120 km for Toulouse in The PyrÃ©nÃ©es in the ArÃ¨ge department of France, lies the ski station of AX 3 Domaines – called Ax Bonascre up until 2001, surrounded by the cross-country ski stations of Plateau de Beille and Col de Chioula and the Ski Station of Ascou-PailhÃ¨res – 8 kilometers up the mountain from the spa village of Ax Les Thermes and 30 kilometers from Andorra and 120 kilometers from Toulouse.
Still called Ax Bonascre by some, although the station changed its name to AX 3 Domaines in 2001.
The ski station stands above the village of Ax les Thermes, famous for it’s curative hot-spring waters, which contain large quantities of sulphur – you will notice the smell, akin to rotten eggs as you walk past the river in Ax. The name Ax, comes from the Occitan for waters ‘Acqs’, and is still a thriving thermal spa.
The 3 domaines that make up the station are Bonascre, Saquet et Campels which offer a wealth of activities both for skiers and non-skiers alike – the views from the station are truly breath-taking.
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There are 80 kilometers of pistes, starting at an altitude of 1,400m and rising to 2,300m with 29 alpine skiing pistes, including 5 green, 9 blue, 10 red and 5 black and one cross-country piste.
The beauty of the station are that it is built around the forest – le bois de la CrÃ¨made and le bois de Manseille, which adds to the beauty and distinguishes Ax from some of the resorts which are pretty bare with smatterings of concrete here and there – this is skiing in touch with nature.
One of the nicest ways to finish a days skiing is a gentle descent down the Green run called, Boulevard de La Griolle, which winds its way through the forest from the top at Saquet down to the village of Bonascre at 1,390m for nearly 3 kilometers, this is also used used by walkers with snow-shoes, the smells of the forest and the silence is stunning and you might even catch sight of some of the wildlife here.
Isards, a heavier species of the chamois family can be found here as the largest population in the Pyrenees lives here abouts. There are also marmottes (groundhogs), bearded vultures, royal eagles, snow partridges (similar to ptarmigan) and the Pyrenees grey partridge that can be found here.
Aside from the skiing, there are tracks through the forest especially marked out for walkers with snow-shoes (which can be hired in the ski shops) along with 231 kilometers of mountain bike trails. Up top, there are 3 mountain refuges, including Jasse and Ruhle, for the more energetic walkers, where a bed and a fire can be had for the night.
Activities and Amenities
Every evening, when the ski pistes are closed, between 16h15 and 18h15, there is an activity called “The Snake Glisse” which is a line of sledges attached together, led by a guide, from the top of the mountain at 2,000m down to the station at Bonascre at 1,400m, following the piste through the forest, which can be hired as a group or individually. The cost is 17â‚¬ for children and 20â‚¬ for adults and includes the provision of helmets and sledge.
The Night of 1,000 flames occurs every Friday evening at 21h00, where the ski instructors of The E.S.F. (Ã©cole de ski franÃ§aise) descend the pistes with flaming torches and where spectators are invited to taste a surprise drink at the end.
Nocturnal Tales – every Monday evening at 21h00, tales at altitude, in the restaurant at the top of the pistes, in the Chalet de la Hulotte, in the presence of a storyteller, around a meal followed by a descent on skis with a guide.
Ski Park – for accomplished skiers and snowboarders there is a special piste with jumps and obstacles at the Domaine du Saquet – only for the brave!
Sledge run – there is a sledge run and a very beginners piste at the bottom of the Bonascre piste, with a mechanical rope pulley system for those just starting out – great for young children to take their first ‘steps’ on skis or just to play with their sledges.
Speed Riding – is allowed here, which is basically a parapente with skis to take-off from the pistes and glide over the mountains and valleys – only for the experienced though.
Bars & Restaurants – There is no need to go hungry or thirsty when at Ax, there are 12 bars and resaurants serving the delicious vin chaud, hot chocolate, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Food and snacks either in the station or up top at the domaine de Saquet – nothing better than relaxing after a tiring morning’s skiing and eating lunch on the terrace of a restaurant comtemplating the beautiful views around you.
Accomodation – there are flats and apartments to let in the station, just a stone’s throw from the pistes or in the valley, where there is also hotel accommodation available. There are also several furnished stone-built gÃ®tes available for rent in the surrounding area – nothing better after a day’s skiing that curling up next to a roaring log fire and watching the moon rise over the mountain.
Ski-Rail – from Toulouse there is a regular service on Saturday and Sunday from Toulouse, which includes the return train fare and the Ski pass for the day – 33â‚¬ for children and students and 37â‚¬ for adults.
Ski Equipment – There are 7 ski-hire shops in the station at Ax and 5 in the village of Ax les Thermes – where skis, snowboards, snowbikes, snow-shoes and other material can be purchased or hired by the 1/2 day or over several days.
Ski Lessons – Can be arranged by the hours, day or half-day at the ESF – Ecole FranÃ§aise de Ski for children and adults alike, from complete novices to advanced skiers with group or individual lessons.
CrÃ¨che – Child-minding facilities are available from 22â‚¬ the 1/2 day and 33â‚¬ a day to look after young children while parents enjoy their day skiing.
Shopping – there is a small supermarket in the station and some in the village of Ax les Thermes – prices are much higher at the shop in the station.
A day’s ski pass for adults is 29.50â‚¬ and 22â‚¬ for children, adults ski for 1/2 a day for 23.50â‚¬ and children 16â‚¬. For seniors and over 70’s, and children under 6 years old, there are special rates.
Discounts can be had when booking over several days or online and there are special rates for family passes.
If you eat at McDonald’s Hamburger restaurant in Pamiers, you will have a free hamburger when you show your ski pass.
Parking – There is limited parking and short-stays in the village, and two large car parks behind the ski lift in the village, with ample parking at the station, which is often full during school holiday periods.
The most practical is to park up next to the ski lift in Ax Les Thermes and take the lift, a 10 or so minute ascent to the station. Be careful not to take, it at around 9am or at 5pm as it gets very crowded with huge queues as people climb to the ski station or descend to the village at the end of the day. It is better to be there early and leave slightly early to avoid this.
Getting here – Flights by Ryan Air go to Carcassonne – Air France, British Airways and Easy Jet fly to Toulouse and there are links from both to get here. If driving, take the A61 then the A66 to reach the smaller roads that link Ax les Thermes.
Ax Trois Domaines is a great spot in both Winter and summer: walking in summer, for photography or just relaxing and of course for winter sports.
Around Ax – Toulouse is not far, Andorra is also close, with its duty free shopping. If you are in the region, do not miss the remarkable Cathar ChÃ¢teaux, especially MonsÃ©gur and QuÃ©ribus, to name but two – the cave paintings and the Wolf park nearby, why not a day at Carcassonne too? You must also visit the magnificent ChÃ¢teau at Foix, just up the road – in fact there are so many things to see around in the region and much too numerous to list here.
The Tour de France often has an arrival stage at or around Ax on the Pyrenees mountain stages of this world-famous race
We hope this has given a bit of an insight into the station at Ax and hope you enjoy your holiday here.
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