Piau Engaly Off Piste

Ski-Areas > Pyrénées > Hautes-Pyrénées (65) > Aure-Louron > Piau Engaly > Off Piste

Ian had been up prospecting this resort in January 2002 and had sent back good reports of the possibilities. As I was down in the Pyrénées for a few days we decided to go up and explore further.

The resort normally has the longest season on the French side of the mountains and has a good reputation for snow conditions and this attracts a lot of skiers. Even after fresh snowfall the off-piste is rapidly skied out. This year it opened at the start of December and the Tourist Board were very keen for me to let everyone know that they are open right up to the 27th of April, so lots of skiing left yet. Assuming the current heat wave that started in mid-February doesn't wreck everyone's plans.

Access Gate to the Couloir itinerary

The resort is built in a large open bowl at the end of the Aure valley with a number of levels of run plus the whole mountain to ski over for anyone seeking a challenge. There are also two marked 'off-piste' itineraries, the Lagopède and the Couloir. This brings us back to what we mean by on and off piste so I've attempted to define a few terms based on the current French law which in itself is somewhat vague. As both itineraries are accessed by the Clot chair lift they are technically 'off-piste'. This means that the resort will indicate when there is high avalanche risk, in the case of Piau by closing the access gates. I'm not sure if Piau have a local byelaw (arête municipal) banning off-piste when the risk is high as is the case at la Mongie. However a skier that skis either route when the access gates are closed could be liable to prosecution if he causes an avalanche that injures people on the runs below.

The Lagopède is the more interesting of the runs. It descends into the Badet valley through a wide bowl. It is initially quite steep, then flattens out before getting steeper again just before the Badet blue. It is then a curious, flat, chair ride back to the resort. It also looked possible to ski right down to the Hourc chair, the valley didn't look particularly difficult, just lacking snow.

Couloir with Cantoural Chair behind

The mountain facing the resort offers a range of challenging off-piste north facing couloirs, as steep as the Grand-Couloir off the Saulire in Courchevel. The second itinerary, called simply 'le Couloir' is one of these. Again this is reached from the Clot chair. A steeper, narrower and altogether more challenging couloir is to be found under the Cantoural chair. The snow was quite slushy at the bottom of these couloirs, skis could sink in a good way and it is important to keep weight well forward in these conditions. Again from the Clot chair cross through the Couloir gate but instead of heading down the Couloir run I skied down a ridge then kept high on the mountain to find myself directly above the resort. If you look at the photos you can see the access gate and the tracks to the couloir complex just to the bottom right of the picture. From here a right turn takes you down a very narrow couloir under the Clot chair, but as the slope had already sloughed in the warmth of the afternoon sun I decided to make for more shaded pitches. Cutting to the left takes you to one of the couloirs visible from the children's nursery slopes.

Couloir to the North of the main resort

A short climb to the Pic du Piau (2696m) gives you anther long, north off-piste run. The snow above 2000 m was perfect, lowever down you needed to ski correctly in the slushy afternoon. From the Piau chair it is possible to climb the ridge to the Pic du Piau. It is then possible to descend directly to the Badet or westwards between some rocks before turning right to the drag lift.

Some off piste can be found between the Cantoura chair and the Badet drag lift.

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