Skiing in the Pyrenées

The ski resorts here in the Ariège and Haute Garonne rival many of those you will find in the Alps. Most of the resorts in the Pyrenees are smaller than those in the Alps but often link in with neighbouring towns to give extensive ski areas, while retaining a quieter, friendlier feel. It is this relaxed atmosphere which attracts great loyalty amongst the few British skiers to be found here, although it must be said that the majority of the British contingent on the slopes are actually now locals themselves. They tend to live or have second homes in the region, and they are also very reluctant to let anyone in on their skiing secret, which is why most of us have yet to discover these resorts.

Many of the ski resorts nestled in the mountains here were thermal spa towns before expanding into skiing and, in the last few years there has been huge investment in the skiing infrastructure. Moreover, many people, priced out of the Alpine resorts have realised that the Pyrenees offer a much better value alternative with weekly ski passes and ski hire much cheaper as well as accommodation and meals.

The Pyrenees receive more snow than the Alps, albeit with slightly milder winters and, because the French resorts are on the north side of the range, the snow is much more reliable than for the Spanish resorts on the southern side. The largest and most snow-sure resorts in the Pyrenees are concentrated in the middle of the range in a relatively small area, away from the wetter and milder Atlantic coast and the sunnier Mediterranean coast.

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. And even in the most popular Pyrenean ski stations the pistes and lift queues are relatively quiet, and except in the school holidays, the slopes are un-crowded.

Skiing in the Ariege – Guzet Neige

Guzet is a charming ski resort in imposing surroundings with a variety of terrain for all abilities and an annual snowfall of six metres on average. Just 140 km from Toulouse, it is popular as a weekend getaway from the city. Guzet is a purpose built ski resort, first developed in 1959. Unusually, however, for a modern French ski development, it is known for being one of the prettiest places to ski in the Pyrenees. This is mainly thanks to planning restrictions, which insist that the architecture must be designed to blend in with the surrounding landscape. Subsequently the majority of the buildings are small, one or two bedroom wooden chalets, rather like beach huts in appearance but which nonetheless have a certain charm and character. The resort is situated at the heart of a pine forest so many of the 31 pistes wind through the trees. With 40 kilometres of runs, there is a wide enough range of skiing here for Guzet to have earned the reputation as the family resort of the Pyrenees.

Skiing in the Haute Garonne – Superbagnères and Peyragudes

Superbagnères is one of the highest resorts in the Pyrenees. It is part of the better-known, thermal spa town of Luchon and forms a natural, sunny balcony, with spectacular views over the Pyrenean range. Superbagnères was built in France’s Belle Époque, when the crowned heads of Europe went from Seaside palaces to spa to ski resort and the architecture is suitably grand, dominated by the famous Grand Hotel.

The ski area encompasses 28 ski slopes, 138 snow canons, four kilometres of cross country tracks, a sledging slope, and other attractions. It is only 8 minutes from the centre of Luchon to the slopes via the télécabine in the centre of the town. After the skiing there is plenty of nightlife, including a cinema, bars, night club and a casino making this the premier resort for wealthy Toulousains escaping for the weekend.

Peyragudes is situated approximately 20 minutes drive from Luchon (there is a twice-daily shuttle) and is the linked ski area served by the purpose-built resorts of Peyresourde and Les Agudes. Although many British skiers will be unfamiliar with the ski area, some may recognise Peyresourde as the setting for the opening of the James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.

The 50km of pistes from 2400m down to 1600m straddle the Col de Flamme and are accessed by an efficient lift network. Intermediates and families are well catered for with wide principally red and blue runs whilst the open nature of the terrain means that off-piste opportunities abound and skiers and boarders can make the most of the snowpark. The showpiece of this resort is the Vallée Blanche, a six kilometre red run that descends down a hidden valley and through tree-lined farmland. The 1000m vertical, wide variety of terrain and feeling of remoteness make this one of the most enjoyable runs in the French Pyrenees.

If you tire of sliding down the white stuff, Peyragudes also offers cross-country skiing, snowshoe treks and even husky rides to make the most of its abundant snow cover.