Animal magic in the snow

Why dogs should stay off-piste - and the animal activities you can do in the snow...

22 February 2017
By Samantha David

Skiing with dogs is dangerous. In a tumble they can sustain deep, sometimes life-threatening cuts from the edges of the skis.

They also represent a hazard to other skiers, which is why dogs are banned on the pistes.

But you can take them on a winter holiday to a ski resort, especially if someone in the party is not keen on skiing, so they won't be left alone all day.

Pierre & Vacances (pierreetvacances.co.uk) are just one of the many companies that operate properties which accept dogs. They charge an extra €55 a week, and owners bring their pet's bedding and bowls.

If you do take your dog on a winter holiday, ensure vaccines are up-to-date, take ample supplies of dog food with you and check their paws regularly - ice can be surprisingly sharp and snow can form uncomfortable clumps between the pads.

Old dogs, puppies, dogs who are not 100% fit will only manage short walks in snow, and might need a warm coat. Ensure your dog is wearing a tag showing your mobile number and/or address in the ski resort.

Most dogs love snowy walks, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and snow shoeing - either running at heel, or attached to your waist by a harness, so they help pull you along (see "la cani-raquettes" at www.sentiers-nordiques.fr).

Sophie Tissot, who runs the centre is a professional musher and nordic ski instructor.

The popularity of dog sled racing means there are increasing numbers of spectator events, like the Lekkarod on March 11-19th 2017, which starts at Bonneval-sur-Arc and Bessans, races through Bramans, Valloire, St-François-Longchamp and finishes in Les Saisies (www.lekkarod.com).

And many resorts now offer the chance to learn to drive a dog sled team yourself, or to ride on the sled with an experienced musher. One of the most scenic offers is in the beautiful ski resort of Les Contamines-Montjoie (www.lescontamines.net/musher)

Ski joëring is a popular activity: a horse is harnessed up to a bar which the skier holds so they can be towed along by the horse. The horse's speed is controlled by voice commands and direction signals are made from the bar. It's enormous fun but hard on the legs and achieving good skills is trickier than it sounds, making it an addictive sport.

Near La Clusaz, Aravis Passion (www.aravis-passion.com/page/accueil) offer half-day sessions and for kids under 7, pony-luge; sitting on a sledge being towed by a pony.

Many resorts also offer horse drawn sleigh rides, when there is enough snow, like Les Attelages de la Flèche Blonde near Annecy (www.caleche-mariage-haute-savoie.fr) which offers sleigh rides for €15 and even has a roulotte à fondu - yes, a horse-drawn cart furnished with a table and benches so you can enjoy a traditional fondue as you watch the snow drift by outside (€42 all included).

There are also usually riding stables just a few kilometres below the pistes which offer riding, sometimes even all-day treks through the winter wonderland.

Many ski resorts call at least one of their pistes "les marmottes". Marmots are like very large squirrels with short-haired tails that live in burrows. They hibernate throughout the winter but you might see them if you ski in April.

Otherwise, especially on long high chairlifts that go over untouched, wooded areas, look out for mountain hares, chamois, foxes, stoats, mountain goats and even wolves. Look up and you may be lucky enough to see a golden eagle. But if you want to be sure of seeing a wide variety of Alpine wildlife, spend a day snow-shoeing with a guide at the Parc de Merlet near Chamonix. (www.parcdemerlet.com/fr/)

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