The old spa village of Barèges and the purpose-built resort of La Mongie form Grand Tourmalet, the largest and highest ski area in the French Pyrenees. Family skiers and weekenders will appreciate its low prices and short airport transfers, but for off-piste skiers the 2877m Pic du Midi is its highpoint in every sense.
Skiing in Grand Tourmalet
The Grand Tourmalet ski domain has about 30 lifts, 60 runs and 100km of piste skiing. That makes it a mid-sized area by alpine standards and large enough for most holidaymakers who come here for a week, particularly if stronger skiers take advantage of the area’s freeride and ski touring opportunities or use the freestyle park. And it’s more than large enough for beginners and near novices who benefit from special lift passes and a good choice of gentle pistes to help them get away from the nursery slopes. You can make the 12 km trip between La Mongie and Bareges in both directions, and also descend all the way from the top of the highest piste (2500m), entirely on green and blue runs. But determined piste-bashers who want to ski as many different runs as possible will find the area a bit limited unless they come to Grand Tourmalet just for a short break or try the off-piste skiing.
And the off-piste skiing is definitely worth trying. Nearly every piste has some freeriding to the side of it, and the north-facing area between the Pourteilh and Prade Verde lifts is particularly good. Longer itineraries are also possible from the top of the 4 Termes lift for those prepared to do a little bit of climbing. But there is no hiding the main attraction, the 2877m Pic du Midi reached by a two-stage cable car from La Mongie. (This lift is not included on the standard Grand Tourmalet lift pass so you have to pay extra to use it.) There are no pistes down: you either admire the stunning views then return in the lift; or you tackle one of the off-piste descents with verticals of up to 1700m. Hiring a mountain guide is strongly recommended because none of it is protected from avalanches. Those wanting an early start, or who enjoy stargazing, can stay stay overnight at the top of the Pic du Midi in the old observatory.
There aren’t many mountain restaurants in Grand Tourmalet. There is one at the top of the Pic du Midi and one at the Col du Tourmalet, but perhaps the most charming is the tiny Chalet des Pisteurs above the Pourteilh lift. There are no inside tables so come on a sunny day. It’s about a 5 minute walk uphill, but the views, the inexpensive nourishing food and the friendly service make it well worth a visit. Afterwards it’s an easy descent to get back onto the blue piste, although experienced freeriders who know what they are doing can also veer off to their right to access interesting off-piste terrain.
Staying in Grand Tourmalet
Within Grand Tourmalet, Bareges is the place to stay for charm and history. In good snow conditions you can ski back to its edge, but there are no lifts inside the village. Instead you start your day with a short ride in the free ski bus to the lifts at Le Tournaboup or Lienz. And in the evening you can stroll around a mountain village which first became famous as a tourist destination in 1675 when its hot sulphur springs were visited by Louis XIV’s mistress. Apres ski and nightlife are cosy rather than loud and vibrant, and prices are lower than in the Alps. There is also enough to do during the day if you fancy taking a break from the pistes: dog sledding, snowmobile rides, snowshoeing, paragliding, nordic skiing or just relaxing in the Cieleo spa.
La Mongie is also inexpensive and fun without being particularly raucous. It was purpose-built at 1800m above sea-level in the 1970s so it’s not pretty, but most of its accommodation is within easy walking distance of the lifts and pistes, and it has a central crescent lined with bars and restaurants facing the river which has a nice ambiance. Le Schuss restaurant is particularly recommended. Once the lifts close, most visitors content themselves with a quiet drink or do some tobogganing, but if anyone needs a further adrenaline rush or just wants to find out what it’s like to go up a ski slope very fast, they should try the snow-scooting. or “MotoNeige” which departs from near the Pic du Midi base station.
Accommodation in Grand Tourmalet. Hotels, Chalets, Self-Catering Apartments, Travel Agencies… Read more >
How to get to Grand Tourmalet. Nearest Airports and Railway Stations, Airport Transfers… Read more >
Ski Schools & Guides in Grand Tourmalet. Ski & Snowboard Schools, Mountain Guides, Private Instructors… Read more >
Ski & Snowboard Rental in Grand Tourmalet:
– ALPINRESORTS.com work with shops in La Mongie and Bareges and the surrounding villages and offers advance booking discounts on ski hire >.
– SKISET has outlets in La Mongie and near Bareges. Check shop locations and online discounts >
– For really knowledgeable advice and a good range of equipment including powder skis for freeriders, La Glisse ski shop in La Mongie is recommended.
Grand Tourmalet Pros & Cons
+ Good value for money
+ Excellent off-piste from Pic du Midi
+ Good resort for beginners and improving novices
+ Quick airport transfer./ good weekend option
+ Choice of charming Bareges or convenient La Mongie
– Ski area may be too small for a full week for strong keen skiers
– Not quite high enough to be snowsure
– La Mongie is not visually attractive
– Bareges is a bus ride from the lifts and a long way from the Pic du Midi