Lance Armstrong & the Tour de France of Ski: Stage 9, La Mongie & the Observatory Pic du Midi

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on July 10, 2009 3:56 pm

No shake-up after the eighth stage of the 96th Tour de France.  Lance Armstrong remains in third, eight seconds back.  Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy retains the yellow jersey for a second day after battling back on the last climb.  Armstrong’s teammate, Alberto Contador, remains in second, two seconds ahead of Armstrong and six off the lead.  Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez gets the stage victory.

Up next, the last stage in the Pyrenees and with apologies to the kids in the room, it’s a bitch!   Climbs of the Tour de France are categorized from 1 to 4.  And then there is the “hors categorie” or “above category”, a tag reserved for the most severe climbs on the tour.  Only four stages of the 2009 tour are categorized as above category, and Sunday’s ninth stage is one of them. 

The Col du Tourmalet, which sits a few horse jockeys short of 7,000 feet, is a brutal climb and one of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France.  From Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, the riders will climb more than 4000 feet to the Col du Tourmalet, perched at 6,939 feet.

Sport is supposed to be fun, but don’t tell that to the 180 riders killing themselves on stage 9 of the Tour de France.  As the flashy sprinters of the tour’s early stages battle extreme pain, they will certainly be tempted to call it quits, two-thirds of the way up to the Col Du Tourmalet.  That’s where they’ll find our third stop on the Tour de France of Ski.

Tour de France of Ski: Stage 9, La Mongie & the Observatory Pic du Midi
The largest ski area in the French Pyrenees is the interconnected ski resorts of La Mongie & Barèges.  A total vertical drop of 2,625 feet is serviced by 43 lifts, most of them of the surface-type.  Outside of Ordino-Arcalis, the ski areas of the Pyrenees lack any super steep pitches.  Regardless, La Mongie is place of incredible views, a charming village, and the awe-inspriing Observatory Pic du Midi.

From La Mongie, a 15-minute cable car ride ascends to the summit of Pic du Midi.  Views from the observatory atop the peak are beyond the scope of words.  The observatory itself is unlike anything on this planet. 

Construction of the observatory began in 1878.  Initially used as a weather station, its present-day function as an observatory began with the completion of its massive 26 foot dome in 1908.  For more than a century, the Observatory Pic du Midi has been at the forefront of planetary, lunar, and solar studies.  In 1963 scientists of the observatory contributed to the Apollo missions, mapping the surface of the moon. 

Only since 2000 has the observatory been open to the public.  Which leads to this incredibleness: beginning in 2003 off-piste guided ski tours from the Pic du Midi down to La Mongie have been offered.  Starting from 9,439 feet, a vertical descent over 3,200 feet, one of the best off-piste routes in Europe ends on the slopes of La Mongie.

So if the challenges of La Mongie are not up to your skill-set, hire a guide and make the descent from the top of the Pic du Midi.  Either way, make your way to the Observatory Pic du Midi.  Overnight accommodations are available for 19 super-lucky folks.

For me, the ski descent of the Pic du Midi has been added to the list of places I must ski next winter.  Of course, Kashmir is on there too.  Now if I could just find those missing funds hiding from me…

picture: Observatory Pic du Midi (the lights to the right are from La Mongie)

Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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