Where to Ski in the Pyrenees
Ski resorts in the Pyrenees are less famous than their Alpine counterparts, but they also tend to be less expensive and less crowded. So here is our pick of the best ski resorts in Spain, Andorra and the French Pyrenees for every standard of skier; and advice on where to go on holiday if your main interest is the après-ski and nightlife, or the mountain scenery and views, or if you only have time for a ski weekend, or want to combine skiing with a city-break, or just want a bargain.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for beginners: Cauterets, France
Cauterets is an excellent resort for a first ski holiday. It’s inexpensive because it does not have many pistes but it has more than enough for a beginner. Its main nursery slopes at the Cirque du Lys are high up the mountain and sited in a naturally snowy bowl so conditions should be good to learn fast. They are serviced by two long covered magic carpet lifts which are brilliant for complete beginners, especially children. And there is a good choice of ski schools and private instructors. Nearby are some gentle blue pistes which are perfect for beginners to progress onto when they get the hang of things, including a long one that gradually winds its way down from the very top of the ski area (see photo above). There are also some tougher red and black runs within sight of the nursery slopes so parents can nip off and have fun without disappearing over the horizon. And when everyone fancies a change of scenery, there is a second very small but beautiful ski area that is also oriented towards beginners called Pont d’Espagne which is covered by the same inexpensive lift pass. Cauterets itself is a lovely old spa town that’s pleasant and affordable to stay in, with plenty of activities on offer besides skiing. And it’s easy to get to: transfers from Lourdes airport typically take about 45 minutes.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for improving novices: Arinsal, Andorra
Arinsal particularly suits near-beginners who no longer want to be restricted to the nursery slopes but who still ski slowly and want to spend most of their time on gentle runs. And this is exactly what Arinsal’s Vallnord ski area offers. You can go from one end to the other, and come all the way down from its highest point, entirely on easy green and blue pistes. Once you have built up your confidence, there are a few red and black runs scattered around to provide a challenge, but they are well-signed and strictly optional. To help you improve, there is a good choice of English-speaking ski schools and ski instructors. The Vallnord ski lifts connect the high open-bowl skiing above Arinsal with lower treelined runs above the neighbouring resort for Pal which are useful when visibility is poor, so you can keep on progressing, whatever the weather. And whilst the combined ski area is too small for keen experienced skiers, it’s big enough for a novice, and its modest size is reflected in the low price of the lift pass. And similarly, Andorra’s duty-free status means that restaurants, apres-ski and nightlife are also very affordable.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for intermediate skiers: Soldeu, Andorra
Soldeu is near the centre of Grandvalira, the biggest lift-linked ski area in the Pyrenees with over 200 km of piste skiing divided into about 140 runs, which is more than enough to keep most experienced skiers busy for a week. It’s also high (most of the skiing is above 2000m), generally north-facing and backed-up by plenty of snow-cannons so the pistes stay skiable from Christmas through to Easter. Most of the runs are intermediate-friendly blue and red pistes but if anyone wants a challenge, they can try the steep black run Avet which leads directly into the resort, or head for one of the official freeride areas, or take a bus to Ordino Arcalis, where Andorra’s toughest skiing is, and which is covered by the same Grandvalira liftpass. But most intermediates based in Soldeu never get on that bus because all the skiing they could possibly want is on their doorstep. Soldeu also has accommodation to suit most tastes and budgets,, and enough apres-ski to have fun – and at duty-free prices too.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for advanced skiers: Baqueira-Beret, Spain
Baqueira challenges advanced skiers. Its red pistes are long enough to test their endurance with continuous vertical descents of up to 1000m. Early in the morning the freshly-groomed runs tend to be deserted, which makes them ideal for high-speed cruising by experts who can stay in control. There are also black pistes, some official ungroomed runs and freeride areas (including the aptly named ‘Escornacrabes’ or “Where goats tumble”) and plenty of unofficial between-the-pistes freeriding. More adventurous skiers should hire a guide to explore Baqueira Beret’s famous off-piste itineraries that take you far outside the ski area, or its ski touring, or even heliskiing, which is legal in the Spanish Pyrenees unlike in France. And if you want a different sort of challenge you can tackle the Era Marmòta freestyle SnowPark. For accommodation, you can either stay slope-side in Baqueira itself, or down in the Val d’ Aran where picturesque mountain villages huddle around ancient churches.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for off-piste freeride: La Mongie, France
Above La Mongie is something very special that no other ski resort in the Pyrenees can match: a cable car rising through the clouds to the top of the 2877m Pic du Midi de Bigorre. There are no pistes down, but there are several off-piste descents you can ski with a guide, including some extreme ones, with verticals of up to 1700m. And there’s more freeriding accessed from the first stage of the cable car (Le Taoulet) and from the other lifts in the Grand Tourmalet ski domain that La Mongie shares with Bareges, especially the area around Porteilh. If you’re prepared to do a bit of climbing, there are also long ski touring itineraries originating from the top of the 4 Termes lift at 2500m that end far beyond the official ski area. La Mongie is only about an hour from Lourdes airport so short breaks are possible. If you’re staying here for a full week, try to visit other nearby resorts like Luz-Ardiden and Saint Lary-Soulan. You won’t find anything quite like the Pic du Midi but both have enough freeriding to merit a day-trip.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for après-ski and nightlife: Pas de la Casa, Andorra.
Pas de la Casa follows a simple formula: first build a high ski resort at a snowsure altitude (2080m) with plenty of affordable accommodation; then link it to a large ski area; and finally add lots of places to party at duty-free and VAT-free prices. If you want a more sophisticated après-ski scene that is less about free vodka shots and more oriented towards high-quality tapas and Cava, you’d be better off staying in Baqueira or even neighbouring Soldeu (Pas de la Casa’s more respectable sister resort). But for many young people, or those who are young at heart, Pas de la Casa provides exactly what they want from a winter holiday. And don’t knock its skiing, because Pas de la Casa is part of Andorra’s Grandvalira ski area, which is the largest in the Pyrenees with over 200km of mostly intermediate-levels slopes, and excellent English language ski-schools for those willing explore the mountains as well as the bars and clubs.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for inexpensive ski holidays: Formigal-Panticosa, Spain
Formigal-Panticosa in the Spanish Pyrenees offers great value. Lift passes, accommodation and meals tend to be cheaper here but there is nothing second-rate about the size of Formigal’s ski area (180km of ski slopes divided into nearly 150 separate runs spanning 6 different valleys) or the varied terrain which includes enough black slopes and freeride routes to test experienced skiers who want a challenge. Despite its relatively low altitude (1145m to 2250m), Formigal has a decent snow record, although you should still be careful of booking holidays at the start or end of the season. The main drawback is the need to take buses, because Formigal and Panticosa are more than 14km (about 9 miles) apart and their slopes don’t link up, and even within the main Formigal area, some slopes end at a bus stop by the side of the road with no return lift. But for budget-conscious experienced skiers who want to save money, these are minor quibbles that should not stand in the way of a ski-holiday bargain.
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for ski weekends: Barèges, France
Barèges is less than an hour’s drive from Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees Airport, which has flights from low-cost airlines like RyanAir. The resort is part of the Grand Tourmalet ski area, which is perfectly sized for a short break with 100kms of skiable piste. And there are runs for every standard, including a nice treelined sector near Barèges in case of poor visibility, and a famous off-piste mountain (the Pic du Midi) that will challenge even the most experienced freerider. But a good ski weekend should be fun off the slopes as well, and this is where Barèges has the edge over its lift-linked sister resort of la Mongie, because Barèges is an old spa village that has been attracting visitors since the 17th century. And not only is it a nice place to wander around, or to take a relaxing thermal bath in, but it’s affordable too, with plenty of good value simple hotels that accept weekend bookings.
Other recommended ski resorts in the Pyrenees for ski weekends: Cauterets.
Best Ski Resort in the Pyrenees to combine with a city break: La Molina-Masella (Alp 2500), Spain
Alp 2500 is the official name for the joint La Molina-Masella ski area in Catalonia. With 140kms of runs and a very respectable maximum elevation of 2537m, the combined area is well worth exploring, but is still the small side and lacks enough tough slopes for experienced skiers on a week-long holiday. If skiing is not the be-all and end-all of your winter holiday, however, and you think mountains and snow are more enjoyable when mixed with world-famous cultural attractions, then La Molina’s location in the eastern Spanish Pyrenees comes into its own, because Barcelona and Girona are under two hours’ drive away. Come here in the Spring, and you can even ski in the morning and swim in the Med in the afternoon, although don’t expect the Costa Brava to be very warm!
Best ski resort in the Pyrenees for scenery: Pic du Midi (Grand Tourmalet), France
Almost every ski resort in the Pyrenees has wonderful views, but only at the Pic du Midi in Grand Tourmalet can you stop for a drink, or a bite to eat, or even stay overnight, at 2877m above sea level. Freeriders may be champing at the bit to try one of the off-piste descents from the old astronomical observatory shown in the photo above, but even non-skiers can reach it via cable car, and either stare up at the heavens or gaze out across hundreds of snow-clad mountain peaks. The vertigo-inducing viewing platform is optional and not for everyone, but the scenery truly is. And afterwards, no matter how well you ski the slopes in Grand Tourmalet (there are over 100km of pistes), your most precious memories might be about what you have seen rather than what you’ve done.
Grand Tourmalet (Pic du Midi) Resort Review >>>
Grand Tourmalet Accommodation Guide (including how to stay at the top of the Pic du Midi) >>>
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Best all-round ski resort in the Pyrenees: Baqueira Beret, Spain
Baqueira has something for everyone. Even non-skiers can appreciate its lovely food and classy après-ski, as well as enjoying day trips to the beautiful villages below the resort in the Val d’Aran. The ski area stretches across seven mountains and is divided into three different sectors, all linked by lift and piste. The highest lift rises over 2600m, accessing a series of pistes that stronger skiers can ski non-stop for a vertical drop of about 1000m. Most of the runs are aimed at intermediates, but there is plenty of freeriding, heli-skiing and ski touring for experts, and three different sets of nursery slopes for beginners. Teenagers tend to welcome the prevailing ‘it’s okay to get up late’ vibe, whilst their parents might enjoy hearing them practice their Spanish ahead of school exams. And lastly, whilst Baqueira is one of the more expensive resorts in the Pyrenees, it’s good value compared to the elite resorts in the Alps which it quite rightly regards as its peers.
Author: William Micklethwait