French ski station replaces closed ski lifts with horses

A ski station in the Hautes-Alpes has turned to an ingenious four-legged solution as ski lifts remain closed

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As ski lifts remain closed due to Covid-19 - and with a question mark over when they might reopen - one ski station in southeast France has turned to horses and ponies to take people up the mountain instead.

Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes, in the Hautes-Alpes, hit upon the idea as a way to enable ski school pupils to continue to their classes - within the health restrictions - on green and blue pistes that remain open for learners.

The horses used are already trained and happy to go up the mountains, as they were already doing this before as part of their activities with a nearby equestrian centre. The practice is known as “ski-joëring”.

Frédéric Degril, director of the ski school with l’Ecole de ski français (ESF) in Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes, told local news hub France3: “Two ponies can take up four children, and one horse can take up a group of eight children and the teacher.”

He said: “This has [also] allowed families who came to spend the festive period in our ski stations to do some skiing.”

The price remains the same as on ski lifts in normal years: €10 per journey for two hours, plus the cost of the ski school lesson.

The practice of using ponies and horses to take people up the mountains could become a permanent fixture in the town even after the ski lifts reopen, as the children and visitors have become especially taken with the animals.

Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes is a ski town in the Hautes-Alpes

The current ski lift situation

So far, ski lifts - and therefore ski stations overall - are set to reopen properly across France from January 7.

This could still change as Health Minister Olivier Véran yesterday said that the continued serious Covid-19 situation may require restrictions to last longer.

Read more: Covid France: No lockdown but new curfew, and rules remain

Junior tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has always said that ski lifts will reopen on January 7 “only if health conditions allow”, and that any reopening would be done “within the context of health protocols”.

The government has announced a €400million aid package to help support mountain workers and industries affected by the Christmas and New Year shutdown.

Around 12,000 businesses “in the mountain zone” will be eligible for support - even if they only benefit indirectly from ski tourism - such as food shops or estate agents in the area.

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