Barèges ski resort
Barèges is a spa town that lies below the Grand Tourmalet – Pic du Midi ski area, the largest ski area in the French Pyrenees. Ski lifts were first installed here in the 1920s, but the town's popularity as a tourist destination predates this development by several thousand years.
The mountain resort initially rose to prominence as a wellness hub during Roman times, and this reputation continued to flourish throughout history, thanks mainly to its famous thermal springs; Napoleon III opened an army hospital here so that French troops could enjoy the healing waters. The sulphuric water is still reputed to be good for healing ailments such as arthritis and rheumatism, and the resort continues to attract spa tourists year round.
The rise of snow sports in the area was a much slower process, but when the lifts went up, some of the very first in Europe, participation began to grow. More recently a lift and piste connection to the neighbouring resort of La Mongie, has created the Grand Tourmalet ski region, adding more variety to the slopes and aiding Barèges reputation as a serious ski destination.
Barèges is located in the Hautes-Pyrénées region of southwest France, at the foot of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre Mountain, close to the Spanish border.
BarègesResort Elevation: 1250m
Top Elevation: 2500m
Base Elevation: 1400m
On the slopes
The slopes at Barèges are linked to those of neighbour La Mongie, a modern purpose built resort with slopeside accommodation. These twin resorts form the Grand Tourmalet ski area, the largest in the French Pyrenees with 100km (62 miles) of pistes.
The slopes vary like the resorts, with those on the Barèges side generally pretty, tree-lined descents, and those on the higher La Mongie sector snowy, open and treeless. This means the region has something for all ability levels and tastes, including long descents, freestyle and freeride areas and the famous off-piste descent from the Pic du Midi.
This is a good resort for beginners, with well-designed nursery slopes at La Laquette accessed by gondola. From here, novices can explore seven beginner slopes and, once confident, there are plenty of harder green and blue runs on which to progress.
Intermediates will find that most of the terrain suits them, with the Lienz Valley a particularly appealing sector with its pretty runs that carve through woodland.
There are seven groomed black runs – the most challenging being the 2.9km-long (1.8 miles) Coume d'Ayre – but the crowning jewel for expert skiers will be to ski Pic du Midi which offers an off-piste route down a challenging 1,700 vertical metres (5,580ft) to the bottom, where a shuttle bus links to La Mongie.
For freestyle skiers and boarders, the Star Park offers five different courses with a line for everyone from beginner to pro.