After a season-long tour of the Alps in our motorhome, skiing in many of the biggest ski resorts in Europe, we realised that it was the smaller, less well-known ski areas that we enjoyed the most. These ski stations are often more welcoming of motorhomers, with excellent aires and parking places – many of which have the holy trinity of services – electric hook-up points, toilets, and water. Some also have local campsites open throughout the ski season – perhaps without the spa facilities, bustling bars and restaurants of some of the more popular alpine resorts, but just perfect for snow-chasers like us.
Motorhome skiing in the Pyrenees is a well-kept secret. With reliable snow, excellent facilities for motorhomes and caravans, and some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in Europe, it’s an excellent choice for a skiing trip with your campervan or caravan.
With all this in mind, we headed south to the Pyrenees on a mission to discover everything this mountain range has to offer. Calling on some of the most experienced motorhome skiers we know, Dick and Clare Donovan have looked back on decades of motorhome skiing in the Pyrenees and here they are sharing some of their inside knowledge of the central area (Hautes Pyrenees) and a few of their favourite motorhome skiing spots.
Why Choose the Pyrenees For Your Motorhome Ski Trip?
So you’re into your winter sports – could be skiing, boarding, touring, cross-country, or snowshoeing, and you’re desperate to get away in your motorhome or caravan for a couple of weeks in the mountains and onto the snow.
Hey, let’s go to the Alps – yay! With the rest of Northern Europe – boo!! It sometimes seems that the sheer number of resorts in the Alps should provide some quiet spots, but finding them can be hard and at peak times (Xmas, Easter and February half-term) the rest of Europe has the same idea as you and have all descended on the same hill. The result is that you don’t get much peace and quiet and the slopes and lifts are rammed.
But, do you know what?? There are other large mountain ranges in Europe that aren’t called the Alps and one of the best is the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain (including Andorra) which is relatively unknown to the British winter enthusiasts but deserves to be visited.
We, (me and my best buddy and wife, Clare), have skied in the Pyrenees since our 2nd season of skiing nearly 40 years ago and have been back on a regular basis. Here’s why:
- The British and northern European tour operators neglect it meaning it’s far quieter
- It’s cheaper than the Alps
- It’s more laid back and friendly than the Alps
- It can be sunnier and warmer than the Alps
But there are some downsides to consider:
4 Reasons Not to Take Your Motorhome Skiing to the Pyrenees
- It’s a longer drive (can be done in 1 long driving day from a Channel port but far easier in 2 days)
- It’s not as snow-sure as the higher Alps and has more seasonal fluctuations in cover
- The ski season is shorter – most resorts close at the end of March/early April due to increasing warmth and loss of snow cover
- Piste runs tend to be shorter than the Alps
But saying all that, we’ve rarely been disappointed by the snow conditions and have skied in slush and deep powder – often in the same week!
Getting to the Pyrenees with a Campervan
The Pyrenees is a long mountain chain – approximately 430km (270 miles) from the Atlantic end to the Mediterranean end and is peppered with ski resorts across the range although the large majority are in the Central section (Hautes Pyrenees) which also includes Andorra.
Do bear in mind that it’s a long drive to the Pyrenees. As an example, Calais to Toulouse is around 1000km and then you will probably have around 100-200km more to go before you get to your resort. If you’re travelling with kids or dogs, this trip really requires an overnight break for everyone’s comfort and for the sake of safety. You don’t want to be making your ascent into resorts fatigued.
Unless you’re doing a ‘grand tour’ across the range, there are loads of routes to choose from so just look at a map and choose according to your target area. If you’re travelling from the UK, your route may also be dictated by your port of entry to France but generally speaking a good city to aim for would be Orleans, about 120km south-west of Paris. The A20 autoroute from Orleans to Toulouse is great for eating the miles up and has no tolls (yet!) but routes to Orleans may have tolls so choose according to your budget and time schedules. And important – avoid Paris unless you like driving frustration!!
From Toulouse you have numerous route options depending on your resort choice.
For those heading to the larger French resorts in the Haute Pyrenees, we have in the past driven Orleans – Poitier – Angouleme – Bordeaux – Pau and then on to the mountains.
We’ve also driven Orleans – Limoges – Perigueux – Agen – Tarbes which is a slower route (we took a couple of days) but goes through some lovely quiet countryside.
Get Side Tracked in the Massif Central
If you want to take in some skiing en route, drive from Orleans to Clermont Ferrand and try some of the small ski resorts in the Massif Central. The resorts in this area are relatively low (max height is around 2000m) so snow conditions need to be good to get the best of them but all are well serviced with snow making facilities. There’s a brilliant aire in Super Besse – you can find all the information you need about Super Besse on our sister website Snomad Sites.
Onwards from Clermont Ferrand you also have the opportunity to drive over the world famous Millau bridge that crosses the Gorge du Tarn. That alone is worth the long drive.
The Best Ski Resorts for Motorhome Skiing in the Pyrenees
There are 51 official ski resorts in the Pyrenees and whilst this mountain range is the natural boarder between the two countries, the area itself has its own unique identity, different from the stereotypes of either country individually. In total there are over 2000km of slopes.
Here we focus on a few of the best in the French Hautes Pyrenees to get you started.
Motorhome Skiing in Bareges/La Mongie – Grand Tourmalet
Bareges is an old Napoleonic spa village and home to the oldest Pyrenean ski resort which, with La Mongie, creates the largest ski resort in the French Pyrenees straddling the Col du Tourmalet, a world famous climb on the Tour de France.
Bareges sits on the West side of the Col, La Mongie on the East and their characters could not be more different. Bareges is an old mountain village (with the spa), whereas La Mongie is a classic 1970/80s new development akin to many built in that era in the Alps. Beauty vs beast!
Tourmalet has over 69 pistes extending over 100km, ranging from easy greens (including one that runs from the Col du Tourmalet to Bareges village over 11km) to a few steep blacks and lots of off piste possibilities. From the top of the Quatre Termes lift it’s also possible to climb through a “breche” (rock gap) to access the hidden Aygues Cluses valley which takes you off-piste back towards Bareges. This is best done with a guide/ski instructor to start with and get a feel for it.
From La Mongie it’s also possible to take a 2 stage cable car to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre at 2877m and the highest skiable spot in the Pyrenees. There is an Observatory and views on a clear day that will take your breath away – it’s reputed you can see 20% of France from the top. The ski runs down are only open on suitable weather days and are seriously off-piste and challenging. This is best done with some local knowledge for the first time and definitely not for beginners or cautious intermediates.
Motorhome Parking Around Grand Tourmalet
Sadly no campsites are open in winter in the local area, but La Mongie has an official Aire de Service, and it’s possible to overnight in the large Tournaboup car park on the Bareges side if you’re set up for off-grid stay.
Motorhome Skiing in Gavarnie
Gavarnie-Gedre ski area is basically a dead end on a road leading to the Spanish border. It offers 40km of skiing from 7 lifts, including 5 black runs and some off piste. When the snow is good it’s a great day out. As the resort is mainly North facing between 1800 and 2300m, it’s pretty snow sure throughout winter but if snow conditions are poor, a good alternative activity is a walk up to the Cirque de Gavarnie, which has the 2nd highest waterfall in Europe and is one of 3 magnificent cirques which comprise a UNESCO world heritage site.
Motorhome Parking in Gavarnie
There is no winter campsite or official aire in the resort but it’s possible to overnight in the large car park on the route with an off-grid set up.
Motorhome Skiing in Luz-Ardiden
Luz-Ardiden is the ski area closest to the town of Luz St Sauveur, from where roads lead to Bareges and Gavarnie. The ski area is accessed by a steep climbing road with 29 hairpins and has been used as a mountain stage finish on the Tour de France (including 2021). The skiing has 7 uplifts with pistes ranging from green to black (and lots of off-piste) between 1680 and 2500m. From the top of the ski area you have great views east to the Col du Tourmalet and to the west over the Cauterets ski area.
Motorhome Parking in Luz-Ardiden
There is nothing by way of formal parking in the ski resort, although it’s possible to overnight in one of the car parks however, in Luz St Sauveur there are 4 campsites open in winter but the one we suggest is Camping Toy.
Camping Toy is in the heart of the town just off the main square, with easy access to shops and drinking and eating places. Its entrance is adjacent to the Office du Tourisme, from where you can get a ski bus (included in pass price) to the Luz-Ardiden ski area.
For caravan owners, Camping Toy is an ideal spot to park your van and drive to any of the local ski areas – Bareges and Gavarnie are about 30mins away each; Cauterets is 45mins; Hautacam is about 30mins.
Motorhome Skiing in Cauterets
Cauterets is not one ski area but two – Lys and Pont d’Espagne.
Lys is the main downhill area with 36km of slopes and 8 lifts going up to 2400m
Pont d’Espagne has a small amount of downhill (4km) but is better known for it’s XC skiing (Ski de Fond), snowshoeing and tobogganing .
Access to the Lys skiing is via a gondola from the village of Cauterets.
Cauterets Lys is pretty snow sure in winter with slopes being mainly North East facing so hold the snow well and tends to have a longer ski season than other local areas.
Motorhome Parking in Cauterets
Cauterets has one campsite open in winter – Camping Gleres. This campsite is a 5 minute walk to the ski lift to Lys. For those who prefer aires, there is also a free Aire du Camping Car on the road to Pont d’Espagne with services including EHU.
Motorhomes Skiing in Peyragudes
Peyragudes skiing is spread between 2 valleys connected by a mountain ridge rising to 2400m. The Peyresourde side is best accessed via Loudenvielle; the Les Agudes side via Bagneres-de-Luchon. The skiing comprises over 60km of slopes with 17 lifts and a mix of levels from green to black and is an ideal family resort or for those looking to improve beyond beginner level.
Motorhome Parking in Peyraudes
There are no campsites locally although there are 2 Aires in Bagneres-de-Luchon, and a Camping-Car Park site (a payable aire) in Loudenvielle.
More information on 8 ski areas in the Haute Pyrenees, and ski passes, can be found on the N-py website where it’s possible to buy one pass to cover all those above (plus others not listed), or individual passes for each ski area.
Motorhome Skiing in St Lary-Soulan and Piau 1850
Also called Piau-Engaly, these 2 ski areas are very close to each other, but not linked, and accessed from a road that leads to the Bielsa Tunnel that takes vehicle traffic between France and Spain. The downside is that it’s a little remote and not the easiest of places to get to.
St Lary has 100km of slopes, with 26 lifts and rises to 2500m; Piau has 65km of slopes with 11 lifts and rises to 2528m, so there is plenty of varied skiing terrain to keep most people happy for a week or more. St Lary is a traditional French mountain town with lots of attractive granite buildings, and people who ski Piau mostly stay here and drive to that resort.
Motorhome parking in St Lary
There are a number of campsites in the St Lary area that are open in winter. Info can be found here.
There are also Aires in St Lary and Aragnouet (near Piau) for motorhomes.
What About the Spanish Pyrenees?
There are a huge number of places to motorhome ski both across the border in Spain and in other regions of the French Pyrenees. One of our favourites is Baquiera-Beret.
Motorhome Skiing in Baquiera-Beret
This is one of the largest ski areas in the Spanish Pyrenees with over 160km of pistes, with 35 lifts, rising to 2600m and with a good range of skiing to suit all abilities. Baquiera is also supposed to be where the King of Spain skis but we didn’t bump into him on our trip there.
It’s a relatively snow sure resort with lots of artificial snow making which gives it a long opening period, although later in the season snow can be soft as many slopes are South or West facing.
Driving to Baqueira is fairly straight forward from France by following the main road that tracks the River Garonne into Spain via the Val d’Aran and then upwards from Vielha.
Motorhome Parking in Baquira-Beret
Overnight parking is permitted in the main ski staiton car park but there are no facilities however, 15km away is Val d’Aran Camper Park, a fully serviced campsite close to lots of local amenities.
Other Pyrenees Ski Areas to Explore
Andorra – the Principality between France and Spain and run jointly by both countries. Often best known as a tax free shopping place for tobacco and alcohol. It has a number of ski areas and has been popular with Brits in the past (cheap and cheerful) and after a dip, it is now rising in popularity again due to its non-EU status. Skiing is good, but like other Pyrenees resorts suffers with low top stations and short seasons.
France – check out Ax-les-Thermes, Gourette, Font Romeu, Hautacam
Spain – try Formigal, La Molina, Panticosa, Candanchu amongst many on the Spanish side of the mountains.
Ski Touring in the Pyrenees
For those into ski touring, the Pyrenees offers a load of options especially in the Pyrenees National Park which sits across Cauterets/Gavarnie/Bareges/St Lary. It’s very well equipped with mountain refuges (very popular with walkers in summer) and some great touring routes in April/May. Plenty of mountain guides are around to advise and a visit to the local tourist will help get you going in the right direction.
Huge thanks to Dick and Clare for sharing their experiences of Motorhome Skiing in the Pyrenees – All of us in the Winterised team have been reluctant to reveal the secrets of this incredible mountain range but with the ski industry needing all the support it can get, we felt it only right to encourage readers to explore the region!
You can find more places to park the 51 ski resorts of the Pyrenees at snomadsites.com as well as the Grand Massif, and many other lesser known ski areas.
If you’re a first time motorhome skier or are considering staying in aires for the first time with your motorhome, check out the article below that has lots of advice and tips on what an aire is and how to use them for your ski trip.
If you’re a caravan skier looking for more information, you can check out the library of caravan ski articles here.