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PLANETSKI HITS THE PYRENEES - James Cove. French Pyrenees
Wednesday January 31, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

It is a favourite mountain range of ours & this time we're visiting by train. Check out our rolling blog of one of the best PlanetSKI trips of the season so far.

PlanetSKI's James Cove and Katie Bamber took the overnight train to the French Pyrenees earlier this week.

Travelling on Tuesday night from London via Paris to Ax Les Thermes and hitting the slopes of the town's resort, Ax3Domaines, as soon as they arrived.

They blogged and posted videos live and in real time. 

Check their story below as we now place it in chronological order and update it with new photos/information from this resort that is largely undiscovered by British skiers and snowboarders.


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 overnight train. 

A novel way to reach one of my favourite mountain destinations.

A different travel experience altogether and here at PlanetSKI we rather like the train's green credentials too.  

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesHeading to Ax Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Certainly more room to relax than an airline seat.

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesKatie Bamber settles in

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.

And the train gives an extra day on the slopes.

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... as I will need something to do if I'm simply lying awake.

I promise.Wink


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 as 2nd class was very pleasant even though my ticket was for 1st.   

Right, there's a bit of skiing to be done today...


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.

James and KatieJames and Katie

Today looks like it is going to be rather special.


Well, well, well.  

What a morning so far.  

The train arrived at 08.18.  

First up we dived into the local Intersport hire shop to collect skis. 

We were in and out in under 10 minutes.

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

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.

I have visited the ski area before and last time I hit it on a powder day:
Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

They wouldn't be here if the overall winter snow disappoints.    

We've made it. Cool

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'.

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

It ain't quite Alaska but it is mainly North and West facing and we found some powder.
Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Powder turns in the Pyrenees:

The resort itself in undergoing something 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. Cool


And here is my overview of the resort of Ax3Domaines:

It maybe doesn't look much on the piste map.  

Ax3Domaines piste mapAx3Domaines piste map


But this is what it looks like in reality. 

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

And here's my take on it so far from our day's skiing:

Its lift system and slopes are currently undergoing a €25m transformation.

I rather like the old lifts, but I have to admit they are slow.  

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

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 skier, Jacques Murat, as he showed us round. 

Next year another new lift is going in, the Bisorne.

The path for it has already been cleared. 
Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, Fre

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 one of the great myths of the Pyrenees is that the mountain are not very high and are little more than hills.  

Wrong again.

Here is a view of some of the surrounding peaks.

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees


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. 


And here is the video.   

Now do you still think the mountains in the Pyrenees are not very tall?  



And so the day ends.    

Spot of après ski anyone?    

They do things differently after skiing in Ax Les Thermes:

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

Ax Les Thermes, French PyreneesAx Les Thermes, French Pyrenees

The feet take a well earned dip into the town's thermal springs - more on the baths later as Katie willbe sampling the delights of the town''s spas and reporting back on the history of this wonderful town in the Pyrenees.

And me?  I'm off for a well-desered beer or two.

It's been another tough and long day in the PlanetSKI office. Wink


Check out Katie's full video of the train journey here:


For more information on Ax3Domaines then see here:

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 and more details about the resort.

For details about rail travel to the Pyrenees and other mountain destinations then see here: Voyages SNCF:

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 

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