tourmalet / Pic du Midi / Barèges & La Mongie

 

Pic du Midi offers everything an off-piste skier could want: excellent views, a hot meal and unbeatable slopes. Photo courtesy of Stéphane Monari.

Making up the largest off-piste terrain in all of the French Pyrenees, the resorts around Grand Tourmalet offer plenty of challenges for intermediate and advanced skiers alike.

Located roughly a half-hour drive away from Bagnères-de-Bigorre, this resort connects the villages of Barèges and La Mongie. It contains more than 50 lifts that take you to tree-lined slopes and allow you to ski right back down into the villages.

On Pic du Midi, you have the options of skiing the north face, along Combe de l’Ours or Taoulet. Or you can head to the south face and enjoy the Blanche or Jaune runs. Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the surroundings.

The fields of Tourmalet is another famous freeride spot complete with excellent views of Pic du Midi. Overall, the resorts around Grand Tourmalet are a great starting spot for any off-piste adventure.

Piau Engaly

 

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Hopping off the ski lift at Piau Engaly brings you into a quite wild and remote environment for off-piste skiing. It is not uncommon to be able to speed down the slopes, waist deep in snow to the backdrop of incredible views.

Located just 30 minutes away from Saint-Lary-Soulan, Piau Engaly is the only high-altitude resort in the Pyrenees and is recommended by many guides for off-piste skiers who need to improve their technique and get some practice.

It is also a great spot for those who want to escape the crowds of some of the more popular resorts in the area.

Both of these factors make Piau Engaly a great spot both for beginners looking to get into the sport and families who want to enjoy some quality time out on the slopes together, with a view.

Superbagnères

 

Situated 18.5 kilometers above the sleepy town of Bagnères-de-Luchon in the central Pyrenees, Superbagnères is considered by many to be one of the best resorts in the whole mountain range.

The resort is the perfect getaway for ski tourers, with its only point of access via a gondola from the town. Once you arrive, there are more than 1.000 meters of slope that usually have excellent powder.

With a local guide it is even possible to ski through the forest all the way back into Luchon. Although this requires appropriate snowfall and skiing skills.  

Sometimes there are lifts and sometimes to get to some top off-piste spots you need to strap on some skins and climb! Photo courtesy of Martin Elorza Alday.

Peyragudes

 

Nestled in between the towns of Peyresourde and Les Agudes in the center of the range, Peyragudes offers more than 60 kilometers of runs.

The resort sits at the foothills of the range, so unlike some of its counterparts, many of its slopes enjoy more sunlight for longer throughout the winter months.

The highlight of this resort – other than the chairlifts that come right into the carpark – is the epic 6-kilometer long Vallée Blanche run.

While far lesser known to its homonymous counterpart in Chamonix, Peyragudes’ Vallée Blanche offers a great ride with some awesome views along the way.

Saint-Lary-Soulan

 

Blending incredible skiing with unbeatable mountain views, Saint-Lary offers more than 100 kilometers of terrain down which to ski.

Located in a spectacular little valley along the D929, this spot is great for adventurous off-piste skiers looking for some thrills – and views.

The resort is perfectly suited both for beginners as well as those who are more advanced. The Col du Portet Snowpark is a great place to hone your off-piste skills while pausing intermittently to enjoy the scenery.

For more advanced skiers, taking the lift through the forest of the Lac d’Oule is essential. Once the lift drops you off, ski down an incredible run and take advantage of a secluded spot overlooking a dammed lake.

Ax 3 Domaines

 

Enjoy skiing with a view regardless of which resort you and your guide choose to visit. Photo courtesy of Manu Noiran.

Located in the sleepy comune of Ax-les-Thermes, Ax 3 Domaines presents the perfect combination of excellent skiing and relaxation.

There are three main levels from which off-piste skiers may begin, each more exciting than the last. The main ski station is located at 1.400 meters and offers plenty of smaller runs, perfect for beginners.

Further up are the Campels at 1.800 meters and Saquet at 2.100 meters. These can be reached by lifts, but more intrepid skiers may want to strap on some skins and climb to the top. However you get there the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are phenomenal. As are the runs right back down.

After an exhaustive day of skiing, go for a soak in one of the local thermal springs, from which the commune gets its name.

Ascou Pailhères

 

Sitting just to the south of the commune of Ascou in the very eastern reaches of the Pyrenees is the marvelous resort of Ascou Pailhères.

As far as scenery goes, you could not ask for a more picturesque place to put a resort. Sitting in the shadow of Tarbesou, the resort has six lifts that take you to all sorts of different runs.

Views from the top of Tarbesou, which rises up 2.364 meters, are spectacular as are all of the runs that lead you through winding forested trails.

Once you finish up here, Ax 3 Domaines is also close by offering more excellent skiing with similarly spectacular views.

Best time to go there

 

By the end of December, there is plenty of snow up in the mountains. Photo courtesy of Martin Elorza Alday.

The best time to visit the Pyrenees for ski touring is from January to March. However, many guides offer trips from December to May as well.

By the end of December, everything above 1.600 meters should have an excellent coating of snow for off-piste skiing purposes.

Due to the mountain range’s unique location, the weather varies across the chain. The western end receives much more snow due to the cool and moist air that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean.

The eastern end of the range tends to be a bit drier, but the snow that it does receive generally sticks for the duration of the season.

Throughout the chain, average daily temperatures are about -2ºC, which is perfect for long days spent out on the slopes.

Average cost of a ski trip with a guide

 

The average cost of trips depends largely upon how long the trip is, how many people are included in the trip and what is included in the price.

That being said, for a one-day off-piste skiing private trip, you may expect to spend between €100 and €400 per person. The lower end of this spectrum will only include the guide fee and group equipment, while the higher end tends to also include accommodations, lift tickets and entrance fees as well.

Larger group trips are generally cheaper and last a bit longer. However, those are open only on certain dates and fill up on a first come first serve basis.

Always confirm what is included and how costs are divided among participants with your guide prior to booking.

How to get there

 

Many guides will take you to more than one resort when you go off-piste skiing in the Pyrenees as several are located in quite close proximity.

The four main starting points for most off-piste skiing adventures would be from the towns of Ax-le-Thermes, Boutx, Saint-Lary-Soulan and Bagnères-de-Bigorre.

The first step of getting to these villages is largely the same: a flight into the airport at Toulouse (TLS), which offers connections from just about every major European city.

From here, you could rent a car, which is probably the easiest option and make the scenic drive into the mountains. The drive takes about two hours to most of these resort towns.

However, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car, there are some other options available too. When heading to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, you can take the Bayonne – Toulouse-Matabiau train line from Toulouse city center, getting off at Tarbes. From here you take a bus to the Bagnères-de-Bigorre. This takes about three hours.

For Saint-Lary-Soulan, you would take the Bayonne – Toulouse-Matabiau train line from Toulouse city center to Lannemezan Gare SNCF and then take a bus to your final destination. This takes about four hours.

For Boutx, you take the Pau – Toulouse-Matabiau bus from Toulouse city center to Gare de St-Agne, walk to the Saint-Gaudens stop and take another bus on to Boutx. This takes about four hours.

For Ax-le-Thermes, you take the Ax-les-Thermes – Toulouse-Matabiau train line directly to Ax-le-Thermes. This takes less than two hours.

The fields of Tourmalet offer some pretty awesome off-piste opportunities. Photo courtesy of François Delas.

 

So what are you waiting for? Book your next ski holiday in the lovely resorts of the French Pyrenees and enjoy sun, scenery and, of course, great skiing!

 

 

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