Every winter, more than two thirds of British skiers, fly, drive or take the train across the channel for their annual ski holiday with the Alps in their sights. Very few even consider looking further west, towards the Pyrenees. Which is ridiculous, because these majestic mountains on the border with Spain, are home to some of Europe's finest resorts - both in France, Spain, and Andorra.
The Pyrenees aren't as high as the Alps. Pic Aneto, the highest point, is 3,404 metres above sea level - nearly 1,500 metres lower than the summit of Mont Blanc. But their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean means that the snow here is different - it's often wetter, meaning that it sticks to steeper slopes. In the northern part of the range, it's not uncommon to find faces that look like Alaska, with steep spines holding snow that would never stick in the French Alps.
This is great news for powderhounds, of course, but the skiing in Spain, Andorra and the French Pyrenees caters best for beginners and families. Andorra in particular is cheap, making it attractive destination for first-time skiers, and the southern latitudes of the mountains close to the Mediterranean mean they tend to be sunnier on average than the Alps - also a huge advantage for people who are just learning.
The culture of the Pyrenees is well worth exploring too. The food and wine here are subtly different to those you'd find in the Alps - even on the French side of the mountains, there's an obvious Spanish influence that makes it feel special. And of course, Catalunya, Andorra and the Basque country each have their own regional specialities. Don’t get us wrong – we’ve always got time for a tartiflette or fondue, but Pyrenees cuisine—staples of which include liver pâtés, duck confits, cassoulet, beef filet with sauce périgueux and Toulouse sausages—offers a welcome alternative
Obviously the ski resorts of the Pyrenees can't compete with the ski resorts of the French Alps when it comes to numbers or size, but there's a lot of variety here. From family favourites such as La Molina and Peyragudes to the thermal spring hotspot of Ax-les-Thermes; from the off-piste paradise of Grand Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees and Formigal in Spain to the cheap and cheerful resorts of Arinsal and Pas de la Casa in Andorra - these are the best ski resorts in the Pyrenees.
Arinsal will become even more accessible in 2023, when ski passes bought by visitors to the nearby Grandvalira resort will enjoy access to Arinsal’s network of lifts, too. Like most of the ski resorts in Andorran Pyrenees, Arinsal represents excellent value for money. The principle resort in the Vallnord ski area, the resort offers access to just shy of 200km of pistes, with a vertical drop of more than 1,000 metres - more than enough to keep skiers of all ability levels occupied for a week.
Having said that, it's most popular with groups of beginners and people booking family ski holidays. The core ski area, centred on an elongated snow bowl, boasts blue pistes that are brilliant for improving your technique. Cheap accommodation options abound here - there's the village of Arinsal itself, but then there's Andorra la Vella, just a 20 minute drive down the valley.
Both boast lively nightlife scenes, with Andorra's low tax status ensuring that these are some of the cheapest après ski pints you'll ever have the pleasure of sinking.
Check out our Arinsal ski resort review for the full lowdown of one of the Pyrenees finest ski resorts
Baqueira - Beret, Spain
In January 2023, the Freeride World Tour was held in Baqueira. Unlike in many French Alpine ski resorts, who had a nightmare start to the year, there was plenty of snow. Of course the Freeride World Tour is off-piste, but the snow on piste is pretty well guaranteed too, largely thanks to the resort’s heavy investment in snowmaking tech in recent years
One of the largest Spanish ski resorts, Baqueria (if you're wondering about pronunciation, think Shakira) is in Catalunya, but you're usually better off flying into one of the French airports north of the Pyrenees, or Zaragoza, the capital of neighbouring Aragon, than you are into Barcelona. Its location in the middle of the range and relatively high altitude provides high quality natural snow in addition to the artificial stuff. There's also just the right amount of sunshine and, due to its southerly latitude, an hour's more daylight than the Alps.
Skiing in Baqueira-Beret is spread over three main areas - each with a mix of highly demanding runs for experienced skiers, but also large areas with pistes ideal for beginners, as well as several excellent snowparks. Après ski is lively here: there's a certain flair that the Spanish bring to off-slope partying. They also have one of our favourite innovations—a tractor pulling a sled that will carry you the short distance from the village to the lifts if the morning after is proving a little too 'tiring'.
Check out our full Baqueira - Beret resort guide for the lowdown on one of Spain's most famous ski resorts.
Skiers who come to Cauterets, in the French Pyrenees, have two ski areas on their doorstep: Cirque de Lys, accessible via a 10-minute gondola ride, and the Pont d'Espagne (Bridge of Spain), which is eight kilometres from the town and connected to Cauterets by a shuttle bus.
A pretty town filled with Belle Époque buildings, Cauterets is incredibly popular with non-skiers, simply because there’s so much else to do here. Visitors can soothe aches and pains at Les Bains du Rocher, regarded as one of France’s best spas, pick up some souvenirs at the town’s covered market or spend their days sampling local delicacies. Don’t miss the chance to try some of the delicious local cheese.
When it comes to the skiing, it’s beginners and intermediates who will be most at home here, and the town’s position—high, and north-east facing—makes it one of the most snow-sure resorts in the Pyrenees. Cirque du Lys is the main ski area, and the one where most visitors spend the majority of their time. There’s a great network of blue and green runs, including several long ones which twist their way down from the main gondola station, 2,415 metres above sea level.
There’s great news for snowboarders too: all runs here can be reached via chairlift (no drags required), and there’s a fantastic Oakley terrain park. There are a handful of red and black runs for advanced skiers seeking more challenging terrain (Malh Blanc is one of the resort’s steepest runs), and the regular heavy dumps mean there’s plenty of the white stuff to cushion any falls. Pont d’Espagne is the smaller of the two ski areas, and best suited to beginners, who can practise their parallel turns on wide, forest-fringed beginners slopes which rarely get crowded.
This beautiful ski resort in Spain is one of the highest in the Pyrenees – most of the terrain in Cerler (also known as Aramón Cerler) is found above 2,000 metres, and the highest slopes top out at 2,630 metres. It’s also incredibly spectacular, thanks largely to the backdrop of sky-scraping mountains, more specifically 60 peaks with a height of over 3,000 metres.
The 80 kilometres (50 miles) of slopes offer something for skiers snowboarders of all skill levels, including advanced speed demons, who can fly down 16 kilometres of black runs. The resort also lays claim to the longest run in the Pyrenees – the nine-kilometre-long Pista run – and 19 ski lifts (many of which are relatively new) makes exploring the resort a breeze.
The town itself feels wonderfully quaint, despite the presence of several new hotels. When Cerler was expanded, local authorities went out of their way to preserve its oldest buildings (including a beautiful historic church). There are some fantastic restaurants, too -we recommend sampling some Pyrenees cuisine at the Evenia Monte Alba hotel, while El Candil is one of Cerler’s most popular standalone restaurants.
During the 2022/23 winter season, Formigal bagged quite a cool accolade – it came third in a list of Spanish ski resorts with the most snow. On average, the resort gets 190 centimetres of snow every year, which is more than enough to blanket its four different valleys, which have some of the most challenging skiing in the Aragon Pyrenees. A purpose-built ski resort, Formigal has introduced state of the art detachable lifts as well as Spain’s first ever eight-seater chairlift - and one of the first hands-free lift pass systems which can prevent inadvertent access to slopes beyond the abilities of the skier.
The snow making system here is equally sophisticated - with over 200 snow cannons, ensuring that the resort ihas been one of the first to open in recent seasons and has been able to offer skiing right through to the start of May. Almost all the runs are wide cruising trails that lead towards a snow bowl linked to 500 metres of blues. Above this you will find three kilometre long blacks and some extensive off-piste opportunities. If anyone ever tries to tell you Spain isn't a place to take a skiing holiday, send them here and see what they think.
Check out our full ski resort guide to Formigal for more info.
Grand Tourmalet, France
The Col du Grand Tourmalet may be most famous for the gruelling stage of the Tour de France that's held here every few years, but the ski resort that sits near the top is an underrated gem - especially when it comes to freeriding.
It's the biggest ski area in the French Pyrenees, with links to the villages of Bareges and La Mongie, and 120km of piste served by 50 lifts. Many of these are ideal for intermediates, and there’s an abundance of tree-lined slopes around the towns for whenever the weather rolls in, making Grand Tourmalet-La Mongie one of the French Pyrenees' most varied ski areas.
The crowning glory of the whole zone is the Pic du Midi observatory at 2,877m. Looking like it's been lifted straight out a James Bond movie, this mountain top base offers incredible views over the surrounding peaks by day, and unparalleled views of the stars by night. Not only that, but there are a ton of different ways to descend from the peak - from couloirs that rival anything you'd find in Chamonix to wide open powder fields. It's no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best freeride zones anywhere in France.
A popular package allows guests to spend the night up at the Pic du Midi, indulging in a bit of star-gazing before setting off at sunrise with a guide to find the freshest of fresh tracks on the the 1,700m back to resort.
La Molina, Spain
La Molina hosted the FIS Para Snowboard World Championships 2023, one of several high profile competitions held here in recent years. And if you're after a quieter skiing holiday, then the peaceful twin resorts of La Molina and Masella are a brilliant option (outside of competition times, obviously).
La Molina is Spain’s oldest ski resort and features easy runs that are perfect for beginner skiers, as well as a large terrain park that is great for snowboarders. Masella is slightly higher, and more popular with advanced skiers, offering zigzagging downhill runs including a 7km non-stop descent to Masella from la Tosa.
A big attraction is that it is an easy 90-minute drive from Barcelona, so a great weekend choice from the UK as well a good option if you want to combine a skiing holiday with one of the world's greatest city breaks. In winter 2018-2019, SNOW magazine's senior photographer Dan Wildey did just this—you can read his full story of skiing in Molina and exploring Barcelona for more info.
Pas de la Casa, Andorra
When people think of skiing in Andorra, more often than not, they're thinking of Pas de la Casa. This is the archetypal inexpensive Pyrenean ski destination, offering extensive intermediate skiing and snowboarding, washed down with a lively après ski scene.
It sits right on Andorra's border with France, making it the country's closest ski resort to Toulouse airport - the relatively short transfer time is a big plus. Along with Soldeu (see below) Pas, as its affectionately known, is part of the huge Grandvalira ski domain. There's plenty here for all ability levels, but it's arguably best-placed to cater for beginners and families.
Have a read of our Pas de la Casa ski resort review for the full lowdown.
A wonderfully family friendly ski resort in France, Peyragudes is surrounded by towering peaks, many of which have heights of over 3,000 metres. It’s one of France's cheaper resorts, but that doesn’t mean compromising on quality. The resort, which has two main ski areas either side of a ridge, might be small, but getting to the slopes is easy (a major bonus when you’ve got youngsters in tow). Since 2020, when the new Skyvall Gondola was unveiled, a growing numbers of skiers have opted to stay in the pretty village of Loudenville, known for its cobbled streets and ancient farmhouses.
As for the slopes, there are 50 runs to explore, all of which are easily accessible. You’ll find the main ski area at 1,600 metres, and although it’s not the highest resort there’s rarely any shortage of the white stuff, and Peyragudes’ two snow parks are a hit with snowboarders and skiers alike. And, while it’s definitely a resort best suited to beginners (50 per cent of the slopes are suitable to beginners, while 43 per cent are ideal for intermediates, and just seven per cent suitable for advanced skiers), the area in which it’s located – the Louron valley – is one of the most spectacular spots in the Pyrenees.
Piau Engaly, France
Piau Engaly, one of the highest altitude ski resorts in the French Pyrenees, has a wild beauty about it which attracts a lot of cross-border skiers from the Spanish resorts seeking the better north facing snow.
Terrain-wise, there’s something for most levels from accessible novice areas to a well-equipped snowpark, plus excellent off-piste skiing. The natural setting is the tightly-protected landscape of the Parc National des Pyrenees, so you can expect to see a marmot or three as you cruise down the slopes. The village boasts some bold modern architecture, with sweeping semi-circular apartment blocks offering ski in/out accommodation. The buildings might not be to everyone's taste, but here at Snow Magazine, we love them!
The town of Saint-Lary, in the French Pyrenees, is home to the most successful family in snowboarding: the de le Rue brothers. The oldest, Xavier de le Rue, is arguably the greatest big mountain snowboarder ever to strap into a board; middle brother Paul-Henri has an Olympic medal in snowboardcross, and their youngest frere, Victor, is currently ranked one of the best all-round backcountry riders in the word. Whatever they put in the water in Saint-Lary, it's strong!
For visitors, the town is a treat - a sizeable Pyrenean village that feels more like a real place than just a holiday resort, it's got plenty of restaurant options, catering to all tastes and budgets. As a rule, prices tend to be cheaper in the French Pyrenees than they are in the Alps, and Saint-Lary is no exception.
The mountain itself has around 100km of terrain, and while there are obviously the steeps where the de le Rue brothers honed their skills, there's plenty here for beginners and family skiing groups too. The resort has earned a "P'tits Montagnards" designation from Ski France, because of its excellent amenities and activities for children. If you're looking for an all-rounder in the French Pyrenees, this is about as good as it gets.
Read our full Saint-Lary ski resort guide for more details.
Andorra's Soldeu-El Tarter ski area is home to the most extensive lift-linked network of pistes in the principality, and has long been a favourite with first-time skiers, mixed ability groups, and families. The ski school here is rated as one of the best in the world, but there's plenty on offer for more advanced skiers too. The Grandvalira ski area boasts no fewer than six sign-posted ski touring circuits.
As a town, Soldeu combines relatively inexpensive accommodation, with excellent facilities, and a lively après scene. Andorra is all too often written off as a 'cheap and cheerful' destination, but with ski resorts like Soldeu, and ski areas like Grandvalira, it's hard to argue that it shouldn't have a place at Europe's top table.
Check out our Soldeu ski resort review for the full lowdown on one of the best ski resorts anywhere in the Pyrenees.