The final stop on our eastern Pyrenees road trip was the spa town Ax Les Thermes, which provides access to the Ax 3 Domaines ski area. Of the three resorts we visited it was my favourite, read this Ax Les Thermes snowboarding review to find out why.
Having come straight off the slopes in Les Angles, and then driven the ‘scenic satnav’ route to Ax, I was pleased to arrive at the lovely Les Chalets d’Ax. They are modern and comfortable self catering apartments, that have everything you need to cook a meal and look after yourself for a week.
The location is a little out of town, meaning there is a 15-20 minute walk to the shops, restaurants and gondola, or a short hop in the car. We headed into town that evening for a couple of drinks and a lovely meal at Le Petit Montagnard, I had an amazing monkfish and scallop broth – being close to the Med I abandoned my ‘no seafood in the mountains’ rule.
There is no escaping this but the town of Ax Les Thermes is lovely, lots of little streets with bars, restaurants and shops. Nothing here feels forced or over priced. There is a strong community feel and everyone seemed happy and friendly – something that can be lacking from service in some places in the Alps.
The town had a nice buzz to it, bars were busy with locals and visitors, walking around town I got a nice feel. Being a spa town you can soak your feet in the on-street sulphur baths, or pay to a visit to the elegant roman style spa baths.
Ax Les Thermes is located at around 700m, so to reach the Ax 3 Domaines ski area there is a long in distance, but quick in time, gondola up to Plateau de Bonascre at 1400m. There is a little ski resort located up here, with ski shops, restaurants, bars, and accommodation for 5000.
Near the top of the gondola was a carpark come campsite, with an assortment of campervans and vehicles housing powder hunting seasonaires. This was a good sign for this Ax Les Thermes snowboarding review, as if people are willing to camp, it must be a good ski area.
Whether it is the conditions, your state of mind or body, your riding partners or some other factor, some days on the slopes start slowly and others start fast. Our day in Ax started at what can only be described as flat out. Our guide Jacques shot off from the top, shouting ‘follow me’ over his shoulder, and we just tried to keep up.
Soon I gave up trying to keep up and was just trying to keep him in site. Swiftly I gave up on that too and trusted he would stop if ever there was a choice of directions. With 80km of piste the ski area of Ax 3 Domaines is much bigger than Font Romeu and Les Angles, but strangely simpler to get around.
This is because there are less ski runs and less lifts, they are just a lot longer with greater vertical and less options. There are seventeen lifts servicing 35 runs made up of nine green, ten blue, ten red and seven blacks. Reaching 2300m a lot of the ski area is above the treeline, so there is plenty of freeride terrain to explore.
As the name implies Ax 3 Domaines is made up of three areas, Bonascre which is immediately above the plateau, Saquet above and to the right of Bonascre and Campels to the left of Saquet. Overnight there had been a dusting of snow expected. However it turned out to be 5-10cm up top, and this had accumulated a bit deeper on some slopes.
We spent most of our time in Saquet and Campels areas, snowboarding on pistes that were in great condition but also playing in the fresh snow between the pistes. We mainly used the Rebenty and Savis chairs in the morning, both of which were fairly slow two seaters that could do with an upgrade.
But slow lifts were not going to dampen what was quickly becoming not just my favourite resort of our eastern Pyrenees road trip, but a resort that I know I will be talking about for years to come. The Olympique, Berger and Coombes pistes are all worth multiple runs with excellent off-piste terrain between them.
Although we did not visit – after all there was fresh snow to play in – there is a snow park located in the middle of the three areas. Apparently it is stocked with a good range of features to suit all levels.
At the end of the day you have to pass through the Bonascre area, I was expecting it to be a ‘home run’ with nothing exceptional to report. However there are yet more very good runs, with a choice of long green, blue or red routes through the trees. The red was wide, fairly steep and great fun until the snow quality got a little shoddy very near the bottom.
Ax Les Thermes and the Ax 3 Domaines ski area delivered way above my expectations and was my favourite resort of our Eastern Pyrenees road trip. The dusting of snow helped, as did a guide who not only enjoyed showing us around, but clearly revelled in being on the slopes. But it is not just a fantastic ski area but also a great town with a happy and friendly vibe.
To conclude this Ax Les Thermes snowboarding review, I will give it the biggest thumbs up I can. The Ax 3 Domaines ski area will be added to my ‘alternative’ favourite resorts list, for those people that want a recommendation of a ski resort that most people have not heard of.
Would I return? In a heart beat. I would be happy to stay there for a week, to visit with friends or family, as Ax Les Thermes pretty much covers all basis whilst being affordable and friendly.
For £99pp you can stay for 7 nights at Les Chalet d’Ax. If you like the sound of my Ax Les Thermes snowboarding review, and would like to plan your own eastern Pyrenees road trip, I recommend you check out Pyrenees Collection: www.pyreneescollection.co.uk
Thanks to James Cove from Planet Ski for sharing his photos of me snowboarding.