When this year’s February school holidays in France rolled around, I still had not decided where I wanted to go. I was feeling the teacher burnout and didn’t really have the energy to plan a huge trip. I knew I would be spending most of my time in Toulouse where my boyfriend lives. I figured we could plan a small weekend away or some day trips. Part of me ached to be near the sea ; surviving the winter in Paris can feel depressing after having lived in the Mediterranean for two years. Another part of me wanted to go skiing and see the mountains; I hadn’t skied in two years because lifts were closed last year due to the pandemic. I knew that the sea wouldn’t be as crowded since it was the off-season. I also knew that the ski stations would be crowded because the February holidays are when many people go to ski.
We ended up going on a weekend trip to Nîmes and to Marseille, then skiing for one day the week after. Planning a ski trip last minute is not ideal as most affordable chalets and hotels are already booked out. Luckily the ski station in Ax-les-Thermes is only two hours away from Toulouse by train, so a day trip to the Pyrenees is reasonable. A couple of years ago we actually went snowshoeing here and relaxed in the thermal baths.
When looking up train and lift tickets I came across something called Skirail. This special deal by SNCF includes the price of train tickets and a ski pass for one or two days. One day for an adult is about 40€ and 35€ if you’re under 26 years old. You could also choose to go to other ski stations in the Pyrenees and take a bus in addition to the train. Since we only wanted to ski for one day, we chose Ax 3 Domaines, the closest station to Toulouse. A one-day adult lift ticket there is about 40€, so by using the Skirail were were able to save about 20€ each – the price of a round trip ticket to Ax.
We got up before dawn to catch the 6:47 train from Toulouse. For breakfast, we got croissants from the train stations Paul, a French bakery chain. As we waited on the platform, groups of teens on holiday shuffled up the stairs with their boots and skis. Unlike my parents, I didn’t grow up close to the mountains so skiing was usually just an annual event for me rather than a frequent winter pastime. How cool would it have been to just hop on a train with your friends to go skiing for the day as a teenager? Then again, I did grow up near the beach, which many others would probably envy.
We listened to podcasts on the TER (regional train) and gazed out the window as the landscape in the Ariège slowly became rockier. Suddenly, we made out snowcapped peaks emerging from the pink morning light in the distance. We spotted Aneto, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees, greeting us from across the border in Spain. I tried to take a photo, but the glare from the window and the speed of the train just made everything blurry; I guess I’ll just have to keep that image in my memories instead.
The walk to the télécabine that transports you to the base of the ski station is only about 10 minutes, but if you bring your own skis, there is a free navette bus that will bring you closer. An added bonus of the Skirail is that it will give you a 15% discount on rentals at some of the ski shops in town. We went the same place where we previously rented snowshoes, the Intersport/Multigliss located just to the left of the gondolas. There was a bit of a line when we went, but it was pretty efficient and we had our gear in no time. For two people our skis, poles, boots, and helmets were 50€ for the day with the discount.
After taking the initial gondola ride up to the station, which was free, we stood in line to get our lift tickets. All we had to do was show our train ticket’s QR code and we were given cards that you scan at the turnstiles before getting on the chairlift.
Like the last time I skied in France, it was incredibly warm. I was overdressed and sweating under all of my layers. Luckily, it’s better to have too many layers you can take off rather than not have enough and end up freezing. I guess I’m just used to skiing in Maine when the temperatures are usually below freezing! The snow conditions were not bad, but not the best I’ve skied. I did see a few snow machines so I wondered how much of the snow on the mountain was artificial, especially since the lower half of the mountain and the valley below looked pretty brown.
Since the last time I skied was in 2020, I was a little nervous to get back on the slopes.Thankfully, after an easy run, my legs remembered how to move. The last time my boyfriend skied was 17 years ago on a school trip to the Alps. He said he remembered the basic movements like the snowplow to slow down, but I was still a bit skeptical. I never taught anyone to ski before, but I tried to give him some pointers. He ended up doing just fine on the green trails and even wanted to try out the blues. I told him although the blues are considered easy, they are still much steeper than the greens, which are pretty flat.
He tumbled a few times, but he was able to ski down 3 blue trails! I don’t know if I would have been able to do that if the last time I skied was only when I was a kid. I told him it was normal to feel frustrated when it was steeper, especially since on one half of the slope, the snow was icy, and on the other side it was chopped up by other skiers. We ended the day with a nice and easy green run called la Griole that reminded me of Sunday River’s Ridge Run back in Maine; it was a long, skinny trail surrounded by trees.
Around 4 PM we headed back down the gondola to return our skis. We walked through the little town of Ax, then had some sweet crêpes at a café before catching the train home.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more adventures in France!
À la prochaine,
P.S. You can check out some more footage of the slopes here: