Pic Du Midi

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La Depeche du Midi (2/1/03) on The Pic du Midi

Jackie spotted this article in La Depeche, not much change from last year to be honest. You can now go on the cable car link with a ski instructor from one of the local schools.

The Pic di Midi is now open for off piste skiing.... Le Pic du Midi Observatory, the heights (!) of scientific research, partially open to the public since June 2000 will from now on be open to fans of off-piste skiing.

Until now, access to the second section of the cable car was reserved for visitors to the observatory. Since December 2002 hardened skiers can reach the "star-ship" (vaisseau des etoiles) at 2877m, and launch themselves off for a descent of 1000m down to the station of La Mongie. The idea has been talked about for two years, and a feasibility study was commissioned. In 2001 guides surveyed the different routes to get as much information as possible about the terrain. Finally, following a meeting at the end of December 2002, the various local authorities (Conseil Regional, Conseil General and neighbouring communities), combined as a joint association, gave the green light to the development of the site.

Pic du Midi, Bareges

"The elected authorities decided to authorise access to skiers to the Pic on condition that they are accompanied by a professional mountain guide" said Olivier Guyonneau, Directeur Generale of the joint association. "We have a great opportunity with this area. To find the equivalent in the Alps you would have to go to the Aiguille du Midi at Chamonix or the valleys of the Meije in Isere" enthused Raymond Cuilhé, mountain guide in the Bagneres-du-Bigorre valley.

Emblem of the Pyrenees, the Pic du Midi could become an El Dorado for those fans of unmarked slopes. And only those, because "There will never be piste development.", commented Olivier Guyonneau, "Off-piste skiing will only be a niche activity" he continues, "but it will reinforce the scope of this exceptional site."

This new area will therefore be reserved for very good skiers, duly supervised by a guide or ski instructor. Bernard Pez, the President of the Compagnie des Guides des Pyrenees considers the Pic "Technically more difficult than the Vallee Blanche at Chamonix" Over and above the considerable technical difficulty, the challenge of 'skiing le Pic' remains more in reading and assessing the terrain. Guy Dotter, a mountain guide notes that "There is a world which separates off-piste at the borders of prepared pistes and skiing near 3000m where the wind conditions, orientation, and temperature can modify the snow cover". Pierre Canivenq, a photographer specialising in extreme skiing all over the world, knows this mountain well. "The fact that there aren't any crevasses doesn't minimise the danger" he insists.

Pic du Midi, Bareges

It's only a model!

In the event, the authorities opted for caution and education after studying the proposal of an unrestricted opening of the domain, as is the case in the Vallée Blanche and la Grave. "The Pyrenees don't have a high-altitude mountain image, and this decision reflects a will to make progress while being aware of the risks" underlines Olivier Guyonneau, for whom "with time, we can move towards more freedom."

Stop Press (3/Nov/2004): Free the Pic

It seems that the Pic du Midi will open to all skiers this winter with no need for a guide or ski instructor. The cable car ride costs 13 euros for two trips and a safety committee will decided when and what parts of the terrain, which is entirely off-piste, will be open. The reason for the change of heart is the need to finance the costly infrastructure serving the cable-car. The resort has always made its desire to open more of the Pic du Midi to skiers and snowboarders but felt it needed the experience of a few seasons of restricted opening before taking this decision.

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