Quote of the day: "The Pyrenees are still pure, and the terrain of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is simply fantastic." - Jean Nerva
It's half past nine when we arrive at La Mongie. The drive was an interesting one. From the highway you drive across narrow roads through small villages. Higher up, the road was completely snow-free, but not too wide with steep mountains. When there’s snow on the road this is an interesting drive and the road doesn’t really flat out when you arrive in the village. Welcome to the Pyrenees. La Mongie is a typical French ski resort. Large and architecturally unmatched apartment buildings determine the looks of the village. The end of the season is near. The first two restaurants where we we try to score some food are already closed and the third one is only selling drinks. The friendly lady sends us to a restaurant that still seems to serve food.
That same friendly lady is waiting in front of us the next morning to take the gondola to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. That's the true the beauty of an area like La Mongie. You don’t really end up here by chance. You really choose to go resorts like this. Actually, that applies to all of the Pyrenees. That creates an atmosphere that appeals to us freeriders. Not as massive and commercial as the Alps. Locals and saisonniers who meet regularly and form the heart and soul of the area. But make no mistake, the level of riding is high. In resorts like this, there’s definitely more that meets the eye.
La Mongie forms together with Barèges (a traditional village) the Grand Tourmalet ski resort. It is between 1400 and 2500 meters and the largest ski resort of the French Pyrenees. Although there are plenty of freeride possibilities in the area, the gondola to the Pic du Midi the Bigorre requires an additional lift pass. It’s worth it. The lift unlocks a mountain that loves to be compared with La Grave and the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix. Well, it's not thát big again, but it's pure freeride. The mountain is not controlled, groomed or marked. The lift drops you on top of the mountain and you pick your line down.
The lift to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre has been open for freeriders since 2013. The years before, the lift was purely used by local professionals to prove to the authorities that it was justified to unlock the mountain for skiers and snowboarders. On the peak of the 2877-meter-high mountain you can find an observatory where scientists study the universe since 1880. It gives the mountain its characteristic appearance. You can have lunch on top of the mountain as well. My pick is the Menu Skieur which includes the Plat du Skieur and the Dessert du Skieur. Must be a great choice.
Guide Manu is passionate about the possibilities on the Pic du Midi. And although we see countless lines, I would like to highlight two of them. Perhaps the most beautiful line leads to the village of Artigues-Campan and is called La Coume du Pic.
After about ten kilometers and 1700 meters vertical, you have to take the bus back to La Mongie. Unfortunately, this descent is not possible due to the lack of snow in the valley and so we choose for the traditional route back to the ski area. Splendid bowls are alternated with steeper pieces. What. A. Mountain. We should definitely return when there is really good snow.
As we sit in the chairlift, Morris gets into a conversation with a man with a Swellpanik swallow under his feet. They talk about the Pyrenees, how pure these mountains are, the vibe, the possibilities in other areas. "So," says Manu when we get out of the chair, "did Jean have anything to tell you?". "Jean?", we respond, as if we should know him. "You just sat next to Jean Nerva in the lift," replies Manu. Wow. You can find great terrain around the Pic des 4 Termes (2724 meters). The chairlift Quatre Termes brings you to an altitude of 2500 meters. If you want to go to the top then you will have to hike some vertical yourself, but it gives you access to awesome terrain. Runs with 900 meters vertical, couloirs, open bowls... This is truly a ski area where skiers and boarders of every level can find a great pitch.
It’s striking that the valleys are narrow and the mountains are steep. As if someone thought the Pyrenees were a big accordion and decided to use it. It's all just a bit tougher compared to the Alps. And where you see many other mountains in the main alpine ridge in the Alps, you'll soon see the lowlands of France or Spain in the Pyrenees. After checking out the possibilities of Grand Tourmalet and the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, it's time to get back in the car. Roadtrip is on! Via the Col d'Aspin (famous from the Tour de France), we arrive after an hour and a half in the birthplace of the brothers De Le Rue: Xavier, Victor and Polo. Next stop: Saint-Lary Soulan.