Arriving in Saint-Lary can be a traumatic affair, with little sign of ski essentials. Snow, for example. Even when you’re aboard either the newer gondola or the old cable-car, the nail-biter continues until you clear the ridge poised above the valley, whereupon you’re suddenly presented with the dazzling prospect of a vast, snowy mountain landscape laid before you.
But where do you start, exactly…
Along with ski school and nursery greens, the Pla d’Adet sector is what you’ll see first, and offers good confidence-building blue runs, topped off with the 2377m Soum de Matte. Boarders may be less than thrilled at taking a drag-lift to get up there, though, but onward blue and red cruisers open up more varied terrain in the next valley below Saint-Lary 2400. Getting there is entertaining, the lower, wooded sections of the aptly-named Fôret red evoking something of the feel of Canadian resorts like Silver Star or Big White.
Once across you’ll find better lifts, more mileage and a sense that you’re covering some distance. There’s a lot more on offer ahead, an impression heightened by the fact that a whole chunk of it remains hidden from view until the last minute. We’re thinking of the drop down to the Lac de l’Oule (1820m), which looks pretty tame on the piste map. Drop down on the Oule red, though (or the Lac chair-lift serving the auberge situated overlooking a frozen lake at the bottom), and you may think otherwise.
Most of the runs above this sector are served by drag-lifts, but a couple of decent chairs will get you over to La Soumaye (2370m) and the Tour de l’Avays. We found some entertaining reds and blues over here, including respectable vertical drops down to Saint Lary 1900. Overall, once you get your bearings, there’s some good variety here. If you’re wondering about an Alpine equivalent then feel-wise, the closest we can think of is probably La Clusaz. But as we said, the Pyrenees are, well, different?