Baptiste and Yann are shepherds and cross-country ski instructors at the Azun Valley, in the French Atlantic Pyrenees; they also take care of their sheep and produce cheese that they teach to slide through the snow. They are a sample of the spirit that animates the mountain on the north face of the Pyrenees: respect for traditions and the natural environment without underestimating the opportunities offered by tourism and winter sports. The development project for the next two decades baptized Mountain 4 Stations seeks the sustainability of 39 French ski centers in these mountain range. It states, for example, that all trampoline machines must run on hydrogen within 15 years.
Every season, some 650,000 Spaniards go to the northern Pyrenean slope to ski. Not in search of large domains and state-of-the-art facilities – most of the stations are smaller than the Spanish ones – but rather of more affordable prices, quality snow and 16 thermal centers at the foot of the slopes, among other things. Those who decide to go this winter should bear in mind that, for now, France requires a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR carried out at least 72 hours before entering the country.
At the gates of Pyrenees national park, the westernmost foothills of the chain offer three stations located at a moderate altitude and four very wide Nordic spaces with almost 120 kilometers for cross-country skiing. A well-preserved territory with natural treasures such as Hayed of Irati —Share with Navarra— or the Midi d’Ossau massif. La Pierre Saint Martin (altitude: 1,527-2,153 meters; slopes: 27 kilometers) opens three descents and a route for ski mountaineering with a guide. The best, sliding through the Braca forest and sleeping in wooden cabins among the pines. Artouste (altitude: 1,250-2,100 meters, tracks: 25 kilometers) is the closest station to Spain —through the Portalet, in Huesca—, just 25 kilometers from the border. It opens two new routes to the Séous huts that will be left untouched for those seeking virgin snow. Their prices (19 euros for adults, 9 euros for children) are a real temptation. Gourette (altitude: 1,400-2,100 meters; slopes: 39 kilometers), in the heart of the Ossau Valley, is the cradle of skiing in the Pyrenees with more than a century of sporting history. The 1,100 meter descent from the Pène Blanque is recommended. This season it offers a new area for beginners with two covered conveyor belts and an aparthotel at the foot of the slopes.
This strip groups, surely, the 10 most attractive resorts in the French Pyrenees for Spanish skiers. Domains that in a couple of cases (Saint-Lary and Grand Tourmalet) exceed 100 kilometers of slopes and whose descents border areas of great natural value, such as the Néouvielle nature reserve and the Gavarnie cirque. From Spain, the fastest entrance is through the Bielsa tunnel (Huesca), which this winter will be open day and night. Only 20 kilometers away, Saint-Lary (altitude: 1,700-2,515 meters; slopes: 105 kilometers) seduces by the charm of its typical mountain village, its thermal waters and a long tradition of familiarity with Spain. The François Vignole panoramic trail opens (2.5 kilometers; red, medium difficulty) from the top of the Soum de Matte chairlift to the snow front in Pla d’Adet. Even closer to Spain, Piau Engaly (altitude: 1,860-2,600 meters; slopes: 65 kilometers) is surrounded by a high mountain landscape with affordable slopes to the station and unspoiled slopes for freeride in the back of Piau. More than affordable prices in the albergue Skylodge (from 17 euros in shared rooms) and slopes enlivened this winter with jumps and banked curves. Competing in extension with Saint-Lary, Grand Tourmalet (altitude: 1,450-2,500 meters; slopes: 100 kilometers) is two stations in one: La Mongie and Barèges, which meet at the top of the mythical pass. The first, high mountain, displays descents between forests; the second, a charming village at the base. And on both, the Pic du Midi (2,877 meters), whose slopes – with up to 1,770 meters of unevenness – are only suitable for experts. freeriders. Cauterets (altitude: 1,730-2,450 meters; slopes: 38 kilometers), which this season opens an itinerary for mountaineering skiing along the ridges of the Cirque de Lys, and Peyragudes (altitude: 1,600-2,400 high; tracks: 60 kilometers), 50 kilometers from the Bielsa tunnel, are also highly appreciated by Spanish fans.
Wherever the Pyrenean chain has Mediterranean airs, there are five alpine ski resorts benefiting from many hours of sunshine and views of the open landscapes of the Capcir plateau; so open that the cold of winter has earned them the nickname of little Siberia. Angles (altitude: 1,600-2,400 meters; tracks: 55 kilometers) is a rare case of a town-station with tracks that reach the urban center. Its 2.5-kilometer monorail slide and inclines of up to 70% are surely its greatest peculiarity. Font-Romeu Pyrenees 2000 (altitude: 1,700-2,213 meters; slopes: 46 kilometers) has the longest illuminated night ski run in the mountain range. It opens a very easy descent of 2.5 kilometers and a restaurant that serves food on the slopes in picnic areas. Very close to Spain, Porté-Puymorens (altitude: 1,571-2,471 meters; slopes: 50 kilometers) will again leave some descents without treading for the enjoyment of the virgin snow.
The skier lives not only on skiing
Dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, Nordic skiing… Almost all the resorts in the French Pyrenees offer complementary activities, but some go further with surprising experiences. These are some examples.
It can sleep in an igloo, a tepee or a Mongolian yurt in Le Somport, Gourette, Nistos e Issarbe. Pedaling through snow with a fatbike It is one of the activities at Grand Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden, Gavarnie, Nistos and La Pierre Saint Martin.
Peyragudes adds to its offer drive mountain karts, y Gourette, pilot a trampoline machine. Climb an ice waterfall is one of the novelties of the season at the Pic du Midi, while you can zip line in Luz-Saint-Sauveur (two kilometers long) and in Gourette. More activities: paragliding tandem with skis in Saint-Lary and Peyragudes; slip in airboard (inflatable board) at La Pierre Saint Martin; snake glissthat is, gliding down the slope with a sled train, at Gourette, and do stunts on skis protected with an airbag at Les Monts d’Olmes.
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