They are chefs, freeriders, snow groomer drivers, trackers and business women who form the beating heart of Courchevel. You may meet them during your stay in the mountains. These unique women are the pride of the resort.
Discover a new portrait each week.
Hi Fanny, can you introduce yourself?
I am 30 years old and I’m from Val d'Isère. This is my third winter with the Society of the 3 Vallées, after working for 9 years on the pistes in Val D'Isère.
I have been a dog handler in Courchevel since the end of last winter and I’ll be taking over from the current handler who will retire this winter. I came to the 3 Vallées specifically to do this job which I really love.
What inspired you to choose the job of tracker and then become a dog handler?
I am passionate about the mountains; I love to be outdoors and on skis – and I’m also passionate about dogs … I’ve dreamed of doing this job since I was 11 years old: for me it’s the perfect combination of pairing my love of the mountains with my love for animals.
Can you introduce us to your four-legged companion?
His name is Paco and he’s a one-year-old Golden Retriever. He is sociable, full of energy, sweet-natured and he’s learning obedience really well – plus he loves to work. He’s brilliant!
What’s involved in training to become a dog handler and what do you do in Paco's training sessions?
I am really lucky to be replacing a dog handler trainer at Anena, the Association Nationale pour l’étude de la Neige et des Avalanches (National Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches). He trains me every day, and I also undertake regular training sessions with other apprentice dog handlers.
At first, you get the dog used to the work by making it fun for them, playing with toys. Then you teach the basics: taking a chairlift, getting on a scooter, training them not to jump up on skiers, and learning to live at the rescue station...
In winter, we begin teaching the dogs how to seek and rescue people who are buried under snow. First we show the dog that someone is hiding in a snow hole. Then we bury them in the snow.
For the dog, it's first and foremost a game. He searches out the human scent and digs because he knows that if he finds the person, he will also find his toy.
Dog training takes about a year and a half and ends with an intensive two-week training and testing, which we will do next November with Paco.
How far down can a dog sense the presence of a human buried under the snow?
It really depends on the type of snow, whether it’s wet, dry, the density … and also on the wind.
It helps if the person has an avalanche probe, which allows odours to rise more quickly to the surface and can be more easily found by the dog. The dogs have been trained to look for people in a prone position, so they won't be attracted to the scent of skiers or anyone else with a probe who is present during a search. And the dog will never try to play with a person who is in a standing position, he will simply ignore them.
What do you do on days off and in the summer?
I used to work abroad a lot, and I was also a caretaker at a refuge ... But this summer, I'm working at the Ariondaz farm in Courchevel. Otherwise I go hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking ... I enjoy the mountain all year round.
Last question: which piste would you recommend on the ski area?
The Jean-Blanc trail in Courchevel. It’s a beautiful track in the forest, it’s long and steep and offers an ever-changing view, and though it’s quite demanding, it’s well worth the challenge.