Insight: Luz Ardiden
Insight: Luz Ardiden
Skiing here means staying elsewhere, since there’s no on-mountain accommodation. As we leave our snug hotel apartment down in Luz-Saint-Sauveur the first snowflakes of the day’s forecast heavy snowfalls are dancing and swirling in the gentle breeze. A few minutes later we’re driving the long climb up the mountain road to the ski area with a sense that this is rapidly shaping up to be an interesting day. Given the choice, we wouldn’t have chosen fast-disappearing visibility as our ideal companion when exploring unfamiliar territory, but fortunately, we also have another, in the shape of a local ski instructor who clearly knows this place like the back of his hand. We stick to him like a ski-school caterpillar group as he guides us around the intricacies of the groomed piste network. By the end of the morning we can’t exactly say we’ve seen the sights and committed them to memory, but we’re grateful for the company – and visibility or not, we’ve had some truly great skiing. We’re already impressed with this place.
It’s just as well we’ve packed a lot into the morning, for lunchtime finds a depression moving in, bringing with it heavy snowfalls and even less visibility. We therefore do the sensible thing and pick our way carefully down the mountain before conditions deteriorate further.
Luz Ardiden: the bigger picture…
Next day, beneath a clear blue sky, things look completely different, so we’re eager to get up the mountain and actually see the terrain that we’d enjoyed skiing the previous day. Suddenly everything makes sense, and this time we’re up for the whole package: lots of varied skiing in a truly sensational setting.
Whoever first identified this as potential ski terrain got it dead right, and the present piste-layout certainly makes the most of what on paper might appear to be a relatively modest area. What saves it from such a fate is the brooding presence of a series of huge outcrops, creating the impression of skiing in different valleys, each with its own distinct personality. Since the expansive contours make it impossible to see everything from any given point, it just begs to be explored to see what might be lying in wait along the way.
Getting up and around it all proves simple enough, and the only drag-lifts to be seen are just where they’re needed, mostly serving the lower and novice areas. Another welcome surprise is the proportion of red-graded runs, providing an attainable, confidence-building upgrade path for those who are ready to graduate from the long blue cruisers.
Helping them on their way will be snow quality which seems to be holding up well in the kind of crisp but sunny conditions we’re blessed with today, along with numerous opportunities to stop from time to time to take in the constantly-changing vistas of the kind of mountain scenery you just can’t ignore.
Pick of the best
Highlights for us are long, winding red descents from summits like Soum des Aulhères (2168m), Picot (2135m), Caperet (2395m) and the 2500m Col de Cloze. The latter throws in the logically-named Cloze, a bracing black-graded detour which darts abruptly from the wayward Cimes red to swoop straight down, re-joining the red for a final blast down to reach the Cloze chairlift. We enjoy the run so much that we ride straight back up to do it all again. Several times.
Another thing we won’t forget in a hurry is the vast, heart-stopping overview of the valley beyond the Col de Riou, not least since there in the distance on the far side lie the pistes of Cauterets. The town itself is hidden from view, of course, but its relative proximity raises the tantalizing possibility of creating a direct gondola or chairlift link. As we’ve seen elsewhere, such things are often possible, given the will and the financial investment – and if it ever comes off then a whole lot of skiers might finally be enticed to change the habits of a lifetime and discover a real Grand Ski Domain on the French Pyrénées. We can’t wait. Meantime, Luz has more than enough going for it to be a strong contender for anyone’s shortlist of fun places to ski.
Feature by Roger Moss, © 2020