PLANETSKI HEADS TO THE PYRENEES
30th January 2018 | James Cove, France
We arrived just after 8AM on the overnight sleeper train from Paris. Check out our live & updated rolling blog across today… NEW & UPDATED
And so the day ends.
Spot of après ski anyone?
They do things differently after skiing in Ax Les Thermes:
The feet take a well earned dip into the town’s thermal springs – more on the baths later.
And here is the video as promised.
Now do you still think the mountains in the Pyrenees are not very tall?
And here is my overview of the resort of Ax3Domaines.
It maybe doesn’t look much on the piste map.
But this is what it looks like in reality.
And here’s my take on it so far from our day’s skiing:
It’s lift system and slopes are currently undergoing a €25m transformation.
I rather like the old lifts, but I have to admit they are slow.
This year a new 4-person chair has gone in.
And it was a bit of a bargain.
“We got the pylons from Serre Chevalier but otherwise it is brand new,” said local skiers Jacques Murat who is showing us round.
Next year another new lift is going in, the Bisorne.
The path for it has already been cleared.
And then an old 3-person lift is replaced in 2020 and by then an extra 75 snow cannons will have been installed as well.
The resort is the first major one people reach coming from Toulouse and many other areas of France.
Last Sunday more than 8,000 people were on the slopes and queues were long.
Fortunately for us today there were just over 2,000 and the queues were non-existent.
Now on the great myths of the Pyrenees is that the mountain are not very high a little more than hills.
Here is a view of some of the surrounding peaks.
Check back later as I am going to the highest point in the resort to shoot a 360 degree video to dispel that particular Pyrenean myth.
Well, well, well.
What a morning so far!
The train arrived at 08.18 and you can see a video report of the journey by overnight train to the Alps from Katie lower down this rolling blog.
First up we dived into the Intersport hire shop to collect skis.
We were in and out in under 10 minutes.
Then it was up the main gondola lift in town.
There was a promise of plenty of snow higher up and it always make me smile as I pass over the seasonal homes of the local ski bums in this resort.
They wouldn’t be here if the overall winter snow disappoints.
We’ve made it.
Our guide for the day was Jacques Murat, he is somewhat of a local legend in these parts.
We hit the pistes to warm up and then it was into an area Jacques refers to as ‘Little Alaska’.
It ain’t quite Alaska but it is mainly North and West facing and we found some powder.
Powder turns in the Pyrenees:
The resort itself in undergoing smoothing of a transformation with new lifts and ambitious plans for the future.
I’ll be telling you about those later today.
Once we’ve made a few more turns.
We have arrived and are on the slopes of Ax3Domaines in the French Pyrenees!
And as we stepped out onto the slopes the snow looked good and more importantly the sky was blue.
Excellent as much of my winter so far has been spent in howling gales in the Alps!
Though we were both a bit blearey eyed.
Today looks like it is going to be rather special.
Do check back later and I’ll let you know how the day develops…
LAST NIGHT – 10.30PM
For me no winter is complete without a visit to the Pyrenees.
I come every year and often more than once.
I love the mountain range and all it offers.
Namely an entirely different experience from the Alps.
And this time I’m travelling with PlanetSKI’s senior news reporter, Katie Bamber, who hasn’t been to the French side of the range and we’ve decided to take the train.
A novel way to reach one of my favourite mountain destinations.
A different experience and here at PlanetSKI we rather like the train’s green credentials too.
Certainly more room to relax in than an airline seat.
It was the Eurostar from London to Paris Gare du Nord (16.31 – 19.47).
Then the over-night train from Gare d’Austerlitz to the town of Ax Les Thermes in the French Pyrenees (21.06 – 08.18).
It gives access to one of the best ski resorts in the region in my humble opinion – Ax3Domaines.
More of that later as we will be updating this report in real time across tonight/tomorrow as we arrive and head straight to the slopes.
After all the train gives you an extra day on the slopes.
So, do check back to find out more about the delights of the French Pyrenees.
And train travel to it.
And now Katie and I are speeding through France in a 4-person couchette with a couple of random Germans.
Will we get a decent night’s sleep?
If not I’ll let you know soonest.
I am disappointed to say I didn’t get a single wink of sleep in my First Class couchette with Katie and the two random Germans.
Not even a small snore.
I needed to text my wife, Kisia, shortly after midnight – she is in Pila in Italy with a serious ankle injury and sadly unable to ski after an accident.
You may have read about it elsewhere on PlanetSKI.
I headed to the next-door deserted 2nd class carriage (coach 17) – and hit the recline button on the seat as I settled in to offer my sympathies.
Back it went with full leg support popping up in double quick time for good measure.
I messaged my wife for a bit and offered her the best ear a husband of 25-years can muster while he is heading to one of his favourite ski destinations with a couple of large glasses of decent red consumed.
I then fell promptly asleep for hours on end in my very comfortable 2nd class seat – hopefully not mid-message as I said how upset I was for Kisia’s predicament, but I feel I will hear about it if that was the case.
Next thing I knew we were approaching our destination in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.
Several hours had slipped gently by as the train headed relentlessly for the mountains.
Best go and get my bags out of the 1st class couchette I guess and, yes, I will make a bit of extra noise that the comfortably snoring Germans might hear.
Memo to myself – continue trying to be at least a half-decent husband and start being a cheapskate again.
I suspect I won’t regret either course of action.
Right, there’s a bit of skiing to be done today…
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
For more information on Ax3Domaines then see here: www.ax-ski.com
The UK tour operators Zenith Holidays, Lagrange and Ski Weekends offer holidays to the town and its ski area.
See here for the full details of holidays offered by Zenith Holidays.
For details about rail travel to the Pyrenees and other mountain destinations then see here: Voyages SNCF: www.voyages-sncf.com
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.
For the Spirit of the Mountains – PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news