Powder and pistes in the Pyrénées

1st March 2017, by Ben Moore

Piste 007 in Peyragudes was a favourite to ski with Seb and Ollie

Piste 007 in Peyragudes was a favourite to ski with Seb and Ollie

If you haven’t taken your family skiing to the French Pyrénées, you should says Ben Moore, skiing dad and co-founder of family ski website paralleltrails.co.uk.

I have just just spent February half term skiing the French Pyrénées with my wife Gayle and sons Seb, 14 and Ollie, 12. We found great snow, very few queues and have returned with a host of memorable shared experiences. The mountains are certainly not the poor relations of the Alps and the scenery provided by this natural border between France and Spain is magnificent. There are undaunting beginner areas, easy to get to powder with gradients to appeals to all the family, plus some steep pistes and challenging blacks to keep more advanced skiers amused.

We drove there and although it is slightly further than driving to popular Alpine resorts such as Les Arcs it turned out to be as easy as any of the ski-drive trips we have done over the years.

And we did the trip in a new Kia Optima Sportswagon. It’s an estate and we easily managed to fit four pairs of skis, four boot bags and three big clothes bags inside the car and still we weren’t cramped in the cabin. One of the handiest bits of tech on the Kia was remote boot opening — a godsend when returning to car with skis and poles.


Spacious: Ben and his family travelled in the Kia Optima Sportswagon

We stayed in Saint-Lary which is 730 miles or 11 hours from Calais but we broke the journey up with an overnight stay in a Novotel in Le Mans. Peage tolls worked out to be around £80 each way, while supermarket diesel cost £1.07 per litre on current exchange rates.

SAINT-LARY

Our base for the week was the valley town of Saint-Lary. It’s a bustling place with a main street characterised by attractive grey stone buildings. If you’re looking for some tasty French/Spanish food – head to Le Gros Minet tapas bar, with its buzzing atmosphere and great gambas.

Read Where to Ski and Snowboard’s review of St-Lary-Soulan here.

The main street was a short stroll from the recently-renovated Pierre & Vacances Residence les Rives de L’aure. We were in a comfortable one-bedroom apartment that had all the necessary self-catering kit.

The apartment was also just across the river from the gondola lift, so getting up to the ski area each morning was easy and didn’t involve a long walk or the need to squeeze on a bus. And next door was Sensoria Rio – a fun pool attraction fed by the thermal waters and created to feel like a mountain canyon. A two-hour family pass is around £35.


Ben’s wife Gayle enjoying the scenery and snow in Saint-Lary

Saint-Lary is home of the big mountain snowboarder Xavier de Le Rue and his brother Olympic bronze medallist Paul-Henri. You can imagine them learning their trade across Saint-Lary’s varied terrain. New skiers or snowboarders are well catered for in a dedicated beginner area where the gondola and the cable car up from the town arrive.

We skied for three days and never tired of the runs or felt we were repeating ourselves. We loved the 3.6km Mirabelle red that takes you top to bottom in the Espiaube zone. Les Trois Guides restaurant halfway down is a good spot for a hot chocolate or a hearty lunch.

Seek out the Corneblanque button lift, but watch out as it’s long and at one point steep. This gives you access to the outer edge of the ski area at Le Vallon. At the end of the Bastan red run is Lac de l’Oule and the Refuge de l’Oule restaurant. It’s a very popular lunch spot and the best advice is to get there as it opens at 12 noon to get a table.

The red run down is good, but be prepared to pole or even walk the last few metres because it’s ever so slightly uphill. There’s only one lift back up from the Refuge – it’s an old and slow two-man chair, so if you get your timings wrong you can get stuck in a post-lunch queue.

If you get fresh snow – as we did on the Wednesday – then head straight to the area served by the Corneblanque, Arrouyes and Glacier button lifts. There are great blues and reds here but more importantly you and your children can criss-cross between the pistes practising your powder skiing without worrying about steep gradients.

DAY TRIPPING

From our base in Saint-Lary we also did three skiing day trips to neighbouring resorts. Peyragudes was a 40-minute drive away and a similar size to Saint-Lary. We enjoyed an excellent day’s skiing on mainly blues and reds and were taken by how open the ski area is. The blue Piste 007 is worth skiing for the photo opportunity. It has been renamed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, which filmed its opening sequence at the Altiport in Peyragudes.

Off the mountain road towards Spain, you’ll find the ski-in ski-out Piau-Engaly, with its circle and crescent-shaped resort buildings constructed to blend into the natural setting. It’s around 20 minutes from Saint-Lary and although it only has 39 pistes it feels larger. The views from Pic du Piau at 2,600m are impressive and from the top of chair you should try the red Parc run that sweeps you down around the edge of the resort’s ski area. Grande Bleue is another good cruisy piste from top to bottom, which gives you options to drop onto the steeper Kamikaze red and Myrtilles black runs.

Piau-Engaly also boasts the Edeneo spa on the edge of the ski runs where you can chill in relaxation pools whilst watching the skiers go by.


The Balnea Spa at Loudenvielle has a series of themed areas

Val Louron – 25 minutes away – is a small ski area that packs a hidden punch. There are only 20 runs and first impressions suggest it is a perfect spot for beginners or young children on their first skiing holiday. As friendly learning environment, Val Louron ticks all the boxes. But when we started exploring the rest of the resort, we discovered some beautiful reds – such as Aubepines and Rhododendrons. It is a charming little resort, with deceptively good skiing. And in the valley below Val Louron is another hidden gem.

The Balnea Spa at Loudenvielle has a series of themed areas all fed by natural thermal waters. There’s a fun indoor main pool area perfect for families. Outside you can chill in three heated pools, which increase from 33c, to 37c and then to 40c, while looking out over snowy mountains. We found it the perfect end to our family skiing roadtrip in the Hautes Pyrenees.

Visit pyrenees-holiday.com for area information and for UK tour operator packages to Saint-Lary and Peyragudes see ernalow.co.uk.

Ben Moore is a skiing dad and co-founder of family ski website paralleltrails.co.uk



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