Pyrenees, southwest France


French Pyrenees

Pyreneeism: Finding Flow in Europe’s Forgotten Range

“Ah, putain!” Bouncing the expletive off his front windshield, Guillaume Arrieta shakes his head and bears down on the steering wheel. Until this point, the 30-year-old photographer has been all smiles, almost alarmingly optimistic considering the midwinter drought that has decimated snowpacks across Europe. But now something has changed, and as our van rises and falls with the undulating French countryside, I begin to fear our ski mission, and maybe even our lives, are in serious danger.

Twisting a blonde, curly cue mustache, “I forgot the meat,” he says, dejected. Suppressing the urge to laugh, I’m at once hit by my own pang of sadness. Arrieta and I had been playing phone and geological tag for weeks now and, with our final weather window closing, a forgotten lunch feels like the drop threatening to spill our rapidly filling cup. Starting from the Basque surf haven of Biarritz, we’re tracing the Adour River to its source, two hours east and up into the mercurial Hautes-Pyrénées and one of the world’s sneakiest sea-to-ski pilgrimages. A corner of Europe forged by pounding surf and rocky alpine, southwestern France was the historical home of hearty fishermen and weathered shepherds long before it became a summer destination for the country’s rich and famous. Nowadays Arrieta and a growing group of adventure sports enthusiasts are harvesting a different kind of regional bounty, opting out of the dizzying crowds of the Alps to carve out a life of wave-catching and couloir-hunting in this natural anomaly…

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