Thierry Marteau, a modern-day horse and sleigh driver.
The son of a farmer who loved horses, Thierry grew up in the equine world. His passion drove him to become a stuntman and horse trainer. Then, via a chance meeting, he decided to head up to Avoriaz for a different kind of fulfilment, swapping his knight's costume for the life of a horse-drawn sleigh driver.
On his sledge - a converted carriage - in a magical and timeless environment at 1800 metres, he's been ferrying holidaymakers through the snow-covered lanes of the resort for the last 18 years. In these harmonious, natural and fairytale surroundings, his sleigh and trotting horses - proudly wearing their little tinkling bells - are a regular feature of the pedestrianised resort.
Being a sleigh driver in Avoriaz is an all-encompassing job. It's not just about driving a sleigh, as you might a taxi from morning to evening, and it's not enough to just like people. Away from the public spotlight, the profession requires a lot of time looking after the needs of the horses and keeping them healthy. Even if they come from breeds that are well suited to the task and capable of pulling a sleigh easily, they still live in a tough environment that's accentuated by the terrain, the snow and sometimes challenging conditions (cold, wind...) It's why Thierry and his fellow sleigh drivers pamper their trusty steeds in the stable, which work no more than three hours at a time before they are rested
For his part, Thierry has gone even further to ensure the wellbeing of his horses. Inspired by Swiss sleighs with their electric motors, he has perfected an ingenious electrically assisted system that's adapted to his sleigh. After constant adjustments and conclusive testing, his invention has come in very handy in helping his horses pull a heavily laden sleigh. It effectively lightens the load for the horse and reduces the steepness of the slope to be climbed.
In Avoriaz, Thierry and the other sleigh drivers have been a key feature of the resort since the 1970s. Its "car-free" concept was born with the resort and the sleighs weren't seen as a constraint, but rather an innovative alternative to getting around easily, which was also responsible and in keeping with the natural surroundings.
Here, the profession of sleigh driver is neither ancient nor forgotten. On the contrary, its authenticity is very much in keeping with the resort's modern look and contributes to its fresh-thinking spirit. It's a success story that rings true more than ever today, as Avoriaz spearheads the Portes du Soleil's environmentally friendly philosophy and remains the showcase for committed actions in favour of the natural world. One thing's for sure, the sleigh drivers in Avoriaz are an integral part of its history and identity and inseparable from the avant-garde look of the resort.
What's more, judging by Thierry Marteau's overflowing imagination, there's little doubt that he and the handful of sleigh drivers will be part of the resort's story for many years to come...