Following the construction by Pomagalski of the Bonsacre gondola lift that links the town of Ax-les-Thermes to the ski slopes the Ariege resort has experienced a property boom and the lift company has doubled its turnover over the last five years. The local economy has also been helped by some exceptional winters and a new autoroute link with Toulouse.
The land of Princess - still a long way off
Ax-Trois-Domaines was still concerned about resting on its laurels. The Bonsacre lift is now at capacity during peak periods so the resort is investing a further €12 million its ski domain in what is the biggest project for three decades. The money will build two new lifts, three new runs (one to be completed next season) and improve some of the existing slopes. Patrice Gaut, the ski areas assistant director says that “returning guests will be amazed at the developments”. The cash has come from lift pass receipts with no outside subsidy.
The three new runs are found in the Mansèdre bowl with a blue run to Bonascre and a black on the backside of the top mountain restaurant. Another blue run, the Manseille will complement the Bonascre. This brings the total descent to 90 km compared to 78 km last season. Artificial snow coverage will be increased in the Campels sector with 13 new snow canons supplied by York bringing the total to 150. There is a new reservoir at Bonascre which will improve the feed to both snow canons and the ski resort’s water supply. There are also numerous improvements to the buildings including new first aid posts. The resort aims to complete the work for the end of the month in time for the start of the winter season.
Roman baths at Ax les thermes
Isère based Pomagalski has once again been asked to design and build the two new lifts. A four-seater chair will serve the Mansèdre. It covers 376 vertical meters and will initially carry 1500 skiers / hour but this can be increased to 2200 skiers / hour in the future. A high speed six-seater chair is also being built. Called the “White Hare” (Lièvre Blanc) at 2.7km it is claimed to be the longest in Europe. It deserves its name, running at 6 meter per second it can whisk 2160 skiers per hour up the 612 meters of vertical in a shade over 7 minutes. It doubles the capacity offered by the existing cable car. The lift has the capacity to carry 3000 skiers / hour in the future. The two drive motors are rated at 516 KW. I hope they are not on a pre-paid meter!
The resort saw a 7% increase turnover taking it to €6.3 million putting it well into the top ten of Pyrenean resorts. The resort says it is keeping a firm control of costs and the day lift pass will only increase by €1 euro for the forthcoming season. saying that this compares favourably with other resorts which charge €28 to €30 for a similar ski domain in France and around €33 across the border in Spain.
Challenging terrain above la Hospitalet
The biggest shock, especially to local ecologists who have been engaged in a hard fought battle with Andorra is that the Ariege resort is making eyes at Pas de le Casa just over the border. Next season anyone with a six day lift pass will be able to ski one day in Andorra. However with the resort reaching the limits of expansion in the Toulouse basin a physical link with Pas de la Casa and Porté Puymorens is being openly discussed. This would create one of the largest linked ski areas in the world. Fabrice Esquirol, the director of the lift company (SAVASEM) recently told Mountain Leaders magazine that “it will soon be necessary to create another entry point… the plans are on the drawing board at the moment”. A lift based link would be a massive undertaking with some hostile terrain. However the village of Mérens-les-Vals on the Hospitalet road is close to the resort’s ski lifts. A new lift here could then provide a Swiss style train link to Porte-Puymorens and into the Porte de Neiges / Andorran ski area.