In its 14th year, La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc 2018 is one of the most challenging dog-sledding races in the world and hosts an international array of competitors. In this year’s edition, 18 ‘Mushers’ (drivers) must navigate up to 612km in 10 stages over 11 days. With 20,000 vertical metres to contend with, this is not a race for the faint hearted.

Out of 300 dogs last year, the winning team completed the brutal course in 20 hours and 34 minutes. We caught the Les Gets stage, the 2nd stage of the Grande Odyssée, which will continue until the final stage on Wednesday 24th January.

The mushers, who originate from more than 10 nationalities around the world, are predicted to average a speed of 20km/h, which with the impressive vertical inclines they’re battling against is no mean feat!

If there’s one thing that Les Gets do incredibly well, it’s family activities. The resort is tailor-made to suit families down to the ground, and their event hosting capabilities really makes the resort stand out. Throughout the season they run varying events both weekly but also big visiting events such as this one.Mushers, sled racing, les gets

The stage was due to begin at 4pm, but throughout the day there was an area on the Front de Neige, where there were people dressed as traditional mushers, and retired dogs ready for a cuddle, absolutely adoring the attention they were receiving, and the mushers keeping a close eye, quick to stop anybody hurting the animals or getting too close with sharp skis. One dog was even rolling over, tongue lolling out and showing his belly, ready for a rub from any new friends!

Grand odysee, dog sledding, husky sled

The end of the main village road was closed throughout the day, and whilst the snow ploughs have spent all season attempting to keep the road clear, for the day they were transporting snow back on to create the beginning of the day’s route, passing through a section of the main street, lined with spectators. If walking along the course you could also get relatively close to the mushers and their dogs who were busy preparing for the race. What seemed to be a series of checking the dogs, their sled and making sure the dogs had eaten and drunk enough. It was really interesting to see the different processes that the competitors went through. Some were happy to interact whilst others kept their heads down, mentally preparing themselves.

At the Grande Odyssée start gate it was a hive of activity, with a palpable atmosphere of excitement; this is a big sport throughout the French Alps and it showed. The dog teams lined up at the start one by one. Each sled was pulled by 8-10 dogs of all breeds, not just huskies as you might expect. Each team prepared at the start of the race differently. The one consistent was that they all came with at least 2 ‘handlers’, who held the dogs in place. Connected by loose ropes, there was the odd dog so excited that he kept jumping over his team mates, causing a tangle!
The mushers approached the race in different ways. Some stood on their sled, mentally preparing. Some stood in front of the whole pack of dogs and spoke to them all, an inspirational prep talk so to speak, whilst others walked from dog to dog hugging them and whispering words into their ears. It was very touching and obvious to see the bond that the mushers had with their dogs.

As the countdown began, the dogs raced past the start line and round the corner. After seeing a few start we walked along the track, only to discover a huge hill that the dogs had to endure! This really showed the strong, as many of them slowed almost to a stop!

Les Gets kept the traditional theme with a large cauldron-type vat of vin chaud, heated organically by an open fire underneath. Outdoing any other resort who merely gives out free vin chaud! Whilst everybody waited for the teams of dogs to come back into sight in the distance, there was a torchlit descent and people gathering, music playing and excitement once again rising.

The dogs arrived back looking excited and happy, but of course tired! Vets were on hand to check each of the dogs when they arrived, and making notes about each dog of each team.

The atmosphere throughout the afternoon and evening was electric, and there was a real respect for the bond between man and dog. If you can catch the Grande Odyssée, either in the last few days of this year’s stages or in coming years, we’d strongly recommend making sure you go and spectate. From the evident bond, to the children’s joy at meeting the dogs. This was a brilliant day all round for children and adults alike, and certainly something which will make your holiday unforgettable.

To make your family holiday even more special, stay with Consensio in France’s Best Ski Chalet 2017, Grande Corniche.

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