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Skiing and snowboarding in the Pyrenees

Skiing and snowboarding in the Pyrenees

This global warming is proving to be a bit nippy, there have been record snowfalls all across Europe in November 2008 which has meant that everywhere is enjoying a bumper start to their season on the slopes and the Pyrenees in the South of France is no exception. We have already had some great skiing in the Pyrenees and with the snow falling as I write the expectations are high for plenty more.

The Pyrenees is not the first place anyone thinks of when they are thinking about their next skiing vacation, more often it is the Alps that gets the first consideration whether that is France, Austria, Italy or Germany. But boy, we may have had some snow but it’s certainly not raining Euro’s so there may be a few people out there who are interested in a cost effective way to go skiing where the prices are a little more reasonable.

Most people know about Andorra and the fact that it is one of the cheapest places to ski, helped by a tax free economy there are some great deals to be had and actually two of the main resorts there, Casa de la Pasa and Soldeu are only about 1/2 an hour or so from the resorts I am going to talk about here, Monts d’Olmes and Ax Les Thermes both of which lie in the French Pyrenees about an hour and a half south of Toulouse. So if you did fancy an excursion into Andorra from here, as long as you are prepared and have some transport its definitely not out of the question.

Located where they are, there are plenty of options for getting to both resorts, Monts d’Olmes and Ax Les Thermes, including flying into Toulouse or Carcassonne, getting a train or a bus and that’s not to mention the driving option, hire car or otherwise.

It has to be said that Monts d’Olmes is not that well known and tends to be used by the locals rather than the ski package tour operators, but it’s not a bad little resort and would be great as a family skiing location where there are a range of skill levels from beginner to intermediate. If you are a serious advanced skier or snowboarder then I would say with only 2 black runs and as many greens as reds then this would not be the place for you. But for beginners and intermediates, or families looking for a place where it is relatively easy to keep in touch with one another then it’s worth consideration.

The resort is at a fairly low altitude so there is a need to check the snow forecasts and conditions and to have a contingency plan if the snow does get a bit sparse, it can also be a bit tricky on the mountain roads if a snow storm comes in so it is a good idea to be prepared with an appropriate vehicle, snow chains or by using the bus service to get there, all these options are easily accommodated at varying levels of cost.

The first contingency plan has got to be Ax Les Thermes which is just down the road from Foix on the way to Andorra, it is a much larger resort and has 28 runs (7 more than Monts d’Olmes) and approximately 80 km’s of pisted slopes. It is also slightly higher by about 400m, but this can make all the difference in terms of snow consistency. Another serious benefit of Ax Les Thermes is that it can be accessed from the main road to Andorra via a gondola straight out of the town avoiding the need for driving up and down a mountain road, although that option is there if you want to take it.

The runs at Ax Les Thermes are much longer and provide a better mix for the advanced level winter sports enthusiast with 5 blacks and 10 reds to select from, also with a further 8 blues and 5 greens this resort can cater for all levels of skiing ability and is a good place for beginners and intermediates as well. I suspect that the boarders would enjoy the snowpark in the Saquet sector which is one of the 3 sectors that make up the Ax 3 Domaines skiing resort, the other 2 are Bonascre and Campels.

Both resorts are enjoying the great snow that arrived in November 08 and Ax Les Thermes in particular has had all it’s slopes and lifts open since the beginning of December, Ax Les Thermes has a good mix of gondolas, chairs and draglifts which means if you really want to you can save all your energy for the skiing and still get the degree of difficulty you are looking for. Monts d’Olmes on the other hand has only one chairlift and the rest of the lifts are of the drag variety, that said the chair takes you almost to the top so you can get a good run all the way to the bottom via blues and reds back to the chair.

Ski passes can be bought from increments of 1/2 days up to several days and you should obviously check out the tarriffs for the best deals, there are special family days (1/2 days excluded) and student passes are available at reduced cost. Ski equipment, snowboarding equipment and toboggons are all available for hire at reasonable cost and in the case of Ax Les Thermes you can get your equipment either in town or you can wait until you get up to Bonascre where the first of the slopes is available.

For apres ski, Ax Les Thermes has a lot to offer, being a spa town with hot springs it is just as well visited in the summer as it is in the winter and so there are plenty of facilities on offer including shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. You could probably get a hot tub somewhere as well if you wanted, I have never actually done that but it is a spa town so I am sure there will be facilities somewhere in the town.

I hope you have found this review useful and that it has given you a flavor for a couple of my local ski resorts in the Pyrenees, I have skied in a few different places and countries, including Austria, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany and Canada but I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my skiing here as much as anywhere else, obviously there will be personal favorites but as far as I am concerned as long as you look for the positive and don’t get too hung up over minor irritations you can enjoy any resort.

You can get further information and details on skiing in the Pyrenees on my website Skiing and Snowboarding in the Pyrenees and if you need some help with finding flights and travel information to Europe you can visit my travel advice page on French Travel Advice which has some very useful information for France and Europe generally, whether you are flying, driving or looking to go by rail.

If you enjoy the information in the website on the Pyrenees don’t forget to give it a thumbs up rating at the bottom of the page or to share it with other skiers or snowboarders who might find it interesting.

Visit Ski Pyrenees to access all the information you need for the resort, the skiing levels, piste map, webcams and more.
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