Arrive in style on the ski train...
Enjoy extra days on the slopes and no surcharge for skis or boards with Eurostar Direct Ski Trains.
Self-drive ski holidays in France
Travel to France by ferry and some of the best self drive skiing in the world. Enjoy the freedom of taking unlimited baggage and up to 9 people per car via .
Book your journey with P&O Ferries
Find a hotel
Booking a hotel has never been easier with accorhotels.com, Europe's largest hotel group.
Why pay for your skis?
Book tickets to Grenoble and take Monarch Flights to this undiscovered destination from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick. There are plenty of cheap flights available to help you get the most out of any holiday to Grenoble, whatever season you travel in.
Experience complete comfort on SWISS flights to Geneva and enjoy the added bonus of taking your skis at no extra cost.
Pick up and ski this winter
Forget about queuing for a bus at the airport, low cost car hire - with a ski rack if necessary, will get you to where you want to go with a minimum of fuss. Click below to take advantage of special offers.
When small (tiny, in fact) is beautiful...
A 25km drive south of Lourdes in the Hautes-Alpes, a region already familiar to many skiers – most of whom make for nearby Luz Ardiden and Cauterets while remaining blissfully unaware of Hautacam. Its commanding position surrounded by a multitude of peaks means that in a good season it receives copious snowfalls. It is, however, classified as medium-altitude and therefore cannot be regarded as snow-sure.
On the piste-map it might look limited, but the quality of what there is, coupled with the sensational scenery, mean that you can't help liking this place. The terrain is laid out across two sectors - Cardouet and Naouit - divided by the Col de Tramassel. Naouit is an obvious target for confident skiers, and offers some nice Red-graded descents (plus a Blue) into the tree-line. Getting around means taking drag-lifts, for which your reward is some fine scenic cruising, particularly on Le Belvedère, a Green-graded run which allows even less-confident skiers to enjoy the panoramic views from the highest part of the mountain. Wide pistes and careful grooming complete the package.
You won't be staying on the mountain, but from the spa town of Argelès-Gazost you can keep a watchful eye on the mountain which is home to the ski area (and the drive up and down again doesn't take too long). It's a year-round centre for tourism and its elegant assortment of privately constructed villas tells you that this has long been seen as a very desirable location. There's a good selection of hotel accommodation, and while you might decide to give the casino a miss, the Jardin des Bains has undergone an ambitious redevelopment in response to the recent dramatic rise in popularity of the fun side of thermal spas (in addition to their curative qualities).
Although clearly a gift for beginners, more capable skiers too will find a few challenges along the way, with sufficiently varied and unpressured terrain to allow them to refine their technique. If snow conditions are good, then family day-visitors - even those based in other ski areas nearby - will find the experience of skiing somewhere this small and friendly surprisingly enjoyable. The mesmerising scenery will please back-to-nature skiers, who won't bemoan the absence of new-generation high-speed lifts.
The name sounds curiously familiar. It certainly will to cycling fans, for it was right here, on the ascent of Hautacam that Lance Armstrong scored one of his most celebrated stage victories in the Tour de France. It's unlikely, though, that he would have had quite the same impression of the setting as we're able to enjoy during our relaxed climb from Argelès-Gazost. As we roll past sleepy farmsteads it occurs to us that this is hardly the typical approach to a ski area, but once we hit the snow-line everything changes, apart from a cloudless blue sky. It's a very fine day for doing just about anything.
Welcome to Hautacam...
Can you be just too relaxed to ski? It's a question I never thought I'd be asking myself, but as we park the car and take in our surroundings I'm almost tempted to just sit tight and make the most of the laid-back vibe. Plenty of people are already doing just that on the sun terrace of the restaurant, while they cast a relaxed eye on their more active companions on the pistes.
But the snow looks just too good to resist, so we unpack our skis, change into our ski gear and head over to the nearest lift, grab a pole and launch onto a ride up the mountain.
The light up here is dazzling, but so far the snow is holding up well and looks well groomed, particularly considering the fact that it's all natural (Hautacam as no artificial snowmaking). When we reach the top of the lift we take a moment to get a feel for our surroundings, then head off on a gentle Blue-graded cruise down to the next lift, this time for a haul up to sample La Moulata, a steeper and more wayward Red. Maybe it's the knowledge that everything is within reach, so there's no chance of ever taking the wrong lift and getting lost which makes things feel so relaxed here – or the fact that many of our fellow skiers are locals who know it inside out. Whatever it is, we're soon feeling pretty at home here.
On top of the mountain...
But it doesn't lessen the impact of the setting. As we crest the mountain for awhile on the long, Green-graded Belvedère we're almost mesmerised by the grandeur of the mountain views around us. From here the minimal outline of the front-de-neige looks even tinier amid the vastness of the valley falling away far below. Our run is much more than a gentle amble, though, for the piste soon makes a smooth 180-degree turn and then begins to take us all the way over into the Naouit sector.
Not that it's a very long way, exactly, but somehow it feels like a journey of sorts, not least since the scenery undergoes quite a change over here, as we leave behind the overviews to which we'd grown accustomed. Different mountains appear in the distance, separated from us by the kind of wild open spaces it would be tempting to expand into (or at least explore on powder skis).
This area is also interesting for its steeper terrain, which is mostly Red-graded There's a Blue option too, which in its own way is just as entertaining, as we discover when we ski them all. The setting has a wild, unspoilt beauty, and moving through it on drag-lifts keeps you much more in touch with nature than a chairlift ride.
The return haul back over to the Cardouet sector where we began is an altogether steeper affair, via the Trois Seigneurs draglift, whose 'Téléski Difficile' sign informs us that the gradient exceeds 50%. In practice this only applies to a relatively short section of around 60%, between the trees and the ridge, after which things ease considerably.
When we reach the top we decide to take the direct route back to the front-de-neige area, on Isaby, a wide, wide Blue just made for carving. Or taking your own time. Like everything here it's up to you, as long as you have fun, ideally with friends or family. We've seen skiers of all levels during our brief tour of the mountain, and can understand why so many local people feel so attached to 'their' ski station.
© Roger Moss