Have you dreamed of taking your dogs on a ski holiday to France? Well there are ski companies that will accommodate the whole family, even the furry members.
Our intrepid reporter Lucy Pitts checks out skiing with dogs, kids and a heroic partner in the French alps.
The family: Mum, dad and three kids (aged 11, 10 and 9 – total beginners).
The dogs: Two huge Leonbergers, the youngest of which weighs in at 75 kgs.
Dog friendly ski holiday in France
We headed to Saint Gervais in the Haute Savoie by car. Our apartment was on the third floor so that was the first challenge. Leonbergers in a lift! They may be mountain dogs, but they don’t do stairs and perhaps unsurprisingly, I’d never tried squeezing them into a very small space before. To their credit, they weren’t at all bothered but we did have to travel in two shifts as there wasn’t room for all of us in one lift.
Once settled in, I think the dogs rather enjoyed eating their dinner on the balcony with views across to the Alpes and Mont Blanc.
Taking it easy
Our plan was to ski in the mornings and walk in the afternoons. We booked 5 days of lessons for all of us but spent the first afternoon at the nearby Thermes Saint Gervais, it’s a well-known local spa.
The spa sits in a valley, at the end of a tree lined driveway. Spring cherry and apple blossom welcomed us against a background of the snow tipped mountains and the sound of a river.
A flying start
First day of ski school – an overwhelming success. The lower green runs were open, and we enjoyed meandering down with our respective classes. My children declared they were now semi-professional.
In the afternoon, we walked the dogs up the mountain in Le Bettex. We had two choices: take the cable car or drive. I’m ashamed to admit that our courage failed us and we drove. A combined total weight of 150 kgs of excited dog in a cable car, was at this stage, an adventure too far!
The drive from Saint Gervais to Le Bettex is not hard and it’s worth it. The mountain is dripping with pretty wooden chalets in all shapes and sizes and it’s a chance to see some of the local life. An elderly gent sat on his wooden balcony, admiring Mont Blanc. An old lady doing her spring cleaning with half her furniture out on the grass after the long winter.
We meandered through woods and across slopes with wonderful views. You get the occasional glimpse of magnificent chalets set in regal grounds. We rewarded ourselves with a G and T on our return. Gin and fresh mountain air in the sunshine with views across les Alpes. What a cure for the stresses of life
It all falls apart
Exceptionally mild weather meant all the lower slopes and most of the green runs were closed and ski school moved up the mountain. This revealed that my children were not the professional skiers that they’d come to believe they were. By lunch time, my husband swore his knees were finished and two of the children were declaring they would never ski again.
Our dog walk that day was around the town of Saint Gervais, our sense of adventure flagging. The old town is pretty and as you come into it from below it has some beautiful, mid-19th century buildings with intricate iron and glass arcades.
A turn for the better
We chucked the kids out at ski school and ran. We reconvened at midday and were greeted with smiles. The kids had mastered “the turn”, the snow plough and had a great morning.
We treated ourselves to an afternoon at the “Bains du Mont Blanc” back at the Thermal Park. They do a family session on a Wednesday and it’s well worth it. The thermal baths are warm, bubbly, outside and restorative. My snow burnt cheeks needed some love and this hit the spot. A beautiful setting, a great chance to unwind and recover.
A great day in the mountains
With all of us beginning to find our feet (or rather our skis) this was a great day. We spotted deer on the slopes from the cable car and saw the famous Marmot scurrying around beneath us. They look a bit like a beaver but are in fact a large type of squirrel.
The dog walk was wonderful. We headed out from the nearby village St Nicolas De Veroce up into the mountains and back. With a Baroque church thrown in, it has awesome mountain views and is a great way to see what remains of the original way of life in the Alps. We passed a couple of little homesteads making and selling their own local cheese, walked through a farm yard and the dogs drank from the old stone water troughs that dotted the route.
This was Heidi country indeed. Remote wooden chalets, green mountain slopes covered in buttercups and steep winding woodland paths. We met a weather-beaten farmer herding his sheep and an old lady tending her newly planted beds and we felt like we’d conquered the world as we looked down on the Chamonix Valley below. It was worth every bit of effort to get there.
We’ve nailed it
As we were only skiing in the mornings, we abandoned ski school on our last day in order to ski together as a family. It’s not something I ever imagined doing and the sight of your children whizzing past you at speed after just 6 days, is both wonderful and terrifying. What a success! No injuries and everyone saying they wanted to come back soon.
Read Lucy Pitt’s top tips for skiing with dogs.
The family stayed with Peak Retreats and Les Arolles (Lagrange) in Saint Gervais. You can book ski hire, ski passes and insurance with Peak Retreats or buy/hire them in resort on arrival.
Pre-book your visit to the thermal spa and choose any additional treatments at: thermes-saint-gervais.com
Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer and deputy editor of The Good Life France