SUNDAY MAIL SEVEN DAYS FEBRUARY 16 2014 21 The friendly and small but perfectly formed resort of Les Orres has more than enough thrills and spills to charm skiers of all ages and abilities. Chris parker Pulling out the stops TOP SPOT La Combe d’Or Apartments Excitement Chris takes to the slopes This is my introduction to ski joëring in the French resort of Les Orres in the Hautes-Alpes, Provence, which basically involves being pulled along on your skis by a horse and hanging on for dear life. In my case, not at very high speed but that might be something to do with the look of terror on my face every time we get anywhere near galloping pace. After 10 minutes or so and not before a few collisions with owner Evelyn’s overly-excited dogs racing alongside, I begin to relax and even manage to slalom around some strategically placed cones. Things are a little more sedate back in Les Orres, which is split between Les Orres 1650 and 1800. The former is the larger of the two resorts, dominated by 1970s high-rise architecture, while its sister village, created in 2008, has more of a traditional Alpine feel, with a return to a timber and stone chalet style. This is where our first night’s dinner is served. Just a few minutes’ walk from our La Combe d’Or Apartments is the Winter Lounge, nestled in the heart of the village. Surrounded by restaurants, shops and the odd bar, the steaks are excellent and reasonably priced. Staff are welcoming, friendly and always ready to bring out their favourite aperitif, Génépi. The intimate nature of the resort means most of the accommodation sits right at the foot of the slopes. Step outside your door, clip in and moments later you can be exploring the 100km of pistes. Once I’m past the local schoolchildren lining up as their teacher presumably prepares them for double PE on the slopes, the first thing that strikes me is how quiet it is. There are not many areas in the Alps where you can be alone on the whole run like you can here. “We don’t do queues,” declares my instructor Thierry. I hop on and off the modern, quick lifts all morning with no waiting, skiing wide, easy slopes, with not a soul about. One of the unique things about Les Orres is that beginners can ski from the top to the bottom of the mountain on gentle blue and green runs. There’s also ample, intermediatefriendly terrain. Those looking for a challenge will prefer the wonderful long runs, especially the Grand Cabane. This descends for four kilometres at a height of 2,700 metres, first above the treeline then swooping down into the forest below, far from all the other trails, finishing in the heart of the resort. If you’d rather get away from the slopes completely and access more of the spectacular scenery, then strap on some snow shoes and take a walk into the woods above 1800. An ESF (French ski school) instructor will take you to areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Another popular activity is the monorail luge, which runs beside the piste in 1650. The Orrian Express climbs steadily for 700 metres before sending its passengers spinning and spiralling for 1.5km. As we head to dinner in 1650, the first snow for 10 days begins to fall on the path linking the two resorts. Just a short walk away is The Grand Cabane restaurant, serving classic Alps dishes including a gloriously rich fondue. It’s generally quiet in 1650, too. The aptly named Bowlingo!, a kind of sports bar/nightclub complete with three lanes of bowling, offers up some entertainment for night owls. For families, there is also an ice skating rink to enjoy. As the thick morning fog begins to lift during my final day of skiing, I catch sight of what promises to be some of the best conditions for some time in Les Orres. Overnight snowfall of more than a foot has laid a thick carpet of powder. After a couple of hours spent enjoying the easy lower slopes, I head for the top of the mountain. As I look down from the chairlift, I see the snow has been barely touched. In my excitement, I don’t give it a moment’s thought that I’ve never actually skied on anything less than a perfectly groomed slope before. I fly down the first red run, powder flicking up as I bounce from side to side – it all seems so easy. Two minutes later, I’m laid out in the thick snow. Fortunately a helpful instructor stops and takes pity on me, retrieving one of my buried skis. With nothing hurt but my pride, I decide that it’s time to head back to the ski shop. I unclip for the final time, hand my skis back and, in return, I’m given a glass of Génépi. Did I mention it’s friendly here? A last taste of hospitality Les Orres style. I leave confident in the knowledge that wherever I next put on a pair skis, it’ll have to go a long way to beat this experience. Travel info ■ We travelled with Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk; 0871 231 2256), which offers a week’s stay at the four-star La Combe d’Or Apartments from £355 per person (save £60), based on four sharing, including flights from Manchester to Turin and transfers. ■ Six-day adult ski passes cost £152, six days’ ski hire from £55. ■ ESF (esf-lesorres. com) offers snowshoeing starting at 18 euros per person for two hours. ■ Le Kiowah (ctekiowah.fr) has ski joëring from 10 euros per person for 20 minutes, as well as horse and pony rides. ■ Rides on the Orrian Express cost 4.50 euros for adults and 2.50 for children. ”Step out your door, clip in and minutes later you’re exploring 100km of pistes” pictures: Tintin Photos HORsING AROUND Having fun ski joëring I grip the reins tightly, the horse rears up and with a jolt, I’m off and skiing – just. Perhaps not the most elegant of starts but I’m upright and heading in the right direction.