Ski Joëring - All the Rage in the French Alps
If you know how to keep your skis parallel then you're ready to try skiing across the snow behind a trotting Fjord horse.
There's a new form of fun afoot in the French Alps. But truth be told, it's actually very ancient. It's called ski joëring. And if you can imagine water skiing behind a horse instead of a boat - and atop snow instead of water - then you've got an idea of what the latest mountain rage is all about.
The tradition originated in Sweden and dates back to 2,500 B.C., when the residents of the cold north first started using their horses and skis together to transport goods across the snow-covered terrain.
In more recent times, ski joëring has taken on a fun and even competitive slant. It debuted as a demonstration sport in the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz after being introduced by the Swiss and other winter-loving peoples. But in France, it wasn't until the 1990s that ski joëring really gained momentum both in competition and as an outlet for pure pleasure. And in the past couple years, ski joëring has become a buzz word around the Haute-Savoie that's synonymous with sheer fun.
I'm about 30 miles south of Geneva in the beautiful, end-of-the-valley village of La Clusaz in the Haute-Savoie.
Along with spots in Alpe d'Huez and Chamonix, this is one of just a few places in France - and Europe overall - where you can take the proverbial reigns while skiing behind a Scandinavian Fjord horse, a small but sturdy breed that hails from the mountains of Western Norway.
Julian Fournier, a Haute-Savoie native and my guide at Aravis Passion, assures me that everything is going to be just fine despite the fact that it's been years since I've been on skis (a convert to snowboarding, I am) and my experiences with horses are limited to pony rides with my nieces.
"Just keep your skis parallel and if you need to brake, raise both wrists up while holding onto the bar," he says. It sounds simple enough, so I step into the skis (they must be shorter than 1.5 meters so as not to trip up the horse) and take my position behind my noble steed who, alarmingly enough, is named Quick.
"C'est parti!" Julien bellows, leading the charge behind another beautiful horse, and we're off, following a path of packed snow with the craggedy Aravis chain of mountains and piles of fresh powder as far as the eye can see. The horses pick up speed from a walk to a trot, and next thing I know I'm careening around curves and even catching a tiny bit of air behind Quick as he bounds over bumps on the trail.
When things get slightly technical, we stop and Julien debriefs me on how best to tackle the next steep, plodding descent. And I quickly learn the French word for what we North Americans call the 'snow plow' ski technique (chasse-neige).
I'm surprised by how quickly and smoothly we fly across the snow, by how free I feel and by the fact that just knowing how to stand up on skis means I can be pulled at the speed of a trot behind such a beautiful animal in such a beautiful place.
And that there's a warm wood-fired pizza topped with local Reblochon cheese waiting for me when I get back to the village later is just icing on the cake.
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