Skiing can be an uncertain sport at the best of times. Variable snow conditions, changeable weather, other skiers, debatable ability. And that’s before you introduce a horse into the equation.
I am wearing skis and a helmet – but holding onto a rope attached to a horse. Welcome to the world of horse joiring.
We – me and fellow writer Mary joined by the same length of rope – get going at the second time of asking, sliding down a forest track, our speed and direction dictated by the horse (name unknown) ridden by Eveline.
It’s not quite water skiing, more tug-of-war on ice as I try and control my skis without sliding into Mary a few feet ahead.
All too soon it’s over as Mary takes a fall on a steep upward section and we are left to trudge back to the start.
Horse joiring Is one of a number of off-piste activities offered in Les Orres. There is snowshoeing and Le Snake Gliss – 50-plus toboggans linked on a downhill ski run.
But Les Orres’ best-known off-snow attraction is the Orrian Express – a kind of mini roller-coaster on a monorail high above the ground.
It starts gently enough as you’re pulled up 710m through the forests while you sit back and enjoy the view. At the top you’re let loose to spin and spiral down – fun for all ages.
Les Orres in the southern Alps – flights are usually to Turin followed by a three-hour transfer – is a small resort split into two smaller villages.
Down below is 1650, a well-established resort with many bars and restaurants.
Higher up is 1800, built just six years ago, meaning all the hotels and chalets still have a new feel about them.
The slopes are also split into two. The runs on the lower level link 1650 and 1800 and allow the beginners to find their ski legs.
Wide open green runs and a couple of easy reds funnel back into both resorts; the slopes are well signposted so it’s easy to get back to either Orres.
There is a decent red run back to 1800 from the main Preclaux lift, while a longer green run to the right heads into 1650 and allows you to build up a little more speed.
Many of the runs are narrow and tree-lined – a feature of Les Orres is the large area of forest on the lower slopes.
There are only three black runs in Les Orres – I didn’t even attempt ‘Horrible’ – but it’s the reds higher up the mountain that offer the real test with many starting at the high point at over 2,700m.
The highlight of the week should have been Grand Cabane, a long, red run that loops through trees and round the side of the mountain, offering panoramic views of the valley below. Sadly, deep overnight snow and the risk of avalanche means that the run is closed.
This being the southern Alps means the weather stays fairly warm. The other positive is the lack of skiers. As resort manager Andy keeps telling us: “We don’t do queues in the southern Alps.”
We stayed at La Combe d’Or in 1800, which like all the accommodation is only a few years old. The apartments are comfortable if a bit compact.
The hotel has an outdoor pool, sauna and steam room, which close too early at 6pm, barely an hour after the lifts stop.
La Combe d’Or sits on the green slope back to the main lift so means you can ski right back to the hotel door.
Les Orres isn’t a resort for those seeking boisterous apres-ski who may want to head to one of the bigger resorts.
We make our home at the Winter Lounge where the food is good and reasonably priced for a ski resort. A fillet steak costs 23 euros – you can double that in other resorts – while the tapas selection hidden at the back of the menu makes a light lunch or starter.
And while 1800 may go to sleep at 11am, you head down the path to 1650 for some fun at Bowlingo – a bar-cum-bowling alley that becomes the town’s focal point after hours.
Les Orres is a perfect, small resort for beginners and families – and those who want to get away from the crowds.
Crystal Ski (www.crystalski.co.uk; 0871 231 2256) offers a week’s stay at the four-star La Combe d’Or Apartments in Les Orres, France, from £315 per person based on four sharing, including flights from Manchester and transfers (prices March 2014). Lift passes are £152 for adults and £124 for children for six days.
Horse joiring is 10 euros for 20 minutes, children’s rates available.
(Prices correct as of January 2013)