Wild Weather and Fun in Ax

Wild Weather and Fun in Ax

The gang of 7 arrived just as a huge storm set in over the French Pyrenees. With strong winds and inclement weather skiing plans needed urgent tweaking for family entertainment.

See Article on PlanetSki Website

Bad weather days often bring unexpected fun.

We arrived in Ax-les-Thermes in the Ariège region of the French Pyrenees the first weekend of the busy half term week, the night before a massive storm set in.

90mph winds closed almost all the lifts at Ax-3-Domaines on our first morning. The closest smaller ski area of Ascou was open but with rumours of 1hr 30 queues for each lift, we decided, after speaking to some locals, on an alternative.

We left Ax and headed for the Col du Chioula to find the cross-country ski area.

Day passes bought and kitted up, we spent a few minutes ‘clipping in’ and getting used to the very thin and lightweight skis.

Soon we were heading up the green route following the narrow tracks which you slide your skis in.

So far so good!

One loop around the easiest green track and a few tumbles along the way and we found ourselves on the long blue climb up towards the refuge at 1600m.

The cross country trails offered stunning views out over the Pyrenees and then we would turn in along beautiful, tree lined tracks through the woods.

Cross country through the woods

Cross country through the woods

Our little gang of seven had so much fun, the children (and me!) were really challenged and we all loved learning this sport.

I had tried it just once in Kimberley BC many years ago.

Cross country in Chioula

If the weather had not been so bad we would never have had this experience and seen the fantastic area at Chioula.

With the storm passing we finally made it up from the town of Ax-les-Thermes, where we were staying, to the start of the ski area at Bonascre at 1400m.

As we rode the fast Lièvre Blanc and Tute six man chairs higher up the resort we could see the fresh snow that the overnight storm (and rain in the valley) had brought.

Fresh tracks in Ax

 

All day we found fresh lines under increasingly blue skies.

In our two days we skied pretty much all the three ski areas – Bonascre, Saquet and Campels – which make up Ax-3-Domaines, and enjoyed lunch stops in our favourite restaurant, Le Louzat, tucked away between the poma lifts in the woods at Saquet.

View from restaurant Le Louzat

 

We loved the skiing ‘Indian’ Ax uses on its logo and branding – “3 areas, 1 territory, 1 tribe’.

“3 Areas, 1 Territory, 1 Tribe”

People who ski Ax –  93% French locals –  are proud of their ‘tribe’.

The town of Ax-les-Thermes, named after the naturally occurring sulphuric water, is full of history – the old hospital, chapel and old foot bath contrasting with the newer foot bath near the gondola and more modern recreational thermal spa.

The influences from its proximity to Spain and Andorra are seen in the mix of tapas restaurants along the main street.

Over the next three years more than 25 million Euros will be invested in new lifts to alleviate the bottle necks in the resort and bring the system up to date.

There are also ongoing discussions to re-build the gondola from the village of Merens-les-Vals where the original lift to the Ax ski area was built.

Ax isn’t huge, its locals love it and I can understand now why they are proud to be called a ‘tribe’.

See you again soon I hope!

Skiweekends.com offers short breaks to Ax-Les-Thermes.

Thanks to Intersport for ski rental.

For information on the Ax ski area visit  Ax-ski.

More information on the 2016 Pyrenees Ski Road Trip when PlanetSKI visited Font Romeu, Les Angles and Ax-3-Domaines.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports

PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

Not Just For Winter – Vanessa Fisher Hautes Pyrenees

Not Just For Winter – Vanessa Fisher Hautes Pyrenees

More and more people are heading high in the summer. PlanetSKI reports from the French Pyrenees.

The French Pyreness is a region of extreme contrasts – from high peaks to lush valleys. 

There is wonderful cuisine and fascinating culture.

Adrenalin action sports to gentle family activities.

PlanetSKI reporter, Vanessa Fisher, has been enjoying the area with her young family.

I visited last summer to see some of the extremities of the region and reported on it here for PlanetSKI. I fell in love with the Pyrenees in the summer months and was keen to see some more of this contrasting region.

Down in the foothills is a sleepy little village called Madiran.

Wine aficionados may recognise the name from the rich red wine which carries its name.

Madiran wine, is one of the most well-known red wines from this part of France.

The Brumont family being one of the biggest growers and exporters of this wine.

The vineyards grow on the south facing slopes of this little corner of the Hautes-Pyreenees.

What isn’t little is the Chateau which sits amongst the vineyards – Chateau Montus.

Summer in the Hautes Pyrenees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I visited it was about to host a huge wedding party.

The converted outbuildings were decked out with linen and flowers but we managed a quick peek in to another of the vast buildings which houses the enormous metal cylinders where the wine is produced and stored.

I’m not a huge wine fan (unless it’s fizzy) but the beautiful old chateau sitting with its panoramic views across the valleys was quite the setting for a wedding reception.

The lady on reception went down to the cellar to dig out a couple of bottles of 2010 Montus, an excellent year for this wine…apparently.

My dad loved it!

On the other side of the region, heading down towards the Med and nestling up against the Haute-Garonne department is the Barousse Forest.

With our wine stash we were in search of some new treehouses that have been built up in the woods.

This is where Sat Navs struggle, small mountainside roads, where they get confused with the switch-back roads and tiny paths and tracks.

After a couple of interesting routes, we drove into another tiny village, Cazarihl.

Just off the ‘main road’ through the village are Les Cabanes de Pyrenes.

A local couple have invested in a small section of the forest and built three bespoke treehouses, one sleeping two, one sleeping four and a larger treehouse sleeping seven.

That was to be our home for the night.

Summer in the Hautes Pyrenees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a family overnight treat it was absolutely idyllic; giant wooden games are scattered through the surrounding woodland, and if you want to hike, the owners are clearing an ancient path which runs north from the treehouses up into the woods beyond.

Each treehouse has a different entrance, the duo with its circular stairway and a ladder across to a seating area ‘a deux’.

Ours had an easier wooden staircase, safe for the children, a lovely outside balcony and fun swinging chairs underneath.

Inside was spacious, with a double raised bed, two sets of bunks and a small single under the double.

Small details such as the intricate carving around the windows and the lovely bed linen makes an overnight in these treehouses seem luxurious.

The naturally heated hamman (like a small Jacuzzi) was fired up for us to relax in and for dinner we ate in the on-site Kota grill.

You can cook local meat over the fire in the centre of the little hexagonal building and the owners prepare potatoes and salad plus homemade tart and breads and dried meats to accompany.

After more wine, sleep comes easily, no noise, just the sounds from the woods and pitch black all around.

Gentle fairy lights inside enough to keep the children’s fears at bay!

In the morning, after hauling a wicker basket full of fresh croissants, hot coffee and chocolate up and over the balcony and devoured around the little central table, we moved back down to the valley to discover some ancient caves and hand prints.

The Grottes de Gargas caves take you way underground where, with a guide, you follow the routes through the limestone tunnels and discover a series of 27,000 year old hand prints and animal carvings.

Our guide spoke in French but quickly translated in to English.

Once again we were late for our set tour but luckily managed to tack on to the back of the tour which had only just begun – booking in advance is essential.

Onwards up the valley still at the very edge of the Hautes-Pyrenees and then crossing the high pass at Col du Peysourade brought us down in to the Louron Valley.

PlanetSKI has stayed in this sleepy valley in the summer before.

At the top of this valley is Loudenvielle with its lake and outdoor pool and slides.

We spent a fabulous day here using the pedalos on the lake before heading in to Ludeo with its fun slides and warm outside pools.

Summer in the Hautes Pyrenees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d travelled from the furthest tip of the region bordering Gers, across to the Mediterranean side and finally back in to the heart of the Hautes-Pyrenees.

Who says the mountains are just for winter?

Summer in the Hautes Pyrenees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See here for more information about holidays in the Hautes-Pyrenees.

PYRENEES ROAD TRIP – A New Itinerary Taking In The Legendary Tour De France Cols And Climbs

PYRENEES ROAD TRIP – A New Itinerary Taking In The Legendary Tour De France Cols And Climbs

It is the new Pyrenees Road Trip. It takes you over many of the famous Tour de France ‘cols’ zigzaging between France and Spain, and to some of the most beautiful sites of the Pyrenees.

A Road Book accompanies you on this trip. It is free and full of practical advice, with lots of good addresses for accommodation, full of information on the best sites to visit, the places for outdoor activities, the spa centres, the best restaurants… It is not just another tourist guide, only the best sites recommended by clients are included. It is set out as a daily diary and has ideas for easy walks, unusual places to visit, and is full of interesting stories. Its valuable information makes it the perfect guide for a great adventure.

It is something that should be done at least once in a lifetime, whether integrally or for just a few days.

The itinerary can be done in 3, 5 or 8 days, you can choose your own rhythm. All logistics are taken care of by the Hautes-Pyrenees Holiday Boutique, the specialist in made to measure holidays: 3 and 4 star accommodation with breakfast included, pass for access to the Grand Sites, entry to the spa centres…

On the basis of two sharing it only costs €494 per person for 8 days, €335 for 5 days and €260 for 3 days (transport not included).

 2 COUNTRIES (France and Spain),

1 WORLD HERITAGE SITE,

4 GRANDS SITES of the Midi Pyrenees: Pic du Midi, Cauterets-Pont d’Espagne, Gavarnie and Lourdes…

4 FAMOUS COLS,

2 NATIONAL PARKS,

1 NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE,

9 LAKES…

www.pyrenees-trip.uk

 

THE NEOUVIELLE RESERVE – NEW For Summer 2016 Five Linked Refuges

The richness of the flora and fauna, together with the many lakes and sublime scenery, have made the Néouvielle Reserve a subject for detailed study and attention.

Created in 1936, the Néouvielle Nature Reserve is one of the earliest established in France. The area covers 2,300 hectares with more than 70 lakes (Aubert, Aumar, Orédon, Cap de Long, Laquettes) and pools in which more than 570 species of algae have been identified. The area is covered with Pins à Crochets (a dwarf mountain pine), the tree growing at the highest altitudes in Europe. This famous range is bordered by the massive limestone walls of Barroude and the Pic Néouvielle at more than 3000m.

A paradise for walkers, there are many possible circuits and the grand tour of the Néouvielle can be done staying in the 5 refuges, newly linked for summer 2016.

PARC ANIMALIER DES PYRENEES – Up Close and Personal!

The Pyrenees Animal Park, ranked among the top in France , opens a new hut sleeping two adults – with windows overlooking the Bear Park.

Having successfully created the trapper’s cabin within close proximity to the wolves, this new hut will get visitors close to the bears. (closed peak months of summer July and August) www.parc-animalier-pyrenees.com

 ON YOUR BIKE!

The Tour de France 2016 spends 2 days in the Hautes-Pyrenees this summer :

  • 8 July 2016- 7th stage – L’Isle-Jourdain – Lac de Payolle 162 km
  • 9 July 2016 – 8the stage – Pau- Bagnères-de-Luchon – 183km

 The Campilaro : 24 – 26 th July – 3 days, 370 km, 8500m of elevation, 5 cols and timed ascents and 30 km of ascent to Gavarnie – www.campilaro.com

The Haute Route of Pyrenees – 23-25th August – stages 4-6 travelling via Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Azet and over Col de Peyresourde – www.hauteroute.org/events/stages/pyrenees-2016

Marmotte Grandfondo Pyrenees – 28 th August  – 25 years in the Alps, 7,000 participants and for the 1st time in the Pyrenees –  163 km, 5 600 m of elevation including both sides of the Col du Tourmalet via Barèges (2115m), Hourquette d’Ancizan (1564m), Col d’Aspin (1489m), and again Col du Tourmalet (2115m) via Ste Marie de Campan, arriving  Luz Ardiden (1666m).  http://marmotte.sportcommunication.info/

Alternatively take an electric bike to access any of these routes

New website for cycling itineraries for Summer 2016 :  www.pyrenees-cyclo.com

 Pyr’Epic -Mountain Bike Pic du Midi to Lourdes 3-4 September 2016

A 2-day MTB event taking in 120 km of trails from the top of the Pic du Midi via Cauterets to Lourdes. Two stages of 50 and 70 km with 8000 meters of vertical drop, and 4000 m of elevation gain .Easy access to the Pic du Midi cable car ( 2877 m); the cable car and chairlift Cauterets and the Funiculaire du Pic du Jer for the final descent to Lourdes. http://www.lourdesvtt.com/pyrepic-le-raid-vtt-all-mountain-by-lourdes-vtt/

 OUTDOOR FUN

NEW – 3D Hiking App

Available on Android, easy and fun, with map, compass , GPS, cameras. A new way to hike in freedom and security. www.faceausud.com (Cauterets, Gavarnie, Néouvielle, Pic du Midi)

The longest descent in Europe from the Pic du Midi by scooter

5th and 12th August at 04.00 pm : 2 hours of descent:15 km et 1800 m

Price : 95€ for adults – 85€ for teenager – maximum 10 places on each date. The price includes transfer from Argeles- Gazost or the Campan Valley, access to the top of the Pic du Midi cable car, equipment and snack on arrival descent. Scooter descents also available all summer at Hautacam. https://montnroll.com/la-descente-la-plus-haute-deurope/

 Hike with a Huski !

With a belt around your waist allow the huski dog to gently pull you along on a hike or enjoy a quad bike ride pulled by a pack of Huskis.  From 6 years – available at Argelès-Gazost, Barèges, Val d’Azun and Louron Valley – 30 mins, 35€/adult ; 25€/children (under 10yrs) – www.sherpa-chien-traineau.fr/Cani-rando

 CULTURE

Historical Walk of Lourdes

Lourdes, the 2nd most visited city in France, and famous for its pilgrims has a fun ‘city beach’ for all this summer.

New – two 1 hr 30 themed walks discovering the history behind Lourdes from 1858 when before and after Bernadette’s apparitions and Lourdes in medieval times when it was known as ‘Lorda’.

http://www.lourdes-infotourisme.com/web/FR/2338-circuits-pedestres-en-ville.php

 Artitude – Modern art in a small village in the Hautes-Pyrenees

15 artists create a walk in Arras en Lavedan, a village of 500 inhabitants, near Argelès-Gazost on the theme of Saint Jacques de Compostela, a mixture of history, old artifacts and modern art accessible to all.
LOCAL PRODUCTS

Black Pork of Pierre Sajous –

A new delicatessan open on the Lourdes-Gavarnie road. Specialising in the local Black Pork de Bigorre. Visit the factory, see the hams being salted and taste and buy products. Discover the different breeds of pig and their diet.

www.pierresajous.fr

 Cooking courses with one of the best Chefs of the Hautes-Pyrénées

Le Viscos is one of the best restaurants in the Hautes-Pyrenees with Jean -Pierre Saint-Martin and now his son, English speaking Alexis. They are passionate about serving the best products taking over 2.5 hours to produce their meals. Cooking courses 75 €/pers. 3 people maximum –

http://www.pyrenees-holiday.com/offre/fiche/culinary-secrets/SEJMIP065V50158T

Organic Bread Making Course

The old mill is running as it traditionally did, milling wheat flour, corn, rye , buckwheat and spelt flours.

Every Saturday during summer – make your own bread.

Courses run from 9am –  16h30 Saturdays 28 May, 11 & 25 June, 23 July, 15 & 27 August, 10 & 24 September and 8 October. Tarifs: 40€/adult| 15€/child (5-12 yrs)

Visit the Mill : Tuesdays and Sundays from 14h30 to 16h30 or by appointment  www.moulindelaribere.com

NO 1 SPA DESTINATION IN FRANCE

Thermal Spas –Eight spas in the region – Aquensis, Balnea, Bains du Rocher, Cieleo, l’Edenvik, Jardin des Bains, Luzea, Sensoria Rio -make the most of the region’s superb natural resources to create a unique range of spa and wellness products, harnessing the naturally warm and soothing waters.

To stay in one of the spa centres of the Hautes-Pyrenees is to discover an area which has more rivers, lakes, mountain torrents and waterfalls than almost all other regions. The air is pure, the climate soft. Spa clients re-charge the batteries with a true mountain style treatment : sunshine,  superb scenery, authentic villages, a warm welcome,  a traditional and comforting cuisine.

En Famille in the French Pyrenees

En Famille in the French Pyrenees

Vanessa Fisher and her young children are seasoned family skiers but this year they decided to avoid the better-known resorts and try somewhere new – the French Pyrenees.  See how they fared here: 

Article on FamilySkiNews.com  Website

As a family of skiers, we have been lucky to ski peak weeks (both new year and half term)  in many different countries – Switzerland, the Italian Dolomites, Austria, the French Alps, and this year for the first time at half term in the French Pyrenees.

It’s always hard choosing the best resort, there are just so many factors to getting a family ski holiday right!

This season with many French regions/departments having the same holidays as almost the whole of the UK I was nervous to re-visit some of the better known resorts that we have been to before, anticipating lift queues, traffic queues, transfer issues and so on.

Family ski fun in St Lary

Family ski fun in St Lary

Last summer when looking at flights for this peak February half term week, flights down to the Pyrenees were coming in at around £200 per person (via Toulouse), at least £200 per person less than flights to the Alps. As a family we prefer to travel reasonably independently and we knew we would want to do a few day trips so we were happy to rent a car and make the transfer to resort on our own.

Last summer at the same time as looking at the flights, we’d also just returned from two nights in a village called Saint-Lary-Soulan (St Lary). We had explored the gateway to the Neouvielle reserve and dipped our feet into chilly Lac Oredon, eaten nougat from the open fronted shops in the village on the way back down from the national park and loved our short visit to the Hotel Mercure Saint Lary.

I was keen to go back to that region to ski. Pre-kids I have skied in the Pyrenees a few times at Bareges and La Mongie – the area known as Grand Tourmalet, but the Aure valley in which St Lary sits was an area I wanted to discover. So we booked back into the hotel, our first ever full-week hotel treat as a family! We are serial apartment bookers – the prospect of a week of not thinking about what to cook for kids’ tea was beyond exciting!

How did we get to St Lary?
We took direct flights from London Heathrow to Toulouse, just under two hours; we rented a car at the airport plus winter tyres, and remembered to pick up our pre booked snowchains as there was some snow in the forecast.

St Lary sits at just 830m so there is no steep access road to negotiate; most of the transfer to resort (1 hr 45) is on the A64 autoroute, then it is just 20 minutes short drive up to the village. The main car park (free) is directly outside the hotel -there are a few spaces under cover at the hotel but these were taken when we arrived late on the Sunday evening.

Kit ready and First morning
One of the most important things I’ve discovered on a family ski holiday is to get organised before your first morning skiing- unpack everything and get all your childrens’ clothes in piles ready to put on for breakfast- thermals, socks, salopettes, and then extra layers plus jackets and next to that gloves, neck buffs, goggles/helmets. (You can find a list of all the garments you  need by clicking HERE.)

The ski rental shop was closed when we had arrived on the Sunday evening but, as I had pre-booked the childrens’ skis, on our first morning the rental equipment was ready for us, there was no queuing and we were all buffet-fed, kitted up and ready to head to the telecabine by 9.45am! An absolute joy in terms of logistics was seeing that the telecabine (bubble lift) was situated directly opposite the hotel, with the lift pass kiosks alongside.

Exploring the Mountain
It’s not possible to see the extent of the ski area of St Lary from the village, and on our first day in a mix of low cloud and fresh snow we didn’t really get a chance to discover the area fully. From the top of the telecabine, where you emerge at an area called Pla d’Adet (1700m), we dropped straight down to the little green run/path to the new six man chair ‘Bouleaux’. This whisked us up the side flank of this first mountain. We could see to our left there were a few lifts serving a selection of blue runs directly above Pla d’Adet, but these runs looked busy with the first skiers of the day and ski school groups and our plan was to traverse over to an area where we could see a bubble lift to give our little possie of children some protection from the chilly weather.

Skiing down to L'oule

Skiing down to L’oule

After an easy blue traverse (Corniches) and a lovely path down through some trees where the visibility was better, we made it to the Portet bubble (1900m). It’s a throwback to the egg bubbles of old but, out of the wind and snow, we had happy kids! We found lovely powder under the Soumaye chairlift which we connected to from the top of the bubble, with the children being able to safely dip in and out of the powder just to the side of the red Mirabelle piste.

Over the top of the Soumaye chair, as we discovered on our following clearer days, the area opens out and three drag lifts access some wonderful cruising blue and red runs. These pistes were almost empty which the children loved. If only we’d have had a picnic with us, there was an idyllic little sectioned-off picnic area here too.

We didn’t try the steeper Isard drag-lift on the opposite side of the valley as we didn’t want to have children falling off the button lift. Talking of which… on our visit to the Lac de L’Oule refuge, our youngest didn’t quite make the steeper Corneblanque button lift, although he did make it high enough to ski down on to the lovely red L’oule run through the trees to lunch.

View from La Refuge de l'oule

View from La Refuge de l’oule

Lunch stops
On our first day in the cold and wind, the Trois Guides restaurant was perfectly placed at the bottom of the Soumaye chair, connecting to the blue ‘tortes’ path back to the Lita chair and on to the bubble lift home. We had delicious local garbure soup – huge chunks of ham in thick vegetable soup and the bambinos were happy with steak-hache frites, all served by friendly waiters to our table in the eaves of the building, which we loved. At approximately 10 Euros per head including drinks this was good value.

One of our favourites - the Lac two-man chairlift

One of our favourites – the Lac two-man chairlift

On our second sunnier day we discovered the ski area over the back of the Soumaye chair over to the Glacier poma lifts and on down to Refuge de L’Oule. This little restaurant has stunning views above Lac de L’Oule. It is self-service restaurant but fairly quick to serve despite the small queue and plenty of space to sit outside in the sunshine.

We especially loved the slow 2-man Lac chair which connects skiers back in to the ski area after lunch. Non skiers or small people with tired legs can miss the red run down to the refuge (not to mention the steep poma-lift to access it) and simply download onto the chair a while, crossing pretty waterfalls en-route.

The Grande Bleue run - a family favourite

The Grande Bleue run – a family favourite

Tired legs and Spa fun
Skiing with children is always a juggling act – do too much and you can put children off skiing. We have always let the children stop either for hot choccies during the day, especially when it is very cold, or at the end of the day when they have had enough – whilst making sure they try and do a good few runs to get the most from the lift pass costs too! So it is important to have some non-ski fun in a resort too.

In more purpose-built resorts, children can easily just play in the snow or go sledging, but where the resort base is lower – as in St Lary – you need to have some non-ski activities to hand.

Most of the Pyrenees resorts have their own spas, using the thermal waters. In the past and to an extent now these are used for treating medical issues such as asthma and rheumatoid issues but most of the fun is now to be had in the recreational spa facilities in each resort.

Sensoria Rio (adjoining our hotel) is a series of caves with toasty bubbling whirlpools and geysers where the children happily played hide and seek, despite the apres-ski bathers!

There is also a real snow ice rink in the centre of the village but the pool proved more popular.

Would we go back to the Pyrenees?… plus Peyragudes and Piau Engaly

Valee de Badet (looking towards the Spanish border)

Valee de Badet (looking towards the Spanish border)

St Lary isn’t a huge ski area (around 100km of slopes including a fun park) but there was plenty to discover in our four days of skiing there. What we loved in addition to St Lary was taking two different road trips. With the rental car piled high with skis and boots, first of all we drove 30 minutes up the road to ‘Piau Engaly’.

This quirky looking high altitude resort, the highest in the French Pyrenees, sits at 1850m – it did have the hair pin bends to access it and we agreed it would be a hairy drive after fresh snow. But with the forecast settled, we had a quick drive up and a brilliant days skiing.

We especially loved skiing ‘down the valley’ to the Mouscades chair lift via one of the N’PY Moov fun slopes, a series of fun rollers created for the resort. Looking up the valley we could see ski tourers heading up the Vallee de Badet and over in to Spain.

On the other side of the resort the Grande Bleue run – an impressive 1000 metre-plus blue run – is just perfect for families.

Vallee Blanche off piste

Vallee Blanche off piste

 

Our second road trip was to another ski in-out resort – Peyragudes. This resort, 40 minutes away by car was busy, but the queues at each lift were relatively small and my youngest found a green run ‘grand traverse’ which we must have explored a good ten times, having fun on all the little lumps and bumps on the way. By contrast, the Vallee Blanche looked like it would satisfy more expert skiers, but this was closed on our visit due to lack of snow.

finally, we really enjoyed a visit to the ‘Balnea’ spa in the village below, at Loudenvielle. A spa with a view and… in the hottest of outdoor pools at 40 degrees… a child free quiet zone.  It was a blissful five minutes alone, and definitely worth going back for!

Skiing St Lary at Half Term

Skiing St Lary at Half Term

Skiing St Lary at Half Term

On Maddog Ski Website

Half term is one of the busiest weeks of the skiing season – last season a combination of increasing frustration at the cost of mountain food and drinks and long queues left us wondering if we could find a better solution for skiing at this time of year.

Last summer we combined a beach holiday with a few days in the Pyrenees and we stayed in a lovely old spa village, St Lary. When I mentioned to my friends that we had decided to return to there to ski for our family holiday, most looked blank with no idea where we were heading! A local journalist friend of mine who lives near Toulouse had skied St Lary last winter informed me that the locals February break was actually the week after the UK half term – that made me think we’d chosen well, as I knew many other regions of France had the same half term as UK meaning the routes down to the Alps would be busy.

We felt pretty smug with our choice of a Sunday scheduled flight to Toulouse compared to images coming up on social media of traffic queues around Reims and chain-donning self-drivers caught in heavy snow in the Tarentaise valley.

vanessafisher Ski Pr skiing st lary pyrenees

Our drive to St Lary was easy. There’s no hair pin bends to navigate, most of the 1hr 45 journey is on the A64 autoroute and then a 20 minute drive up the valley, past some beautiful old villages takes you in to St Lary. The main village sits at just over 600m,  it is hard to tell how much snow is on the mountains as you cannot see the main ski area from the town. We arrived at dusk and I could see a little fresh snow with a clear snow line running horizontally across the forests above the village.

We’d chosen not to ski at Christmas/New Year this season due to a friend’s wedding and various other family commitments; as we’d loved the hotel we stayed in during our summer break, we decided to treat ourselves to the same 4*  hotel in the village, the Mercure Sensoria, with its huge family rooms and excellent food.

In the summer we had seen the cable car heading up the mountain about 200m away from the hotel and thought this was to be our route up to ski but on arrival we spotted a different telecabine literally right opposite the hotel, we were all excited about that for a speedy first lift of the day and minimal ski boot walking for everyone.

The ski hire shop was next door to the hotel and I’d pre ordered the equipment we needed which was all ready for us with no queuing, bliss.

vanessa fisher ski pr

Once up on the mountain the new six man chair seemed the logical route to take. We could see the ski school groups using the area above Pla d’Adet but the new Bouleaux chair skirts the side of this area and after a quick warm up run, we headed left along ‘Corniche’ blue all the way across the mountain and on down to the Portet bubble. The weather was fairly ‘socked in’ – snowy, windy and cold so the bubble was a welcome warm up for us all. We even popped in to the little cafe at the Portet lift station for hot chocolates – a fantastically French and friendly, tiny bar!

From the top of Portet bubble the Mirabelle red down to the Soumaye chair was perfect for our small group. We found fresh powder to play in which had accumulated overnight and really enjoyed lunch at the  ‘Les Trois Guides’ restaurant.  A few runs later and another long blue traverse took us all the way back to the telecabine to head down to the hotel (there is no ski run to the base) for afternoon pancakes cooked to order on the griddle.

Looking at the piste map that evening, and with a clearer second day ahead, we could see there was another whole area to discover ‘Le Vallon’. The same uplift route took us to the top of the Soumaye chair but this time we dropped down the black soumaye run from the top of this summit (invisible in the cloud the previous day). My youngest struggled a bit on the steepest section but after a few nervous snow plough turns he was safely down and schussing across to the ‘Glacier’ button lift. The pistes were empty – great fun cruising blue and red runs with hardly anyone on them and gorgeous panoramic views from the top.

vanessa ski travel pr

We managed to get everyone at least halfway up the steepest button lift (!) to take the red run l’oule to Refuge de L’Oule for lunch. The most beautiful run through the woods and a short pole along the cliff side path at the end brings you to this special spot. Perched above the lake, this refuge is definitely one not to miss in St Lary.  Lovely terrace, more great views and a good selection of food (self service). Less confident skiers can download on the Lac two-man chair which we did later in the week and everyone who skis down has to take the chair back up to connect back in to the main ski area.

vanessa fisher travel pr st lary

For the four days we skied St Lary, we found plenty on the mountain to enjoy – having our own car rental meant we could explore two nearby ski resorts (more of that another time). We only had one major queue and that was on our last day when the sun was shining and the locals were out in force, but with the new six man chair we weren’t queuing for long.

With swimming in the thermal spa alongside the hotel (Sensoria Rio) – whose water comes from a nearby well emerging at a toasty 32 degrees (from 1200m deep)- the children were really happy – built to look like a series of caves with jets and currents it was full of playing small people, but the adult sauna, gym and separate pool offer more peaceful options. We only made the short walk into town twice – this was busy with an ice rink, jazz band playing and lots of shops with open fronts selling local produce: the black pig in all its forms, delicious cheeses and homemade nougat and another speciality from the area ‘gateau a la broche’ – like a Christmas tree-shaped cake.