Ski Touring In The Haute Garonne

Ski Areas > Pyrénées > Haute-Garonne > Ski Touring

This is a nice article that Ian spotted in the Toulouse newspaper ‘la Depeche’ in March 2002 it describes a beginners introduction to ski touring near to Luchon in the Pyrenees.

Work before Pleasure

Far from ski stations and the madding crowds, ski touring allows one to discover the real mountains. Still not that widely practiced, is the opposite of piste skiing. Guide Vincent Lecomte notes that "two sets of people are interested, there are the climbers and walkers who want to continue with their passion during the winter months, then there are good skiers who are fed-up with ski resorts, crowds and noise". In any event an introductory day is of interest to almost anyone if they have either a Guide or friends who know what they are doing and who are prudent. "To get started in ski touring is simple", Vincent continued, "you need to be physically fit and be able to ski red pistes, people who know how to do conversions have a little extra in reserve. They can turn almost anywhere, okay the first time experienced piste skiers will laugh, but they are wrong as they will soon find out. But apart from that you shouldn't be too keen on the first outing. Ski touring doesn't pay back immediately, the pleasure comes after physical effort. In a season, regulars will remember four or five really good days. Something which will discourage those who love skiing just for fun"'' In the Pyrenees ski touring is possible until the end of May, depending on the snow conditions. The Val d'Aran in Spain is "a little known paradise."

A days ski touring in the Luchonnais

Right until the last minute we hoped for ideal conditions. Warm sunshine, cold, champagne powder. But on this spring like Sunday we were quickly disabused of such thoughts. At Luchon, in the Haute-Garonne, the mountains had experienced seven days of wind from the south and a night of driving rain.

But still, Vicente Lecomte was confident. This 35 year old Toulousian and High Mountain Guide suggested continuing to l'Hospice de France, a nearby area but still very wild. A little down from the normal car park snow on the road forced us to leave our cars1. This lead to a paradox, the same snow was nowhere to be seen when we came to the point to put on our skis. We glued our seal skins, in fact bands of material made out of mohair or mohair/nylon mix to the base of our skis and then fixed our skis to our backpacks using special straps on the side2. We then climbed commando style. Back in the ranks nobody let on what they were feeling. For the majority of the participants (average age 40) this was their first experience of ski touring and they went with the flow.

Snow, Finally!

At the Campsaure Plateau (1700 meters) the mountain scenery finally looked a bit more appropriate. Snow covered everything, peaks and valleys, rivers and small lakes. Under a changeable sky we started climbing, first slowly then a bit more strenuously. To avoid tiring ourselves, Vincent suggested that we followed his tracks, skis parallel which we had to slide rather than lift with each step, even if our free heels encouraged us to do otherwise. The exercise is fairly simple and only the altitude slowed the rhythm of some. At the final part of the climb at around 2000 meters a passage across a ridge was a bit airy, especially as our skis amused themselves and started to slide backwards! But the hardest was still ahead, we had to zig-zag and use the good old ‘conversions’.

Conversion turn

Conversion Turns

Demonstration using the style ‘dog with cocked leg’, the lower ski tries to rejoin the upper which has already made the turn. One time in two the spatula digs into the snow and requires further efforts. Tiring when you are so close to the end and you are already whacked-out. All the team, except for one, too tired to go on, made it to the summit of the Entecada (2,226 meters). It took us more than 3h30 to conquer the thousand meters of climbing and straddle the frontier between France and Spain.

On the ridge we could finally look at the landscape, still partly obscured by clouds scudding along under the effect of the föhn. Down below we spied the Val d’Aran, from Bossost to Baqueira. Vicente picked out the most characteristic mountain ranges, from the Maladeta to Néouvielle. In the sky a battle of two chuffs who harried and plucked the feathers of a young eagle.

Our picnic was quickly eaten, now it was time to tackle the descent. The skins were removed, shoes placed in the ‘ski’ position and the bindings fixed. With the exception of the start, which seemed to plunge into the void, the slope resembled a red piste, large and smooth. The snow, wet and heavy at times turned out to be fairly easy to ski. Some linked nice tight parallel turns. Others, leaning too far back, various kinds of falls which were well absorbed by the snow without real danger. The more prudent negotiated wide stem turns controlling their skis with snow-ploughs. Four hundred meters of vertical were taken between laughter and cries of ‘damn and blast’. Back on the Campsaure plateau everyone told a tale of woe: blisters and tired muscles. Little problems between friends for a day that turned out well.

  1. The route to the l’Hospice de France is not cleared in the winter
  2. Don’t forget your ARVA (avalanche transceivers) which everyone should wear under their anorak and is distributed and explained by the guide.

Jean-Marc le Scouarnec

Practical Tips

To try out ski touring it is recommended to find a high mountain guide, the only professional suitably qualified to accompany groups in this sort of adventure. Apart from Vincent Lecomte (tel: 05 62 20 01 49) one can contact the guide's office in any ski resort. The services of a guide cost around 250 Euros per day for a group of up to 8 people.

Equipment can be rented in the specialist ski shops of Toulouse, for example La Maison du Ski, av. de Muret (tel 05 61 42 73 48) or Ontario near Carrefour-Portet (tel 05 62 20 72 50). In the first shop skis and boots will set you back 30Euros/day, in the second 23 Euros/day.

You can contract the Compagnie des guidesdes Pyrenees through their website.

Telemark Pyrenees based in Ax les Thermes sells and rents ski touring equipment and their website also has information on routes.

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