There’s nothing like a little snow and ice to add a spot of jeopardy to your morning dog walk. My own inelegant anxious totter in the slush is bad enough when I’m alone, so adding my small but feisty and often overzealous Manchester terrier, Arty, into the mix was only ever going to be disastrous when we spent a few days in Morzine, just ahead of the ski area opening in early December.
Admittedly, I’m not much of a skier – I spent a traumatic week on the things when I was 11 and vowed never to do it again – but drawn to the allure of the Alps in winter I’d schlepped up to France’s Haute-Savoie in the car with Arty to find out if it’s really possible to have an enjoyable winter holiday with a dog in tow.
I’m not the only one taking on this honourable endeavour, either. Luxury ski agent Leo Trippi has reported a 37 per cent increase in enquiries for dog-friendly chalets, and the company says that accommodation for dog owners is increasing. In Switzerland, the resort of Laax saw a 104 per cent increase in hounds hitting the slopes with their humans in 2022 (a total of 352 bookings) compared with 2019, and in the first half of the 2023 winter season there were almost 300 pet-friendly bookings.
Before I embarked on any major explorations in the snow, I met up with Gail Heatley-Ducrettet, a local physio turned dog trainer who gave us a tutorial to avoid any mishaps on the snow. Armed with the tools for not falling over (try a slip lead placed directly under the chin, rather than around the neck which would strangle the dog, and ensure the dog walks behind you rather than in front), we ventured out into the village.
The bars and pubs (most are dog-friendly but the best of them is Bec Jaune Brewery for its home-brewed beers and cracking curries) were abuzz with excited ski instructors and chalet workers preparing for the start of the season. And even after a pint of Bec Jaune’s bitter, I managed to walk the dog back to the toasty embrace of my bougie Alikats chalet without any ungainly falls.
The following morning, feet fitted with a pair of fetching pink snow shoes, I gained even more confidence walking the dog in the white stuff. Viv Day of DaysAway Adventures and her border collie Gaia had us romping up and down the powdery hills around the Vallee de la Manche. The shoes not only spread your weight in the snow, but they also have spikes underneath for extra grip.
“We’re seeing more and more dogs coming to Morzine with their owners each winter,” Viv told me. They’re attracted by the freedom to enjoy free reign in most of the chalets, restaurants, pubs and bars, as well as on the ski lifts. If you get up the mountain early enough, you can walk the dog on the slopes before skiers descend.
Not entirely convinced by hikes across the pistes, we opted for some slightly safer strolls around Morzine’s Parc des Dérêches, where locals let their dogs run free by the riverside. Later in the week, we drove eastwards to Switzerland’s Jungfrau region, which seemed to be even more dog-friendly than France. We walked through a pretty forest in Grindelwald’s valley, took the gondola up to the Eiger Glacier, and boarded a train to the highest railway station in Europe – all of which welcomed the dog without a second glance (except for the other tourists, whose heads turned as he trotted along the crunchy snow-laden tracks).
Despite my aversion to skiing, I still found plenty to entertain us on our winter adventure in the mountains. Add to that the fact that I stayed largely upright, and I’d say it was a roaring success. Maybe next time I’ll even try skiing.
Five of the best ski resorts for dog owners
Driving time from Calais: 8.5 hours
This village in the Haute-Savoie region is well placed for dog-friendly excursions such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Dogs can’t join you on the downhill slopes, but you can walk them on the pistes before the skiers start. Stay at self-catering Chalet Harmonie, where a week costs from £5,412 total, for up to 12 people sharing with one dog, departing March 23 2024. Dogs can also be left in chalets while you ski.
Driving time from Calais: 9 hours
Sitting in a sweeping valley presided over by the 3,700-metre-high Mittelhorn and nearly 4,000-metre-high Eiger, Grindelwald is a charming town in Switzerland’s Jungfrau region. The local trains and gondolas are all dog-friendly. Dogs can join you on the sledding slopes (look out for purple signs), but if you want to ski, local dog-walking service Dogness will take care of your animal while you’re out. Stay at Bergwelt Grindelwald Alpine Resort, where dogs get a bed and bowls in the room and can join you for breakfast. Doubles costs from £240 per night, including breakfast, plus £32 per night for one dog.
St Moritz, Switzerland
Driving time from Calais: 10.5 hours
Swish St Moritz is a stalwart of the winter holiday scene in Switzerland. From here, there are myriad pistes for skiers and dogs are generally allowed on the slopes, though most prefer not to bring their pets for the downhill thrills (you can walk them next to the slopes, though). Safer adventures can be had hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, and nearby Engadin has dog-friendly trails to tackle. Stay at the newly opened Grace La Margna St Moritz, where dogs get their own welcome pack including bowls and a bed, and they can join you for breakfast. Prices from £999 per night, plus £50 per night for the dog.
Val d’Isère, France
Driving time from Calais: 10 hours
Val d’Isère is a serious skier’s paradise: here, you can tackle the Face de Bellevarde, an infamous black run with a gradient up to 71 per cent. Of course, there are novice-friendly slopes too, though dogs must be kept off all pistes during skiing hours. There are snowshoeing and hiking opportunities for dogs, however, and most bars and restaurants are dog welcoming. Stay at Chalet Grand Choucas on a chalet board basis, from £1,190 per person for seven nights with Ski Solutions.
Driving time from Calais: 8.5 hours
Come here for views of Mont Blanc (accessible via a dog-friendly gondola) and Picasso sculptures, as well as great cross-country skiing. No dogs on the pistes, but snowshoeing activities are dog-friendly here. Stay at Les Terrasses d’Hélios where there’s ski-in/ski-out access from its self-catering apartments. A seven-night stay costs from £1,091 for a one-bedroom apartment (sleeping up to four people and one dog) with Pierre & Vacances, departing February 3 2024.
Need to know
How do I get to the ski resorts with my dog?
Public transport can be a bit of an arduous journey when travelling with a dog and all your ski gear, even if you’re not carrying your own equipment. It’s probably best to drive up into the mountains (don’t forget your winter tyres, snow socks or chains) and there are several ways of getting from the UK to France and beyond with your car.
The most efficient is always LeShuttle –a 35-minute crossing from Folkestone – and there’s even a dog-friendly Holiday Inn Express right next door should you need a pit stop before hopping on an early train. Other options include ferries with DFDS, StenaLine or Brittany Ferries crossings from various ports in the UK.
Driving times to mountains can range between seven and 12 hours, so don’t tackle it all in one day – I use the very no-frills Premiere Classe hotels at pit stops, as almost all are dog-friendly and prices start from £30 per night, including breakfast.
What should I pack for my dog?
Beyond the usual stuff (leads, poo bags and food), bring plenty of towels for wiping off soggy feet, as well as a collapsible water bowl to take out on walks. Dogs don’t need to wear thermal boots if you’re just going to be doing the odd walk here and there, but if you plan to spend all day out in the snow, consider some Ruffwear dog boots to protect their paws.
Can my dog go on the slopes?
Rules around dogs on the ski slopes will vary from region to region, so it’s always best to check at the local tourist information centre. While you might be allowed to ski with your dog in some areas, it’s generally not advised. They could easily cause an accident, and skis are sharp at the edges and can seriously damage a dog’s paws or legs if they get in the way.
If I can take my dog skiing, what’s the advice?
Practice in short bursts initially, ideally away from any crowds so you can gauge whether your dog is comfortable following you down the slopes. It’s never a good idea to use a lead – they’ll get tangled and that could cause serious harm to your dog – so only ski with your pet if they have excellent recall and know an emergency stop command. It’s best to ski with your dog out of peak season, so avoid school holidays and aim to get up there before the lifts open so you’ll have more space. The gentler runs are better for dogs to avoid stressing their joints.
What insurance do I need?
Your own travel insurance should include winter sports cover before you head out on any adventures. Insurance isn’t necessary for your dog, but should they need veterinary treatment, or if they cause an accident, it could become an expensive holiday. Check whether your pet insurance provider offers travel coverage, and if not consider a pet travel insurance policy for your trip.
What certification do I need for my dog?
Your dog will either need an EU Pet Passport (no longer issued within the UK but available in Ireland) or an Animal Health Certificate. They will also need a worming treatment given by a vet no more than 120 hours and no less than 24 hours before your return to the UK.
Can I leave the dog alone while I go skiing?
This very much depends on your accommodation provider’s rules, so it’s always best to ask. If you do decide to leave the dog alone in your hotel or chalet, ensure they have plenty of water.