The struggle was real; winter was dragging on, mountain time had been minimal and we couldn’t afford a weeks skiing, what could we do? Enter the search for a mountain weekend that wasn’t going to cost the earth but might offer just a smidgen of proper winter mountain time (ideally with sun, vin chaud and cheese – Scotland was out). I remembered back to a previous weekend I had spent in the Pyrenees at Easter; we had gone expecting to do some high mountain peaks but had found the ski resorts still open – planning fail on my part! Perhaps this time we could go expecting to ski all the while knowing that if it was a bad year for snow we could walk instead.
With nicely timed flights from Bristol to Toulouse a plan formed for 3 days on the mountain and a days travel. A civilised lunchtime flight on the Friday followed by 3 days on the slopes and a late evening flight on the Monday meant for 2 days leave we got 3 full days in the mountains.
I love skiing but it is certainly a sport that attracts significant faff time. Keen to try and minimise this we wanted a resort with a short transfer. We chose Luchon de Bagneres as a base; just 90 minutes from Toulouse airport in has access to the Superbagneres ski area directly from the town centre and is also just a short drive from resorts in neighbouring valleys. It turned out to be perfect for a short break. Accommodation was plentiful and cheap, lift passes were reasonably priced with special offers for beginners, ski hire (with free overnight storage) was easy to sort out once in town and again very reasonably priced (see end of post). As it turned out we needn’t have worried about having enough snow – this year seems to be a bumper snow year everywhere!
Luchon is a spa town deep in the Pyrenees, less than 10km from the border with Spain. It sits in a valley with the ski area accessed by cable car directly from town. It has many functional 2 star hotels along with a variety of bistro style restaurants, pizza parlours, supermarkets and patisseries. It also has a quite unique attraction in the form of its thermal baths. In a building that definitely borrowed some of its architectural inspiration from soviet era brutalism there is a municipal spa complex. The highlight of the complex is undoubtedly the hamman which is carved directly into the sulphurous rocks. If you have ever been on a cave tour and wondered what it would be like to visit in your swimming costume with the temperature turned up to 40 degrees wonder no more because this is exactly what you can experience in Luchon! At 15 euro a visit it isn’t cheap but it certainly is unique…
The ski resorts
We spent two days skiing at Superbagneres and one day at Peyragudes. Both areas were perfect for beginners and intermediates, it also looked like there was good off piste to be had but that was a bit beyond our skill set! Superbagneres is slightly smaller with 13 lifts serving 28 runs while Peyragudes is larger with 17 lifts serving 51 runs. Both have mostly chair lifts with a few shorter runs served by button lifts. There are cafes and restaurants at both resorts with a slightly wider choice at Peyragudes. We only experienced queues on one day of our trip which it transpired was the first day of French half term! Both resorts were friendly and relaxed. The snow was in beautiful condition and for beginners and intermediates there was plenty of variety to keep you busy for a day at each resort.
We flew to Toulouse with Easyjet and hired a car to drive down to the resort. Parking was free at both resorts and at Peyragudes a shuttle bus ran from the lower car parks to the first lift. We hired skis from Snow Park in Luchon; their family run shop is right by the gondola and free overnight storage is included in the rental price. When we wanted to ski at a different resort in the day we just popped in on the way and picked up our skis and put them in the car. We stayed at Hotel Majestic which was clean, comfortable and friendly and a very reasonable 60 euro per night for a large double. You can buy lift passes for multiple days that do not have to be consecutive. We chose two days at Superbagneres and then bought an additional days skiing at Peyragudes.
Every time I visit the Pyrenees I love them a little bit more. They are so easy to get to, so unpretentious and full of beauty and adventure. They were perfect for a quick ski break and I’m sure we got a lot more skiing in 3 days than we would have in the Alps, I also think everything was just a little bit cheaper than the Alps. I would happily return to Luchon but am also keen to explore the other resorts nearby such as Cauterets and those on the Spanish side such as Baqueira-Beret. I’m also going to continue my hunt for cheap ski destinations, all suggestions welcome!
Costs (for two people)
Flights: £212 including a checked in bag
Car Hire: £150 including fuel and snow chains
Hotel: £180 for 3 nights
Ski Hire: £120 for two people for three days skis, boots, poles and helmet
Ski Pass at Superbagneres: £130 for two people for two days
Ski Pass at Peyragudes: £75 for two people for one day
Total: £430 per person for 3 full days skiing. Food was fairly cheap, around 2-3 euro for a drink on the mountain, 5 euro for a sandwich and meals in town 10-15 euro for a main course. Skiing is never cheap but this certainly made better time and financial sense for us than a week in the Alps. I’d love to hear your cheap ski stories!