Ski Touring in the Pyrenees: What are the Best Spots?

Boasting endless acres of undeveloped and pristine mountain terrain, the Pyrenees are the ideal location to get out of the ski resort and into the backcountry. 

Located along the border of Spain and France as well as in Andorra, the Pyrenees stretch for 300 miles from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe.

While not as tall as the Alps, 126 of the mountain range’s peaks exceed 3.000 meters in height. Pico de Aneto, which is located on the Spanish side of the border, is the tallest of them at 3.404 meters.

Several of the tallest mountains in the central Pyrenees are still glaciated and, therefore, covered in snow year round. However, due to increasing temperatures in the region, these glaciers are shrinking rapidly.

In spite of this, the Pyrenees offer bountiful opportunities for ski tourers of all levels to hone their skills and explore this enchanting mountain range.

Here are some of the best spots for ski touring on either side of the border as well as the ideal time to go.

French Pyrenees

While the tallest peaks are located on the Spanish side of the border, there is still no shortage of scenic and exhilarating ski touring to be done on the French side!

Here is what you can expect from three of the region’s top trips.

Pic du Midi de Bigorre

Pic du Midi offers freeride skiing opportunities throughout most of the year. Photo courtesy of Stéphane Monari.

Located on the outskirts of Pyrenees National Park in the center of the range, Pic du Midi de Bigorre was made famous by the astronomical observatory located at its summit and has become one of the most popular of the Pyrenees peaks for ski touring.

While falling just below the 3.000 meter mark, the mountain and surrounding area remain popular for ski touring adventures of all kinds due to the varying terrains, excellent snow conditions and astounding views. Both the north and south face of the mountain are common destinations for ski touring as well as going out and into some of the surrounding backcountry.

Many guides offer single day trips, but others also offer 3-day excursions in order to maximize the ground you can cover. In order to get the most out of these trips, participants should be at least intermediate level off-piste skiers.

Barèges or Mongie are the two closest towns to the mountain and most guides will highly recommend you stay in either one in order to maximize your time on the slopes. 

The average daily cost per person for these type of ski touring trips runs between €300 and €400 and, depending on the guide, may include guiding fees, group equipment and accommodations/half-board meals (for multi-day trips).

Check out the following links for some of the top trip options for this spot:

Pic du Midi guided freeriding

Pic du Midi freeride skiing tour

Pic du Midi and Bareges la Mongie guided tour

Haute Ariege

The Haute Arienge offers a diverse array of day trips each with different but no less astounding views. Photo courtesy of Pyrenees Mountain Guides.

The Haute Ariege is a ski tourer’s paradise, boasting various off-piste descents that are appropriate for both intermediate and advanced skiers.

The region has many locations that are far away from traditional resorts, but not too difficult to find, making them perfect for single-day expeditions. The Haute Ariege is located in the east of the Pyrenees and usually has untouched snows and spectacular panoramic vistas awaiting those adventurous enough to come and find them.

Ax-les-Thermes and Aulus-les-Bains are two of the hamlets best situated from which to begin an adventure. These little outposts offer the quaint comforts of any French mountain town with unbeatable access to some of the area’s best off-piste skiing.

For one day, most guides offer packages starting at €300 per person. However, with larger groups, the per person cost generally decreases.

Check out the following links for some trip options for this spot:

Haute Ariege freeride skiing day tour

Guided ski tour of Haute Ariege

Mont Valier

Mont Valier makes for a challenging day of climbing followed by an even more rewarding day os skiing. Photo courtesy of Walfroy Constant.

Rising 2.838 meters above sea level, Mont Valier is the eastern and most isolated glaciated peak of the Pyrenees. It also makes for an excellent ski mountaineering adventure!

In order to reach the top of the glacier and enjoy the unspoiled snow as well as the stunning vistas, it is best to leave the day before and spend the night in a mountain hut on the mountain’s slopes.

After arriving at the top and taking in the spectacular views of the surrounding, there is only one way back down. The descent is the highlight of the trip. Not only do you continue to enjoy more excellent views on the way down, but you get to enjoy fresh snow and steep grades, making for a thrilling race to the bottom.

Most guides recommend meeting at the village of Pla de Lau in the Riberot Valley. The two-day climb and descent generally costs about €600 and includes guiding and equipment fees (but usually not the mountain hut cost). Due to the difficult conditions on the glacier, it is best suited for advanced skiers.

Check out the following link for one of our trip options for this spot:   

Extreme ski tour of Mont Valier

Spanish Pyrenees

Boasting sole possession of the ten tallest mountains in the range, the Spanish Pyrenees offer a plethora of opportunities for both the most adventurous ski tourers as well as those who are just beginning to learn this winter sport. Here is what you can expect from three of the region’s top spots!

Pico de Aneto

Pico de Aneto is the tallest mountain in the Pyrenees and third tallest peak in Spain. Photo courtesy of Fede San Sebastián.

The highest peak in the Pyrenees, at 3.404 meters above sea level, presents ski tourers with the excellent opportunity of climbing up to the top of the summit and free ride skiing back down.

Going up and down takes two days and requires intermediate skiing skills in order to comfortably complete. The climb up is not too challenging and offers great views of the beautiful scenery of Posets Maladeta Natural Park along the way.

After enjoying spectacular views from the summit, the run back down is one of the most interesting in the Pyrenees, including an uninterrupted 1.300 meter run through virgin slopes.

Most guides recommend meeting in the city of Benasque for this trip. The two-day climb generally costs between €150 and €500 per person depending on the guide as well as how many participants are in each group. These prices generally include the guide fee and group equipment costs (but usually not the mountain hut cost).  

Check out the following links for our top trip options for this spot:

Pico de Aneto ski mountaineering ascent

Pico de Aneto guided ski tour and ascent

Carros de Foc

Known as the Chariots of Fire, the Carros de Foc offer some of the best scenery the Pyrenees have to offer. Photo courtesy of Roger Marotell.

The Carros de Foc, or chariots of fire, are an exquisite sight to behold in the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park and make for excellent ski touring during the winter.

Most guides agree that five days is the perfect amount of time to spend exploring the lakes, forests and mountains that dot this scenic spot. There are plenty of mountain huts and no fixed routes, allowing for flexible itineraries and spur of the moment decisions.

However, the trips generally all get in the main highlights, including: Pico de Montardo, Collado de Contraix, Sant Maurici Lake and Pico de Subenuix.

Whatever route you end up taking, the trip involves plenty of climbing in skins as well as steep quick descents. At least an intermediate level of skiing is required for this trip and itineraries can be altered for advanced skiers.

Viella is an excellent little town from which to begin any adventure through the Carros de Foc. However, there are numerous other towns that surround the national park.

Most guides charge between €500 and €600 per person for a standard five-day guided ski tour of the park. This usually includes the guide fee, accommodations and half-board meals throughout the trip.

Check out the following links for our top trip options for this spot:

Carros de Foc five-day ski tour

Carros de Foc guided ski tour   

Heliskiing in Val d’Aran

Viella is located near a heliport and often the best starting point for a heliskiing expedition to Val d’Aran. Photo courtesy of Sergi Gasa.

The Val d’Aran offers excellent and remote ski touring opportunities for those intrepid enough to pursue them. Sometimes the best way to get as much high-quality skiing in as possible is to be dropped right on to the slopes.

Many guides offer heliskiing expeditions to people who only have a day or two to spend in the region. By using aerial transportation, ski tourers are afforded the freedom of choosing where in the region they want to go and enjoying bird’s eye views as well as views from the slopes.

Another perk of heliskiing is that participants of all skiing abilities can participate. Guides can tailor the perfect itinerary for you based on your abilities.

Most heliskiing trips begin out of the helicopter base in Viella. Guides typically charge between €700 and €1.000 per person for single day expeditions. This price generally includes the guide fee, group equipment and heliski drops.

Check out the following links for some of our top trip options for this spot:

Full-day group heliskiing trip

Guided heliskiing in Val d’Aran

Heliskiing in Val d’Aran 2-day guided tour

When is the best time to go ski touring to the Pyrenees?

The best time for ski touring in the Pyrenees is from December to April. During this period, there is generally plenty of snow cover above 1.600 meters.

Depending where you are in the mountain range will impact the weather you will experience. On the eastern side of the range, snow and precipitation are much more common due to moist air blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean.

The western side of the range is much drier, so you are likely to have more sunny and clear days at any given time during the ski season, but less fresh powder. However, it does snow frequently enough on this side to ensure powder for the whole season.    

The average daily high temperature during the winter is -2ºC, which is perfect for spending long periods of time out on the slopes!

With endless acres of mountains, valleys, lakes and forests to explore, the Pyrenees are a ski tourer’s paradise. Photo courtesy of Sergi Gasa.

So what are you waiting for? Check out ski touring opportunities in either the Spanish or French Pyrenees and book your next adventure today!