La Mongie Off Piste

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Off Piste in Barèges and la Mongie

There were big changes for the 2002/2003 season at the Pyrenean resorts of Barèges and La Mongie. With the freeride craze in full swing the Burghers of Barèges have taken the bold decision to open the legendary Pic du Midi to off-piste skiers.

Up till now the 2872m Pic was the preserve of astronomers who accessed their extensive observatory via a private cable car. Each winter a few brave ski mountaineers climbed on skins to the summit by a route that follows the summer road. Local guides have been campaigning for greater access via the cable car, this had been granted for accompanied skiers but this year it will be open for all.

Before opening the Pic officials made visits to la Grave and Chamonix Mont Blanc to see how things operate at those Mecca's to off-piste skiing. The traditional spa town of Barèges could be a Pyrenean version of Chamonix but the challenging skiing and open access of the Pic is more like la Grave. Permitting skiers will also help to pay for the operation and maintenance of the cable car that until now had been used by a few bearded star gazers and their supplies. There has been an observatory on the Pic since 1880 and the site now covers most of the mountain top.

pic du midi warning signs

High Mountain

Before you wax your skis and head south it is worth considering what Skieur magazine had to say about the Pic du Midi in their October 2002 issue. These are skiers who make their living off piste. They went with local mountain guide and ski instructor Stéphane Delpech and didn’t find any easy skiing, only routes that were ‘less hard’. The easiest is the southern flank and the classic ski tourist’s descent to the Lac d’Oncet and then to Super Barèges, an alternative is ‘sous le Telepherique’ towards Artigues through the Coume du Pic.

The west face presents a number of possibilities but the North and Eastern faces are a complex of rocks and cliffs with winding couloirs offering pitches of up to 60 degrees and beyond! The Coume de l’Ours to the North East is the most accessible of these, reached after a 45 minute scramble along the North East summit ridge. The Coume keeps its powder for days after fresh snowfall. More challenging is the Ravine Sud-Est which starts under the main observatory building (and was thus nicknamed the Poubelle by Skieur Mag). The North West face offers large and steep snowfields.

pic du midi snowboarder

Snowboarder under the cable cars

La Mongie has proposed a shuttle bus service from Artigues for next season to get skiers back to resort. Otherwise it is a case of hitching (autostop) or a 45 minute hike.

Given the difficulty of some of the slopes and the problems posed by route finding it is still a good idea to take a guide. Remember this is all off-piste and high mountain terrain so the usual precautions of Transceiver, Shovel and Probe apply. A length of rope is advisable given the numerous cliffs. No doubt Ian and I will be making a trip up during the winter and we will bring you more information then. Otherwise the following site has more details and can offer guiding services, including Stephane's (who can speak good English). This is definitely recommended if you are new to the Pic:

Barèges already offered many and extensive off-piste opportunities but this move has placed it firmly in the big league. Let's hope that all passes off well in the forthcoming season.

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