Lift openings 2024: Up, and not crying

Hey hi!

Yeah, I know, I know.

Long time indeed.

How’re you?

Oh, you know, oppe, og ikke gråter / 你吃了吗 / meshe lhal / could be worse….

Lets ignore a lost year and start where we left off. When do the lifts open for summer?


Bellevue: 8th June – 15th September (opening and closing 1 week later than 2023)

Flegere: 8th June – 22nd September (open 1 week longer than 2023) then 19th October – 3rd November

Le Tour: 8th June – 8th September (same as 2023)

Planpraz/Brevent: 15th June – 15th September (opening 1 week later than 2023)

Tramway du Mont Blanc: 15th June – 29th September (open same as 2023)

Vallorcine: 22nd June – 8th September (opening 2 weeks later than 2023)

Prarion: 22nd June – 8th September + the weekend 15/16 June (opening 1 week earlier than 2023)

Grand Montets: Closed. They’re building a new lift.

As ever, Chamonix probably isn’t the single greatest place to go play bikes, but once you put a 1 hour radius on it…. Different story.

So when does everywhere that’s not Chamonix open?

La Thuile: 22nd June- 8th September A week longer than 2023, just as brutal on the arms.

Megeve: 22nd June – 8th September. Megeve is really 2 resorts, so the Mont Blanc natural resort bit is staggered between 22nd June and 8th September (same periods as 2023) and the Jaillet side is….still unknown. Big Megeve news is that the EDR (EWS for old people) is in town 28-30 June, which might mean more lifts and resurrected bikepark in the future. Or might not.

St Gervais: Probably closed. Another of those new lift things.

Les Contamines: 29th June – 1st September. Two lifts, more than two trails, rarely more than two other riders.

Grand Massif: 31st May – 8th September. Assorted start and finish times across the area, with a usual caveat that these are the website gets updated late, so it’s off of rumours and guesswork. Les Carroz is go from the 22nd June to 8th September, Samoens is hosting the Velo Vert festival again over the first weekend of June, so expect opening weekend to be busier than a usual chilled out grand massif day. Flaine is maybe 29th June to 28th August.

Pila: 22nd June – 8th September. Still the best bike park in all of the world, or at least Aosta. Again it’s the Gorraz Grand Grimond lift and a long, hot push instead of Coulis 1 if you want to do any of the more, hmm, scenic, options.

Portes du Soleil: 24th May – 29th October. The dates include a fair bit of limited area opening at start and end of season, and there’s world cup racing in there too, but it all roughly breaks down as: Les Gets Chavannes side open weekends only from 24th May and everything open from 15th June to 17th September. Chatel is 9th June to 7th September. Avoriaz, all the days from 15th June to 15th September. Morzine 31st May to 15th September. Morgins 28th June to 27th October, Champery 30th May to 27th October. Bernex 29th June to 1st September.

Verbier: 1st June – 27th October. For the limited area of park at least. 29th June to 16th September for all the funs.

Les Arcs: 15th June – 8th September. Weekends only at start and end of that, but take what you can.

La Clusaz: 3rd July to 1st September, and 3 weekends either side of that too again, which is nice if you have weekends off…

But what even is summer? Bike park season started when it ended. Every month since October we’ve been playing bikes off the lifts in the alps (the images need to come from somewhere.) Which is good in some ways and very bad in others. Glossing over the bit where we’re more than a year deep into being plus 1.5 degrees above pre industrial averages, where can we go play bikes now. Now. NOW!

Or if not now, soon. (usual 1h radius from Chamonix a wee bit stretched)

Bourg Saint Maurice: Funicular fun is there up to 28th April. Except Saturdays. Sorry weekend types.

Pila: Until 7th April. Think you’re Sam Hill? You’re not. But you can ride the freeride trail none the less. Or 21b. We’ve been doing it most of winter.

Les Haberes: May 11th-12th and 19th-20th, then June 29th-30th. Opened their bike park in winter when the snow failed. Fun. Romain “Loudenvielle” Paulhan designed. Finn Illes approved. So a thumbs up all round. Full opening 6th July to 18th Aug.

Verbier: Always! Except 29th April – 26th May when it’s closed for repairs. Plenty enduro action from the now (almost) always running Le Chable-Verbier telepherique.

Metabief: 1st -12th May. Wednesday to Sunday, then weekends, except when there’s a monday. It’s complicated… Anyways, the world Championships were there in 1993. Mountain biking hasn’t changed since then, so it’s still good.

Flegere: 13th – 20th May. Trail bike tech bliss. A brief time window to ride, easily scuppered by bad weather, so if you’re looking for late season storm skiing I suspect this week is when to head to Chamonix.

Sept Laux. Initially weekends only, 8th to 12th May to start, “ou pourquoi pas avant…si les conditions meteo le permettent”. Have you seen the Amaury Pierron Supreme MX launch edit? 2.02mins of why you should ride at Sept Laux.

La Saleve: Is open again, all the time. Yay. And with more local built trails than before. Yay. And several times more expensive. Boo. Wednesdays to Sundays just now.

Monts Jura: 18th May to summer. A wee bit above Geneva, a wee bit more choice than Saleve, a wee bit of a guess at the dates.

Chaumont: 5th April onwards. My bikes from there, might as well take it to it’s home.

Gampel: Always open. More Swiss uplift masquerading as public transport.

Trail Taxi have already fired up the shuttles for 2024, trips to all the trails you can shake a stick at in Valais and Aosta on their website, give Jarno a shout now!

Cheers, merci and thanks to the folk who got in touch with updates to all the above.

This might be the start of semi more regular content, or it might not. It’s the first effort made for phones instead of laptops, it might be the last.

Summer looks pretty busy now with lots of great trips with Bike Village, Endless trails and a few bits with my own clients (obviously, if you’re looking for the best biking holiday of your summer, I’d get clicking on the links above) so maybe I won’t have time to write anything interesting. Then again, there’s a few cool trips planned, so maybe the muse will strike.

Whatever happens, have fun out there y’all, mibbies see yous on the trails.

Ape. The ultimate Italian shuttle vehicle. I just wish they’d swapped the red and orange ones round.

Lift openings 2023: General Artificial Untelligence

A pile of bikes on a lift. Cheating uphill isn't always pretty.

A new summer of lift riding sprawls before us…

What lifts will open? When will they open? How long will you keep reading my tenuously connected intro before scrolling down to the actual info?

February in the Alps. Bit worrying really, but Pila was riding mint off the lifts.

Still reading I see.

The big buzz in writing write now is a.i. If you’re in any way stuck for content, just fire a question into ChatGPT, let it write the article for you and then at the end of your piece SURPRISE! drop the bomb that the algorithm wrote it…

New wheels go good, Pila in Feb.

So I tried that and it was pretty disappointing. Which possibly sums up your experience of reading the human generated version of this too. No matter, it’s still been declared the future of journalism. Who’s going to get paid to write generic un-referenced copy when a bot will do it for free in seconds?

Turns out it’s the past of job replacement too. In the 1960’s an early go at a Chatbot, ELIZA, basically repeated the users question back at them with a different phrasing.

And so got reputation as a psychiatrist.

Ok, so there was some snow on the ground back in February

But I’m not a journalist. Or a psychiatrist. I’m a bike guide. Surely my jobs safe….

I mean, how could a machine learning tool possibly calculate what terrain a rider prefers based on their whoops and holla’s reaction to the trail they’re on, then pick the next from its database of routes linked to all other A.I. mtb guide-bots?

How would it read who’s getting tired, without maybe analysing the bluetooth synced client heart rate data to know that one more lap is a great idea?

No way it could utilise the 5g chips in our blood (what, you thought that went away with the vaccines…) to project a virtual rider in front of you if you want to follow a line, or whisper left or right in your virtual ear as you approach a junction. Or mibbies just a giant arrow if you’re as bad as me with left and right.

If you use an app like EchoSOS to call for help, is it just one step easier for the algorithm to call the helicopter directly to deal with any injuries?

Can it download diagnostic data from your electronic brakes and fix them before you even know you’ve cooked the pads by using them too much on the last descent?

Most importantly, could it translate the insults of the (likely also automated) barista when you order cappuccino after 11am…?

Hmm, yes. Yes it probably can.

And I, for one, welcome our robot overlords, plus I’ll have plenty time to ride the chairlifts in my beckoning unemployment, so when are they lifts open?

Olly headed for coffee somewhere near Aosta town.

Chamonix, from CdMB, but provisional dependent on evolution of… well this year probably strikes rather than pandemic, but let’s see what surprises ’23 has up its sleeve.

Bellevue: 3rd June – 10th September (opening and closing 1 week earlier than 2022)

Flegere: 10th June – 17th September (open 1 week longer than 2022)

Planpraz: 10th June – 17th September (open 1 week longer than 2022) then 21st October – 5th November

Brevent: 10th June – 17th September (open 1 week longer than 2022)

Tramway du Mont Blanc: 10th June – 1st October (open 2 weeks later than 2022)

Le Tour: 10th June – 10th September (was closed in 2022 for a new lift to be installed, still to find out whether bikes will be welcomed in the shiny new telecabines…)

Vallorcine: 10th June – 10th September (same as 2022, hopefully the new normal)

Prarion: 1st July – 10th September + the 2 weekends either side of that (opening 2 weeks later than 2022)

Grand Montets: 1st July – 3rd September (same dates as 2022)

As usual, winter's a chance for the pumptrack bike to get dusted off and the rider to be reminded they're not a yoof no more.

And all those other conveniently nearby places for your spotify trail playlist to suggest:

La Thuile: 24th June- 3rd September Same as 2022, and again no EWS this year to clutter up the season.

Megeve: 24th June – 10th September. Megeve is really 2 resorts, so the Mont Blanc natural resort bit is staggered between 24th June and 10th September (same periods as 2022) and the Jaillet side is….still unknown.

St Gervais: Probably 24th June – 3rd September TBC

Les Contamines: 1st July – 3rd September. Same dates as last year, and same as last year, one of the first to publish dates and easiest website to navigate. Cheers Les Contamines

Grand Massif: 3rd June – 11th September. Assorted start and finish times across the area, with a usual caveat that these are their target dates and it might change yet, and that not all the areas have decided when they’re opening yet. Les Carroz is go from the 24th June to 10th September, Samoens is hosting the Velo Vert festival again over the first weekend of June, so it’d be grand if they’re open from then but it’s possible (likely…) they’re then closed until 24th June. Flaine is 1st July to 27th August

Pila: 24th June – 10th September. Still the best bike park in all of the world, still not that quick at getting opening dates up online. Looks like the Couis 1 chair for accessing the ridge and other “if you know, you know” trails ISN’T open this summer, but the Gorraz Grand Grimond lift will be. Whether this opens to bikes, and what it means for the trails I dunno.

Portes du Soleil: 26th May – 29th October. The entire world cup circus comes to town 7th to 17th September, so who knows how that’ll pan out, but for the rest of the time: Les Gets Chavannes side open weekends only from 26th May and everything open from 16th June to 17th September. Chatel is weekends from the 9th June and all the time from 23rd June to 3rd September. Avoriaz, all the days from 16th June to 17th September. Morzine probably 16th June to 17th September but dates not finalised yet. Morgins and Champery 18th May to 29th October… Except it kinda looks like Morgins is closed this summer whilst they replace the chairlift, so that’s potentially a bit rubbish. The old lift has already been demolished, so maybe the works will be done in time, we’ll see….

Verbier: 3rd June – 29th October. Weekends only from 3rd June all the days from 17th June. Le Chable to Verbier is open from 05h15 to 23h50 every. damn. day. 1st July – 27th August for Bruson. Or of course, the Trail Taxi runs from April through until the snow comes back!

Les Arcs: 17th June – 10th September. A way longer season than usual! But with some caveats, so easiest just to look at their website

La Clusaz: 1st July to 3rd September, and 3 weekends either side of that too, which is nice if you have weekends off…

New ride for 2023. Look at the sparkles!!!!

That should be enough to go at for another year, even if lift access season started back in February for most Chamonix locals, hence the photos which are mostly riding Pila from the lifts, and a shot of my shiny (no, sparkly…) new bike from Meyrieu bikepark. Many, many thanks to SCOR for dragging me into the current with my first ever big wheeled bike.

Oh yeah, and the obligatory snow picture to show the winter’s not been anything like as bad as tabloid editors have made out.

Obligatory ski shot to show that winter has been pretty darn good despite what you may have read in the tabloids.

(So whaddaya reckon, did I write this, or was it a.i….?)


Pumptracks. Good for that light and shadow play thing.

How hard is it to write an article about pumptracks without mining the “pump it up” tropes?

Hard. Very hard indeed. I’ll try avoid it, but can’t promise anything.

If you remember 2020 when the biggest thing we had to worry about was global pandemic and not global war (another opportunity to say go fuck yourself Putin and leave the world, in peace) the pumptrack bike became the overnight coolest must have you must have.

I got one too, cheers Airdrop!

Airdrop Fade. It's much better than the rider. St Gervais bowl.

Of course, pumptrack bikes aint nothing new, a hardtail playbike has been a staple of riders sheds since I was wee. I mind selling my battered DMR sidekick about 5 years ago and being told just how much I’d regret it.

You were right Rob, I regretted it.

But the Fade is way better. I can lift it with one hand for a start…

Most tracks about here at Bikesolution, Velosolution are, well, better.

Anyways, pumptrack bikes are great for kicking about and playing in the street, but they’re also pretty good at pumptracks. And skate parks and dirt jumps, which will be called “trails” for the rest of this article because that’s what they’re called.

But where are these fabled pumptracks, and how fun are they?

It’s a good question dear reader, and one I set off to answer last winter and spring. Or at least I did until I had a skiing disagreement with a tree which put things a bit behind schedule.

About 12 months late, here we are.


Sallanches. Patrick delivering on my favourite wee feature on the track.

Biggest track in my arbitrarily applied 45 minute radius of Chamonix selection process. Not sure if I’d go as far as to say the best, but it’s pretty fun, and handily has a great skatepark and bowl next to it too. And the hospital, which hopefully isn’t handy.

The track features four distinct lines, an independent green, a mixed blue and red, and a separate black jump line and there’s a fair few extra lines to unlock and keep you coming back for more. And there’s even lights for evening sessions!

Sallanches. Not just a hip jump to footplant off.


Undoubtably the best backdrop of any pumptrack built to date. Ever. Ok, I’ve got some history with this track, a moment of inattention here in 2016 was what resulted in me putting my arm bones through my wrist bones and leaving them in the palm of my hand along with the majority of my wrist in an unmade jigsaw of bone. Still, all better now. Kinda.

The tracks great, a bit tighter and more technical than a lot of riders would like, but I suspect this makes it better for skateboarders. I can’t skate, so I’m guessing. A couple of mini ramps and modules help keep interest away from the blue and red loops of the track, which also has a couple of extra curricular lines to find. It also melts out way quicker than you’d think in the winter.

I’ve also so far failed to visit with the camera.

Les Contamines

Fiona on the berm - backslope transfer at Les Contamines

Hidden away at the end of a valley, and conveniently next to the trail outta town, sits the wee Les Contamines pumptrack. A bit different locally in having some copings and park features, but otherwise, a pretty standard pumptrack that runs fast and has lots of gaps slightly too big and intimidating for a usually injured and always feart rider like myself.

There’s also a mini-ramp half pipe, which is pretty tight on a 26”, and weeeellllllll slidey. But at least that means it doesn’t hurt as much when the inevitable happens.

Mini ramp for mini skills

St Gervais

St Gervais, Super good stepdown gap. Sounds great, should go. S.G.

If you can find it, it’s there. Behind the swimming pool. And it’s really good. Ok, if you’re any good at pumptracks it’s probably too small and easy for you, but for the rest of us it’s grand! Separate green loop for the balance biking weans, interwoven blue and red lines with nice whippy but short jumps, pretty much all with very forgiving landings. All this AND a really nice bowl just behind it, what more could you ask for?

Well there is a bonus “bikepark” about a km away in the woods, but I’d just stay at the pumptrack if I were you.

I like small bowls and I cannot lie


Try to find something nice to say about the Servoz track. It’s very convenient if you live in Servoz and is good for the weans to play on. Not really worth the trip, just go ride the freeride lines in the woods instead.


How I miss that Sidekick. And that t-shirt. And my thirties.

Oh Chamonix, how you’ve fallen behind. There used to be a wee dirt track next to the skatepark, but it got flattened and replaced with…. a flat pile of dirt. The skatepark’s ok, but really better for skating, it’s a bit tight with big wheels. There are a couple of trails that go well on a DJ/pumptrack bike, but trail rules apply so they shouldn’t appear on the internet unless the builder wants them to.

Les Houches

Coming soon…..(ok, maybe not soon. But coming. Or at least, it was in early 2022)


Matei in Megeve

Exists. Allegedly. I’ve not been yet, despite it being at least 5 years old, however our roving reporter Matei aged 5 has and tells me “it’s a bit clumsy made, I don’t think they knew how to make a pumptrack.” He does however like the adjacent bowl. And Combloux pumptrack.


Apparently there’s one in Flaine. Very close to Chamonix in a straight line, pushing it to get there in under an hour but.

Les Carroz

Rumoured to be pretty good, and with a wee skatepark and bowl next to it. Again, one to be updated. Like life, it’s a work in progress this thing.


Igor's got the goat...

A little off the beaten track, and none the worse for it. Next to a plan d’eau and a bar, there’s a lot going for the siting of this one, as we all know, location, location, location.

The track itself is a blue, red and black loop, with the blue and red being fairly standard affairs and the black being a bit odd as you need to transition in and out of the other lines to get it, and there’s some consequence to the gaps on it. And it has a wall ride, which is good to see.


Oosh, how good does that look!?!

The best pumptrack in the (not actually) y’aute? Mibbies. The nearest Velosolutions pumptrack to Chamonix? Almost definitely. I wonder if there’s a link there…

Anyways, a central 4 bowl thing is encircled by a longer pumptrack which DEFINITELY wants you to leave the ground, it’s pretty hard to make it round without getting your wheels in the air. Runs very very fast too. Loads of fun and loads of opportunity for weird lines. And can be quiet.

Plateau d’Assy

Second most scenic track, and we visit on an overcast day. Go figure.

Fresh in late 2022, the tarmac is still warm. Perhaps the only track to give Combloux a bit of competition in the best backdrop eva stakes, another Bikesolutions green-blue-red-deeper shade of red, with a bit of coping and module action thrown in for luck too.

With a fairly big area to work with and a slight amount of gradient, the PdA track is maybe the best in the Arve valley for the less brave and competent of us. Some nicely case-able step ups, a few good transition lines, super deep berms. Yeah, lot of fun. Should stay fairly snow free too being south facing and at about 1000m altitude.

To be updated as I get round to it, but if that infodump hasn’t got you pumped to ride in the winter, I dunno what will. (d’oh)

Crans Montana

Checks on checks. Is Swiss Canadian a thing?

Another week, another trip to somewhere new. Or new to me at least. A trip where Lorne and I got to ride jumps and proved that it’s quite easy to outsmart ourselves and end up trapped in a greenhouse. Which leads to today’s random topic to tag bike photos onto…

The eternal quandary of whether self perception of our abilities is accurate.*

Don't worry, you can just ignore the text and look at the pictures, everyone will understand.

Have you heard of the Dunning Kruger effect? Even if you don’t know it by its name you’ll know it by its nature. “A cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge.” It’s been in the news a fair bit recently thanks to the queue of individuals lining up for the job of running the UK, believing that because they’ve talked about the job, worked near the job, have studied subjects tangentially related to the job; have “what it takes.” And get brutally shown that they don’t.

Can you Si-on down to the valley floor there. Sion. See on. Geddit?

We all suffer from it to a greater or lesser extent. If you’re a guy then probably greater. Check out the 2019 YouGov survey where 12% of men reckoned they could take a point off Serena Williams in a game of tennis. Less reported from the same survey was 3% of women thought the same. Hot take take away, a missing rib** makes you 4 times more likely to be deluded. The more considered point (which only Serena would have been scoring) is that these people most likely had no experience of tennis beyond seeing it on the telly.

Probably the hardest drop I rode on any of the trails, but to a lay person probably the least impressive. Which tells us lots and nothing.

You see it out on the trail, and feeding the algorithm with endless Friday fail videos.

But before we all feel too smug, it’s pretty easy to have an inflated idea of your ability on a bike. You ride the trails you ride. If you don’t live next to a bikepark, and there’s a really hard trail nearby, it’s likely to be a walking trail and easy to write off as “impossible”. Unless you’re called Akrigg or something. Surely it’s not something that folk from somewhere else would ride regularly. Similarly, if you’re the best in your group of riding friends, then you must be good. If you’ve got nothing else to compare yourself to, well, why wouldn’t yous think you’re pretty good.

You’ve got the KOM’s to prove it and everything.

Switzerland. Does good backdrop.

A wee dive into the research of the Dunning Kruger reveals some lovely graphs illustrating study participants test scores plotted against their self assessed ability scores. These two lines show that the more competent the individual, the closer their perceived ability is to their assessed ability. Interestingly there’s a crossover point where the most competent folks assess themselves to be worse than their actual ability.

So, the better we are at something, the better placed we are to know how good we are at it?

Makes sense.

Little bit left, little bit right, ilittle bit weheyhey... Copyright The Fast Show.

How do we know if we’re well good or, well, deluded then? If it’s an activity with a competition structure then we could use that. Race DH against Loris Vergier and Anne Caro or BMX against Niek Kimmann and Anne Caro, or Enduro against Nico Voullioz and err, Anne Caro then you’ll know, in absolute terms, how far you are from the state of the art. And how much potential you have to improve.

Great, but what if you don’t want to race, or don’t know if you’re good enough to race, or are good enough to know racing rewards the fastest and fastest doesn’t mean best if you aren’t measuring fastest?

Not the fastest line, so is Lorne a worse rider than a beginner who'd just roll past?

How about if there’s a simple grading system? French rock climbing grades are an open ended numerical system starting at 1 and currently counting up to 9, with a, b and c used to split up each numbered grade. If you regularly fall off 4b, you’re not an amazing rock climber. If you’ve lead 9c, you’re probably called Adam Ondra. Everyone knows where they sit in the pecking order and there’s never ever ever any debates or argument about what constitutes a “good” climber.

There's climbing to Lorne's left. Grade irrelevant from the top

We’ve kinda got that in biking. Step up and take a bow please, ladies and gentlemen; the bike park.

The trails are graded. You ride a green OK, try the blue. Blue went well, let’s go to the red. Shredded the red, hit the black.

Good, with that problem solved, lets go to a bike park.


Crans Montana then. Somewhere I’ve ridden near loads, but never where you’re meant to. Anyone who’s been on a Bike Verbier holiday will have ridden Spanish, and it’s also the home to the Plaine Morte ride which is as easy an approach to a 2500m descent as you’re likely to find in the Alps. But I’ve never visited the bikepark. Barely even knew it existed if I’m honest until the EWS rolled into town to wreck the trails as advertising for a global audience.

So it did it’s job I guess.

Perhaps the biggest driver in visiting though was the 3 free days us lucky Chamonix season pass holders get. As ever the finances drive things. It’s the economy stupid.

An economic piece of trail, making fine use of the last bit of usable land.

The trip didn’t start particularly well. Using our free passes usually involves a visit to the sales desk, only we couldn’t find it. Eventually we wandered past the ticket barriers at the gondola up to Arnouva and asked the liftie.

Who basically just let us on the lift.

A hundred meter from the top of the gondola is the Cry d’Er chair where we repeated the procedure. The Cry d’Er chair is more evidence we weren’t in Chamonix. Luxurious padded seats, secure bike racks and a protective perspex dome should you need to hide from the elements. Getting off the chair there’s 3 bike park signs in front of you. Red trail right, Blue and Black trails left.

Pre ride, re ride, free ride and all that, we turn left for the blue trail.

Don't worry, not the blue trail.

Where the signs abruptly run out.

To be fair, it’s late in the season, winter snow will be here soon so I get why the signs might have been taken down, but it still took about 30 mins of randomly riding about the hill in a gradually downwards direction until we gave up finding a proper bikepark and just followed the trail with the most tyre marks on it.

Which took us directly to the start of the bikepark.

Turns out the blue and black start from a bit lower down the hill. We know what we’re doing right?

Blue. This is not a blue in Chamonix, not for many reasons.

Anyways. The blue. Mellow left berm into slight roll into mellow left into, oh, doubles. For a blue it’s quite full on. After a few more doubles the trail splits into the black left and the blue right. And it’s pretty good. You can ride the blue wheels on the ground and just roll every feature, or up the speed and play in the air a bit. There’s plenty of extra curricular lines if you’re feeling creative too. Very nice.

A short pedal back to the Cry d’Er chair and we were up again. Well, after waiting about for a few minutes for chairs with bike hooks to come round and instead studying the automated mechanism to drop the perspex cover down on empty chairs and keep the seats dry, we were up again.

The red, doing it's red thing.

This time we turned right, and had to go all of 20m to find the well marked start of the trail. Much more like it. Fast, open and bigger tables and jumps. We were really starting to get into the flow of things, Lorne leading out, me cruising along a bit behind. Until I hear Lorne stop then shout back “yeah, it should be fine”

What should be fine?

Well yeah, it was fine.

Turns out the jumps are a bit bigger on the red. A dirt step down was the feature that gave our first chance to stop, look, and then push back up. We kept on working down through tables, doubles, hips, road gaps and more until pulling up at a ladder pointing to the sky. I’d say a stairway to heaven, but music was the last posts theme so I won’t.

Lorne’s just back from a month in B.C. So Lorne got to guineapig it. Beautifully built big features are well fun. And pretty safe if you do what the trail builders had intended.

If you've got a really good imagination, you could probably piece together a jumpy bullet-time shot of us hitting this from other angles in the post. Lot of mental effort to be fair, I wouldn't bother myself.

Back to the lift, back to furthering our knowledge of the lift cover closure system, back to the top, back to the unsignposted traverse to the actual trails, and back to the black.

It’s starts easy enough, some proper gaps that you can’t case, but nothing too big, until you crest a rise to be suddenly faced with not flow trail, but a rock garden with, like, line choice and stuff. Just as you’ve recovered from that and are getting into the flow you suddenly find yourself on a wooden ramp several meters above a road and a few meters out from the landing. You might be able to ride that blind, but we needed a push back up.

And so continued the black. Slightly bigger features, but still really well built, interspaced with much more interesting riding than flow trail. The best section gets saved for near the end. If you’ve seen any Candide Thovex edits from the year France was closed, you’ll have seen that Crans is filled with canyon lines. Well, turns out it’s not just during winter these are in play. Definitely one of the most unique sections of trail I’ve ridden in a bike park.

How cool is this!!!! Crans Montana Canyon Magic

Which is kinda the problem with the simple grading system. It’s not that simple.

The features on the black weren’t a huge step up (see what I did there) in difficulty from the red, certainly compared to the jump (ha) between the red and blue. What made the gap (boom tsch) in grades was the technical bits inbetween which, for your average Chamonix/Tweed Valley/Finale/Other-not-so-jumpy-trail-destination resident was pretty easy going. Definitely not what we’d call black, or even red. The hardest stuff for us was leaving the ground. Is that a sign of a well aligned awareness of our abilities? Or mibbies that perhaps we’re no quite as good as we think we are?

And does it matter?

Frustratingly we never quite managed to get a blur free shot on this. The curse of phone cameras.

Maybe ignorance is bliss. If someone’s having the time of their yoloing life, hopelessly out of the depth but going for it anyways and getting away with it then, well, cool no? Or in more academic terms, does awareness of ability matter when misplaced optimism can lead people to experience their situation more positively and overconfidence may help them achieve even unrealistic goals?

Surely presence in the moment is more important, just enjoy it and not worry about ranking everyone relative to each other, deluded or otherwise. I think I’m happier creating a story for myself about my ability, it helps the gnawing sensation that life has limited purpose and meaning, perhaps never did, and that if we don’t make up something for ourselves then it all gets very dark, very quickly.

Of course that all assumes that the story we tell ourselves isn’t hurting anyone else, hold the deluded and underachieving politicians feet to the fire.

Another shot falls victim to the low light capabilities of the camera on my phone. Cool bot of trail but.

There had been plans to go for a bit of an explore and see what singletrack there was to lap from the lifts but, to be honest, we don’t get to play on bigger, well built features very often, and the sun was out, so we just kept the full face lids on and spent the rest of the day riding jumps, getting to link the features in full runs without the pushing back up the hill bit. And failing to find an answer to how to know where we sit on that Dunning Kruger curve of confidence v competence.

Last lift rolled round and we lined up one final time. By now we were pretty sure where the sensors for the lift lid closing mechanism were and, keen to test our mastery of the system, dodged the sensor and congratulated ourselves as the perspex cover smoothly lowered itself and we accelerated out the lift station. My, what experts we are at this. But it’s still quite warm out, so lets lift the lid back up shall we. Yup, just lift the lid. Maybe we need to push it harder?

Is there a switch somewhere?

Can you remember if it opens automatically at the top?

Where’s that Dunning Kruger curve again?

End on a banger? Didn't take enough bangers I guess, free content so don't complain too much. Fun jump but.

*I did have an environment thing all written to coincide with COP27, how a 0.32 degree rise of temperature seems like such a small amount to change but will have huge repercussions on the weather, just like how small changes in technique or approach can have have a disproportionately large effect on your riding. But it was so depressing I couldn’t post it, so cobbled together this.

**There’s meant to be one of my wee links in here to a religious explanation for why gender doesn’t dictate how many ribs you get, but then I read a few of the arguments and decided mibbies I don’t want any code associating me with that. So just use your own scientific arguments. Or imagination.

Also, this is another episode brought to you by the wonders of phone cameras, as there wasn’t ever an intention to end up with a blog, just the process of pushing back up after checking features kinda lends itself to taking photos.

Shepard Tone // Always Descending

Is this a music blog or a bike blog?

I like music me. Rubbish at making it, but I can still enjoy it.

Envious of those wistful lads at parties who’d sit down and start playing guitar to the adoration of all, I got my first real six string and tried learning to play. Mostly in the hope a certain someone would be impressed. In short, 1 thumb, 4 fingers, 6 strings just doesn’t add up for me, I barely learnt enough cords to play in a punk band, and she wasn’t impressed.

This is the always ascending part

I quickly realised that I’m atrocious at playing music and vowed never to inflict my attempts on anyone. There’s a name for people who persevere with subjecting their badly thought out and executed ideas on the world whether they like it or not. Politicians.

However, being rubbish at playing music doesn’t stop me loving listening to it. From the C F & G chords at the heart of punk to the modern complexities of composers like Anna Meridith, queen of the Shepard tone.

Lorne's tall, but not as tall as Mont Blanc.

The Shepard Tone I hear you say? Or at least for the sake of narrative construct I do. Yes, the Shepard tone. In the words of Franz Ferdinand (I’m not saying the only musicians worth listening to are Scottish, but….):

“Always and always and always ascending

Opening line leaves an uncertain ending

Always and always and always ascending

The chords seem to pause”

If you're going to pause, do it in the light.

Using a song about the Shepard tone to explain the Shepard tone is a little meta, but does the job.

Basically it’s a clever musical construct where you, the listener, get the impression the pitch is constantly rising, or falling, despite it being on an infinitely repeatable loop.

I'm not sure if I'm descending or ascending here, hence nicely fitted in next to the infinite loop line.

“Always and always and always ascending

The Shepard misleads so you think you’re transcending

Always and always and always ascending

Pause the progression”

Clever eh.

Ever been on a bike ride like that?

Oooh, look at the texture.

Like a song, you can start and finish a ride in the same place, or on completely different notes, but if it’s a human powered endeavour then chances are the ride is going to feel like you start by always, and always, and always ascending.

Before a bite of lunch and then a short descent.

You might have gone up and down the same vertical metric but thanks to relative uphill / downhill speeds, the time is skewed very much in one direction (who are not a Scottish band, see my point yet?).

Transcending not ascending along the Crete des Gittes

Normally at least.

Every so often you end up on a ride that has a little bit more creativity. The trail, the landscape, the conditions all combine to fool the head into thinking the infinitely repeatable loop is actually headed one way only. “The Shepard misleads so you think you’re transcending”

What went up gets to go down. Like the grand old duke of york, although he seems to be avoiding getting sent down unfortunately.

I’d be stretching it a bit to say the climb from the lac Roseland to Col de la Sauce felt like a descent, but being on a very pedallable mix of tarmac and gravel for 700m, then an engaging mix of pushing and pedalling along to the 2538m high point of the Crete des Gittes, it really didn’t feel like 1000m of height gain.

Perfect late autumn alpine weather and the familiar, but not overly so, views of Beaufortain probably helped. As did the occasional patch of snow, ice and frictionless greased rock. I guess you don’t notice your burning calves so much if you’re constantly on your toes.

Big hills biking

Time for a bite of lunch before a short descent. I had sandwiches, Lorne quiche. Lorne definitely won lunch.

We make a U-turn and start the descent. Apparently U-turns are all the rage right now. In reverse the Crete des Gittes is even better. Less time absorbed by the views, more time negotiating with yourself to compromise between a pace fast enough for your inner Kilian Bron, but slow enough to manage the odd patch of snow or grease next to an always and always and always steeper than you’d like drop.

Lorne on la Sauce

The Crete is just the warm up though, or an Anacrusis if we’re playing musical reference bingo.

From the Col de la Sauce the trail heads back north east. Nothing outstanding at first, but still a fine and fun example of that classic “narrow band of singletrack through alpine meadows” with strong backdrop and the occasional misplaced rock to keep you conflicted as to which you should be watching for.

We left the Crete a while ago, so long ago it's now on our right.

Crossing the Torrent de la Gittaz (why couldn’t it be the Torrent de la Sauce!?!) a couple of times, the trail starts getting more engaging, more interesting, with trickier little rock steps to manage and the occasional hint of exposure as the river starts to cut deeper into the valley floor.

The occasional flat or even uphill sections mean you’re not really burning that much height even if it feels like it.

A prelude of what's to come?

The Shepard tone makes its magic by using overlapping, looped, rising pitch (or falling pitch, but usually rising) scales which are played louder or quieter out of sync.

So, as one scale reaches its highest note and nears needing to have to start again from the lowest note in its sequence, it fades quieter to be overtaken by a louder scale that’s earlier in its journey to its highest pitch, which in turn fades out to be replaced by the next scale that’s gradually getting louder. Like the aural equivalent of a spinning barbers pole, or an M.C. Escher painting, or the Barrage de la Gittaz.

I really like this image, so it goes in. I could write something about it be allegory of the always ascending Shepard tone, but really, it's just 'cos I like it.

Our ride managed its magic by overlapping a mix of scenery, no stress environment and regular stops to record the magic onto memory card so that whenever we thought we were going uphill, a new distraction came along.

The sacrifices we make for your content.

Bikes are well gid.

Back to the trail and the unavoidable sense of the valley walls narrowing in on you stops you from having any time to spare pondering the intricacies of what happens when cognitive science meets music.

You can’t escape the feeling that the trail is building to something. I guess we could say a crescendo.

Trail, building. Very different to trail building.

But first, there’s a pause (caesura). One more river crossing, with the foundations for a bridge but no bridge, which feels like it should have been a musical reference but was instead quite literal.

After a dismount, quick game of wet-rock-hopscotch and sprachle back up the other side, we drop in to the main act.

What we came for. If you are a world class rider with a world class production team, you can make some great content here. The rest of us just have fun.

All good trails have something that sets them apart, it might be a particularly fine sequence of corners, an exemplary natural drop or an exquisitely picturesque ridge.

For the Col de la Sauce descent it’s an improbable rough-hewn trail, hacked from the side of a cliff, at points forming a barrel overhead to surf your way through.

Radical, dude.

Lorne getting bodacious, surf that grey wave bro'

Just don’t fall right.

yeah, don't fall right

It’s a cool bit of trail alright, but all good things come to an end (all bad things too I hope) and spat out the end of the tube you abruptly change tempo from 100% rock to 100% dirt and a fun line through the vegetation. So also a pretty cool bit of trail. Just don’t get too excited at the sudden lack of consequence and repeatedly try popping off rocks only to find in mid-air the landing isn’t quite what you were hoping for.

Aren’t modern suspension forks amazing.

Amazing how much a trail can change in the space of 100m or so, out with the rocks and exposure, in with dirt and flow.

We’re into the coda now, but still without doubt descending. Or at least as far as the plateau before the Lac de la Gittaz and a choice to be made. Ascending 150m over the Col de sur Fretes or 110m above the barrage?

We chose the latter, who doesn’t like a good looksee at a dam, but over the col is definitely the most direct way back if you’re doing a circular ride. You choose your own adventure, you do you.

Always descending. As far as the water, then it goes uphill again. shrug.

Like a song, you can start and finish in the same place, or on completely different notes. For all this trail feels like descending on descending, where the Shepard tone is infinite, hills ain’t.

“Don’t be concerned

It’s just the way that gravity works ’round here”


We could easily pick a note to end on, which in our case was a bar. Musicians have only their imagination as the limit for wherever they end their track, although I suspect quite a few end in a bar too.

Eitherways, a fine resolution to a fine trail.

An explanation. This was my first time in about 4 months using a "real"camera. My battered RX100 is on the way out and sometimes takes a few goes to work. We're mostly riding so you don't always have much time to get the camera out, on, set correctly, then shoot. I completely failed with the set up here, it could have been a great shot, but it's not. However, the situation is stunning, so I'll hide it here at the very end of the piece instead. Anyone got recommendations for a new camera?
An explanation. This was my first time in about 4 months using a “real”camera. My battered RX100 is on the way out and sometimes takes a few goes to work. We’re mostly riding so you don’t always have much time to get the camera out, on, set correctly, then shoot. I completely failed with the set up here, it could have been a great shot, but it’s not. However, the situation is stunning, so I’ll hide it here at the very end of the piece instead. Anyone got recommendations for a new camera?

A long ride around Mont Blanc

Leaving the house, 7am. It's not quite rolling out over the Florida Keys on a crawler transporter, but it's still a good backdrop.

At some point today, the Artemis 1 rocket should have been launching on the first stepping stone mission to go back to the future moon. Obviously, space travel is hard and complicated, so that’s been cancelled. Again.

The last time a human stood on the moon was the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, near 50 years ago. Before even that though, there was Apollo 8. In December 1968 the 3 astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to see the dark side of the moon. Apollo 11 gets the plaudits for landing on the moon, but Apollo 8’s hard, complicated, journey into the completely unknown was what made it possible.

This is not the moon. But it did feel a bit grey. Or maybe that was the climb...

It wasn’t easy. In 1962 Kennedy gave his famous speech ” We choose to go to the Moon in this decade….. and do things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Obviously, this was little to do with doing hard things for hard things sake and mostly because the USSR had kinda jumped ahead by firing man, dog and tortoise into space and he needed a big bold statement to put the U.S. back on the top of the world. Initially he’d thought of creating drinking water for the whole world, but later settled on shooting for the moon.

Which is where Apollo 8 comes in, as they had to shoot for the moon, and miss. By about 100km (or miles as those imperial heathens insisted on using)

This descent is very good.

The entire project is maybe the best example of what humans can do if you put enough clever, motivated people in a room together and throw lots of money at them. Or maybe the reason how a team of over 400,000 was able to achieve what most thought was impossible is that they were all simply too young and inexperienced to know it wasn’t possible. The average age in mission control was 28. Just kids. Can someone remind me again which generation seems to be doing the running in dealing with the climate crisis again? Funny that.

Places you don't expect to see a road bike. also, 7th July and this was the only bit of snow I had to cross on the whole ride. Not right.

The run up to Apollo 8 ‘s flight had been dogged by setback and tragedy. In April 1968 the Saturn V rocket still wasn’t working. Not just a little bit not working, the last test flight before it would be used for the manned Apollo 8 mission saw all 3 of the 3 stages that the rocket would use to get into space fail in one way or another. Despite this, with the deadline of putting boots on the moon by the end of the decade fast approaching, it was decided that something big needed to be done and something big would be to send a mission round the moon in a few months’ time, way ahead of schedule, way ahead of when people thought they would be ready.

Astronaut Bill Anders was asked by his wife what he thought the chances of success were. His reply: one in three that the mission worked, one in three they at least made it back to earth, one in three they didn’t manage that. Which isn’t great odds really, but still, on 21st December 1968 he said goodbye to his wife and headed to Kennedy Space Centre none the less.

There's something quite cool about going for a long journey on your own and getting to really see distance for yourself. Next col, somewhere far away at the end of that valley. Only in this photo, I'm looking back where I'd been.

Obviously he wasn’t alone. The crew of three, Frank F. Borman II, James A. Lovell Jr. and William A. Anders, should be as well known as Gagarin or Armstrong, Aldrin and Lightyear and definitely better known than Columbus.

Their journey might not have the first man in space, nor first on the moon titles, but the mission was there to prove it could be done. Think of it as the first time a couple visits Ikea. Sure the mission is only to get to the cafe and eat a Daim cake then return home without an argument, but the trip proves it should be possible to buy a full Billy storage system when they return next.

And it’s Michael Collins, not Buzz Lightyear.

Coffee stop #1 Les Chapieux.

There were computers in ‘68, they just weren’t very good.

More accurately, they just weren’t very good compared to what we have now. Unlike the people, who very much were very good compared to what we have now. It’s about a ¼ million miles from earth to the moon. To change direction in space you need to invoke Newtons third law; every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and fire a rocket a bit. Obviously every time you fire yon rocket, you use fuel, and fuel is heavy, and heavy is your enemy when trying to leave earth’s orbit, so you need to carry as little fuel as possible, so you need to make as few corrections as possible. Imagine a straight road a mile long and trying to line your bike up to go straight without corrections for the entire length of the road. Now try that for a distance two hundred and fifty thousand times greater.

If I just line the handlebars up a llliiiiitttttttttlllleeee bit straighter, I can nail that 250000 mile singletrack. Grand Col Ferret, dropping into Switzerland.

Not only that, the only way to make the trip was to use the gravitational forces of both the earth and the moon to slingshot the craft around the moon. All these forces, influences, vectors had to be calculated to allow the astronauts had to arrive at the moon at exactly the right angle; too steep and the moon’s gravity would pull them in and there wouldn’t be enough power in the rockets to prevent them hitting the surface (everyone onboard talked of their desire to have been the first crew to land on the moon, but presumably they all wanted to be the first crew to take off from it again and all) whilst arriving at too oblique an angle and they’d just bounce off the atmosphere and skip off into space.


So they kinda had to get it right.

Entry into Italy. Due to a failed front brake and a failing rear brake, descent proved more challenging than expected. But substantially easier than entering lunar orbit, so best not complain.

These calculations were all done by hand, well brain really, with the added stress that computer simulations really weren’t what they are now, so finding out if you’d got the numbers right wasn’t theory. Finding out if the numbers right would be if Apollo 8 came back after it went round the dark side of the moon.

Images from the far side of Mont Blanc

Being behind a big lump of rock meant there was no signal with earth. Those onboard would be alone, looking at a side of the moon never seen by human eyes, and with only a rudimentary onboard navigation computer and a sextant for taking course readings from the stars out the capsule window to know if they’d got it right. Those in mission control would be completely in the dark. And you thought the phone signal blackspot in the Argentiere basin made it feel a bit remote. Imagine sitting in mission control, with no radio contact, no communication at all, just waiting and watching the countdown clock for the estimated point signal would return as they came back round.

I had better computing power onboard in my pocket, it even took this picture, but I somehow doubt it's as robust or failsafe as what was on Apollo 8.

And waiting.

And still waiting.

And then signal.

The numbers were pretty much bang on and Apollo 8 was orbiting 100km above the surface of the moon. To mark this momentous occasion the first message to mission control went “Ok Houston, the moon is essentially grey”.

Stirring stuff.

Ok readers, the Grand Col Ferret is essentially grey.

Then, on the way to the fourth orbit, Bill Anders took one of the most famous photos of all time; Earthrise.

Listen to the radio recording, the awe in the astronauts voices as the earth comes up into view is palpable, the vision of the brilliant blue spec, this tiny planet, in the vastness of space. How alone it is. “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth” said Bill later. Which I guess mibbies shows that the whole Apollo project was just a very expensive way of proving what every Pixar movie since ever has told us. That the answer always lies within…

This photo is definitely not Earthrise, but it's my favourite from the ride despite many technical failings, probably because I kinda knew here that even though it was going to get dark soon, I was going to make it, and that maybe I was in better physical and mental shape than I thought I was, certainly than I had been a few months ago.

Eleven weeks ago I didn’t go to the moon. I didn’t risk my life, I definitely didn’t take any great photos, I didn’t need to tell my wife I had a one in three chance I might die. But I did try a big journey that I really wasn’t sure if I could do, and went round the dark side of Mont Blanc and back. Having been round, over and under Mont Blanc umpteen ways, I’ve wanted to try a day version of the Tour du Mont Blanc for a while now. I’ve also not really felt particularly fit after injuring my knee in the winter and, liking the comfort of knowing I’m strong enough for any day in the guiding season to take away some of the anxiety that I’m not good enough, giving the ride a go seemed a good way to either kill two birds with one stone. Or fail spectacularly and go back to rehab. It would be very boring to tell you about it, so I won’t, but I’m glad I did the ride and learnt a lot* plus hopefully it gives me confidence to leave my comfort zone again sometime.

I have history with the climb to Grand Col Ferret, this was no exception, 3 from 3 feeling like the wheels were falling off the wagon, figurative lowest point of the trip, whilst simultaneously the literal highest.

It might not have been seeing the entirety of the earth in a whole new light, but I did get to see the Mont Blanc massif in new way. Specifically, in a very dry way. After a low tide winter and one of the earliest heatwaves on record, the mountains look parched in a way I’ve never seen before. Actually, in a way no one’s seen before, unless Methuselah walks amongst us, as it seems we’re in the worst drought in 500 years.

Coffee #2 Val Ferret. Better than coffee #1.

And this could be a chance to complain and throw hands in the air and say something needs to be done by someone. And we should, near ¾ of global CO2 emissions are courtesy of only 100 corporations. In fact, your top 3 are Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), Chevron and Gazprom OAO. But we don’t need to just do that. If you stop eating beef once a week you’ll save about 350kg CO2 a year, which is roughly 0.1% of fuck all in the face of an estimated annual 23.5 thousand kilotons of CO2 from the U.S. military. Individual actions don’t really work, do they…? We’re near enough 8 billion individuals strong on earth. Imagine if we all did a little bit, if we all made some little changes, imagine the power we’d have then. The answer lies within, have you never seen Toy Story?

The bike had two water bottles, seventy-five grams of banana, five slices of high powered peanut butter and honey sandwich, a bag half full of banana flapjacks, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored cereal bars...   Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious food collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. With apologies to Hunter S.

*So one thing I learnt was that I’ve been pissing about with shit bike lights for too long. A friend hooked me up with some moonlight mountain gear lights, the bright light is laughably, ridiculously, bright. So I took the tiny wee light, and instead delighted in blinding any oncoming traffic that wouldn’t dip their headlights by giving them a burst of the full power 😆

And the rider said, Let there be light: and there was light. And the rider saw the light, and it was good.

Once upon a time in the Southern Balkans

Saddle up and head for the sunset, we've got a ridin' trip to write about....

“No time to explain, can you leave for Macedonia on Monday?”

Is not the exact message I got from Luke, but it’s probably only out by 4 words. Due to chain of events too arcane to enter into here, Luke was in the process of arranging a promotional trip to Macedonia and Albania. A crack crew of MTB journalists, photographers, tourism industry operators, guides, social media influencers and an actor were to head to Skopje for a week of magazine article shooting, promotional video interviewing and development of MTB tourism advising in the aid of promoting the new High Scardus MTB trail.

On Monday.  

Then Wednesday.  

Then Thursday.  

Welcome to Macedonia. Just above Skopje to be exact. Paris doesn't have trails like this.

We left on Friday*. 

Amazingly we all arrived, with bikes, on Friday too. Trundling out the covid secure space of Skopje airport into the evening light and waiting crowd, Dimitri was easy to spot. To be fair, with our lost looking expressions and massive bike bags we were easier to spot, but a smiling face, waving arms and “hey guys, you made it!” was hard to miss from his end too.  

Loaded into the 4×4 van that, unbeknownst to us at the time, would prove to be the greatest vehicle ever made and had even been spotted from the plane on the autoroute below (you can trust a bike guide to spot the shuttle rig from several km above) we headed to Skopje, unpacked, went for a donner about the centre of town (they do big fountains very well, and landlocked boats with political analogies) before heading for food with Dimitri, Stojan, Risti and Goran, some of the many folk behind the trip. 

Night time in Macedonia and Albania

Enough of the set-up, some riding. Day one trail one came after a long drive and a short pedal to the rounded peak of Skopska Crna Gora high above Skopje.

This was not a known trail.

In fact, this often turned out to be not a trail at all, we were on a scouting mission with some locals. There was a lot of an old trail in there, under the bushes and behind the trees. And once it’s been cleared out it’ll be pretty mint. Today though it led to a lot of scratching of any exposed skin. It didn’t only lead to that though, it also led to the village where the same local riders had laid on a lunch of epic proportions in Jorgos’s back garden.  The fire pit was already reaching the embers stage ready for the food to start grilling, salads and veggies were being washed and chopped in the water fountain, beers appeared from the fridge and toasts to the promise of future trails and trail building were made. 

Luke and Hugo making the magazine magic happen, day one trail one.

We weren’t done yet. The second trail came at the end of another shuttle, but now only because covid restrictions kept the telecabine closed. On Vodno hill above Skopje sits the millenium cross, which at 66m high makes it pretty easy to see where you started. It’s worth remembering too, cos this ride was a lot of descending on a trail straight outta Finale, all the way down to the capitol. That’s hard to beat!

Back into Stojan’s mighty van and a 2hr drive off to the Popova Shapka ski area where the Scardus Hotel serving staff had been kept up until 2300 to finally serve us food.

This was a pattern to be repeated.

Full value was had of our week.

Vodno hill overlooking Skopje. Macedonia definitely has one of Europe's cooler flags.

One of the many advantages of milking every hour out of a day is that if you arrive by night, the morning views are an unknown. All week the 2 token grumpy old Scots (that’ll be Ross and me) were put in a room together. As we eventually made our way down to the terrace to join the enthusiastic youth for breakfast we discovered we’d been transported to the Cairngorms.

Who knew the High Scardus trail went so far west. 

Turns out electricity and water DO mix just fine.

And then we rode e-bikes. Which was interesting and a fine example of what e-bikes are great at; covering big distances easily, turning steep fireroads into fun experiences and powering through unlikely river crossings. But will be skipped over in the interests of moving the narrative along (after saying a big thanks to Mihail and Metodi of Sharoutdoors for the experience and pointing out you should really, really check out their skiing options), and we fast forward to being back on our own bikes and Stojan leading the charge out of Popova Shapka headed for Tetovo far below. Yesterday’s yin and yan trails were kinda repeated. After a cruisy morning of battery powered assistance and scenic gravel roads we were back on singletrack.

It's June, we're in a cat and heli ski area. There's always some added adventure when you're amongst the first into an area for the summer.

Which was plenty fun, but we were finding the cultural distractions to be the real interest.

Article one, a recently abandoned ski lift which had taken folk from near town up to the ski area. Or had until in about 2001 the Taliban decided it was a legitimate target and bombed it. The only time we saw any sign of sectarian tension in the whole trip, and if you’re from the west of Scotland, you’re usually quite good at spotting that kinda stuff.

Article two, once down in Tetovo we headed to the colourful mosque of Sarena which was exactly what it said on the tin. No shorts, no uncovered heads so we assumed we weren’t getting a looksee, but the gardener was having none of that and ushered us into a serene space that could have been in Kyoto instead of Tetovo. Glimpses of women inside pointing out the window and laughing at us whilst the mosque cat ambled about hawking for attention only added to the experience. 

It's a colourful mosque

Back on the road for our next destination. Mountain Hut Caravets. A hidden wee lodge in another of Macedonias hidden wee ski areas. 

Some notes I made after tea;

Sat in a wee nook in the house, 12 round a table best for 8, we start eating. And drinking, as these go well together. Raki and aubergine sauces are the highlights. Chat moves between skiing and biking, which shuttle vehicle is best, cherry chocolates or mints, the history of Yugoslavia (complex and painful) opium and 9 other facts about Macedonia.

Throughout we eat. And drink. 

Hugo under a fine Albanian fez. 'Tash model's own.

Maybe it’s because we’ve all had a few days together that we’ve now relaxed into each other’s company, but after several days of luxury surroundings and beautifully presented (and delicious) food it’s in this rustic mountain hut with plenty of rustic but tasty food served by our hosts Vladimir, Sonja and an aussi/columbian volunteer couple that we all seem to have relaxed and gelled. 

Relaxing into company. Michel and Stojan.

The next days dawns a little fuzzily….

Macedonia claims to have 300 annual days of sunshine. This doesn’t mean that it’s out of practice at raining.

Today it is raining.  

Galichnik basket ball in the not yet rain.

However, we have a lot of photos to shoot and Luke isn’t one to let a bit of water get in the way. Team culture load up with Stojan and head off to enjoy the riding around Mavrovo ski area. Although still in development, by the time this bit gets published it will be home to a fully fledged bike park. Team media meanwhile get dropped in Galichnik and waved off in the direction of a scenic trail to Janche to go make the media magic happen. 

Fortunately we were doing it on a banger of a trail. I say fortunately because shooting photos generally means riding the same bit of trail ‘one more time’ many times as you try and get the light, body position and facial expression to the liking of the camera.  

Hugo nailing the facials and t-shirt, Macedonia does the rest.

Obviously, these things take time. Slightly more time, it turned out, than we had. The sky lit up with lightening. The air thrummed with thunder. We were stood up riding bikes and drowning. Soaked to the bone we floated into town, found the hotel, removed as many clothes as was decent, left them in a sopping wet pile at the front door and squelched into a hotel so vast and ornate it had a FIAT 500 as part of the dining room decoration.

We looked slightly out of place. 

In the absence of a photo of the inside, or us looking drowned, here's my bike outside the hotel drying off in the drizzle.

Next day. With Martin and me swapping duties as token EU bike guide, I joined Team Culture and Martin headed off for a day with Team Media. This was a good call. With locals Stefan and Viktor joining us, Stojan was a very excited lad about to lead the first ride of a trail they had been building.

Things started auspiciously enough with leaders of the flowy traverse sending two black bears scampering across the hillside. You don’t see that often… 

None of these animals are bears it's true, but given my proximity whilst taking the photo I'm quite happy about that.

The trail kept delivering. With a blank canvas of gently rolling hillside, Stojan and the boys had made that rarest of trails, something that’s fun for all standards. Scandi flick hip wiggles and small gaps if you’re running hot, supportive berms and open lines if you’re feeling a bit more relaxed. A pause at a wee village before we hang a right and hit the lower section. Similar vibe but this time in the woods and a little tighter, a little more technical.

And also, still with bears.

Stefan getting the fright of the day when he slaps a berm to be presented with Yogi sprinting off down the trail in front of him. He relinquishes leading the train for the rest of the ride.  

50:01 Teaching the world anglophone numerology one shreddit at a time...

We didn’t take much convincing to get a bonus shuttle back up for a second lap of the lower half, stopping only to coax team Media further down the hill so we could all head for a beer.

The light was going anyways.  

Ross heading away from bears one and two, towards bear three and beers one through three.. Who knew it would get this complex.

Let’s step to the side for a moment. If we just wanted to ride sick trails, we could probably have stayed at home. The Alps aren’t exactly short of options for that. So if we’d not gone on the trip because we were only interested in the trails, we must have been interested in the difference.

Differences like the dusty corner above the village we were sessioning for the camera that was soundtracked by the call to prayer.

Like cruising into the village after this, looking for a bar, high fiving every kid as we rode past before getting into the bottles of Zlaten Dab

Like taking a detour on the road to Albania to visit the Monastery of Saint Jovan Bigorski. 

Obviously not the monastery, but it's got a nice feel to it (well, mibbies no nice, but you know what I mean) and doesn't fit elsewhere, so here it is.

As Dimitri had already told us the story about him and his friends sneaking into the mosque as kids and swapping the tape of the call to prayer for a tape of Iron Maiden, we weren’t expecting a great deal of reverence for this visit. I guess it was a bit different. Conveniently as we walked through the massive gates we were greeted by an elderly monk with a beard. A quick chat with Dimitri later, where we discovered there’s no word in Macedonian for “Social media influencers” and we were granted permission to wander about and photograph what we liked. It still didn’t really feel right for me, so if you want to see what I’m describing, try this. Which has better photos than I’d take anyways.

This isn't the monastery, it's the colourful mosque and everyone fawning over the mosque cat. Chronological narratives are overrated

So after our introduction by the elderly monk, who it turns out is one of the most holy men in Macedonia, another brother proceeded to give us the tour, seeing the bones of John the Baptist and a shard from Christ’s cross (the gold standards of relics) and then the most intricate carvings I’ve ever seen in a church. Actually, the most intricate carvings I’ve ever seen ever.

Outside the shrine another brother walked up clutching a box. Expecting him to be performing some crucial administrative task, he instead wanders over and produces an ice cream from the box. Did we want any? They had too much and it was going out of date. 

You don’t get that in Chamonix. 

Off to Albania 

Albania. It's not all Merc's and poppies....but there's a lot of that none the less

Which was much easier to write than to achieve. Given these times of covid anxious travel, the formalities of vaccinated or PCR’d border crossings were easy, the issue was having to prove we were taking our bikes into the country, so we could prove we were taking them out again (strangely given Albania’s reputation, they seem keen not to let vehicles leave suspiciously. Entering suspiciously is just fine however….) Then there’s the general unease you get when held up at a dark border post when you’ve grown up in the Schengen zone on a diet of cold war thrillers. Like, is it really necessary to have such a long no man’s land between the last post of Macedonia and the start of Albania…?

Anyway. Into Albania we drive, and obviously the first vehicle we see is a Merc. 

OK, so this is actually leaving Albania in the sunshine and daylight not dark and rain, but there's still a bit of a feeling of unease for us Schengen zone folks

We’d been warned that the roads in this region of Albania weren’t quite the same quality as down by the coast. At least it kept average speeds down. We turned off the potholed main road onto a back street. We progressed through increasingly interesting lanes until we bumped off the tarmac and onto the gravel. Food and tonight’s bed can’t be far away?

Thirty minutes later, it still can’t be far away?

Forty five minutes after leaving the road we were starting to wonder if there was any truth in the organ harvesting rumours.

We needn’t have worried. After a truly heroic piece of trailer reversing by Stojan we were safely in Guest House Sabriu, our home for the next 2 nights. We sit down at the outside table to beer and inquisitive cats and assorted pancake delights and Raki and any tension disappears into another night of laughter and bad translations of the worst yet best jokes you’ve ever made.

A moment in time. 

We ate very well. Very very well.

We go off roading. Orgest, our Albanian guide for this leg of the trip, has a beast of a Russian made 4×4 jeep. Stojan has his Japanese 4×4 van. National pride is at stake. Orgest takes an early lead, buoyed by a combination of local knowledge and, perhaps more crucially, a huge rear mount bike rack as opposed to Stojans 10 bike trailer. Not to be outdone by the Russian bear’s lakeside driving, the Japanese, err, also bear goes for some 3 wheeled off camber. Things step up when tasked with a shuttle up to the top of Maja Grames at over 1800m.

I don’t care how extreme the shuttle driving is at Bike Park Wales, it ain’t this! 

Not bike park wales..... Off roading with Orgest.

Orgest wasn’t taking us up here just for the fun of the driving mind. Although that was for sure part of it. Nope, he’d promised one of the most diverse trails in Albania, along with their red hued version of France’s Terres Noires or Utah’s rampage.  

The last photo I got. Moral of the story, take a spare battery, and charge the ones you have.

About 30 mins after leaving the shuttle drop off the sky decided that this day of epic views wasn’t to be and started falling.


Then added in some thunder and lightning for full effect. Orgest (having passed control of his Russian jeep to Risti, who was looking forward to something a bit bigger than his usual quad bikes to play with….) wasn’t phased and simply opened the door of a heaped collection of corrugated iron and carpet that turned out to be shepherds hut. I wouldn’t want to sit out the winter in it, but for passing showers you couldn’t have done better.

Not only that, but it gave Luke, the actual photographer, and Michel, the actual actor, a chance to show the rest of us how content creation should be done. You wouldn’t think it was possible to make a mess of opening a door and looking intrigued, but we proved time and time again it’s a job best left to a professional.

My camera’s battery then died. 

Albanian rain. As well as being particularly good at saturating you, it's pretty pretty too.

Content captured and random puncture repaired we headed off. Sure enough the trail was exactly as billed. Fast and flowing singletrack traversing round the hill on a fast surface leading into increasingly steep but consistently entertaining fluted terrain of grey dirt. Then white dirt. Then red dirt. The downpour meant a fair bit of the trail was collecting colourfully on our downtubes and I’d be lying if I claimed there was great amounts of traction, but it was far better than what happens at the Terres Noires. 

Not only that, it kept going. We got lower and lower but the interest remained. Eventually the ribbons of red dirt through the lush bushes gave way to more traditional singletrack. What wasn’t traditional for us was the tortoise slowly traversing the trail. Bears and tortoises. If only David Attenborough rode. 

Obviously on a trip like this you’re getting to see the best of the smorgasbord of singletrack options available, but Orgest had dug out an absolute stunner for us, probably joint best trail of the trip and one of the best of the year too.

Macedonia not Albania, but see earlier comments about dead camera batteries and Dimitri enthusing about riding open steppes

And it still kept going. All week Dimitri had been raving about big open fields of grass to freeride across. I’ll be honest, none of us were really getting it. Can we just have some singletrack please.  

Riding four abreast, popping off rises and lips, freedom to turn and skip where you want, the landscape stretching out ahead of us…. We all got it. Honestly, just so much fun. 

Team culture. Some strong benefits to being in this team....

Being in Team Culture meant we hit the bar long before Team Media got off the hill, time to sit and drink the conveniently apposite Skopje and Tiriana beers, chat to colourful locals, listen to stories of Albania past and present and maybe future, and watch whilst the youth took goes at riding our bikes whilst hoping none of them got run over by the near constant stream of Mercs and Audi’ s cruising past our roadside bar. I think this was pretty much what we’d been looking for. 

Assorted kids definitely not trying to steal out bikes or cameras

It’d be easy to describe the riding in detail, but that’s not really the point of a trip away. Far more interesting was turning up at a 200 year old fortified house, drinking beers on the balcony whilst the fattest rain you’ve ever seen falls outside (rather than on you as usual) then listen to the stories from Lulzim, the house castle owner, of his great grandfather fighting off invaders before yet another incredible meal and night of raki and laughter. 

Beers on the balcony, sun and rain and yet no rainbow.

We don’t just get to travel through space to find the, to us, unusual. Looking back a year at the complexities of cross border travel through peak Covid seems bizarre even this close. Time that would be spent riding now saw us going for PCR tests to let us travel home the next day, strolling through the town of Peshkopi with Orgest explaining all the things a local can see and a tourist can’t. The way you could tell the period of communism a building was built in by the bricks, the hidden messages in the street art. And getting to eat in locals cafes, banter in broken English with the obligatory hoards of kids that appear whenever in an urban environment with bikes and cameras. We were all here to see and be somewhere different, Peshkopi delivered.

Ross and Ricki. Riste was the main driver for the trip and, well, when you first meet him he' a bit intimidating! But, honestly, there can be few more genuine, warm people on the planet, the man is an absolute legend and it was a real pleasure to spend the week with him!

The journey home is never to plan. Traffic problems, too long at breakfast, too long over lunch, too long to pack bags. We never got to do our planned urban ride in Skopje. Instead we got to chat longer and have more time to awkwardly say goodbye to the legends Risti, Stojan and Dimitri at the airport, plans made to see each other again, possibly sooner rather than later for those of the group who weren’t sure if they were getting back into Zurich airport….  

Skopje. The future looks good. For biking at least.

We checked in and were told to leave our bikes in a corner of the again quiet airport. As we got onto the plan the same guy told us the bikes were on the plane. Thanks for the personal touch, from everyone we met, I don’t think you realise how much it meant.  

If I could pick one image to sum up the trip, it'd be this one. Stojan saying bye to our Albanian host Sabri

This article couldn’t have happened without the trip, and the trip most definitely couldn’t have happened without the generosity and hard work of:

Active Experience Balkan – The North Macedonian based tour operator, also offering trips in Albania and other Balkan destinations.

– Association For Active Tourism. The tour operator, Explorer 2018 invited us on an 8-day journey in Macedonia and Albania to promote the trans national MTB product – Riding along High Scardus Trail. This project was founded by GIZ from Macedonia and thanks to their financial support we have the opportunity to visit these two countries, their people, traditions and culture

OHRide – The hidden MTB paradise in the heart of the Balkans

Ride the Balkans

And most importantly of all, Orgest, Rishi, Stojan and Dimitri who showed us experiences of their countries we would never have had without them and put so much effort into making the trip a success, thanks so much guys.

This article is also the kinda behind the scenes, less-about-the-bikes-more-about-the-place version of the story of the trip that’ll hopefully appear in IMB Magazine one day, which in turn was talking about Luke Jarmey’s piece in the ever excellent misspent summers work, Spent and MBUK. I know, complicated innit.

Thanks. It was wheelie good....

*When I say Friday, I mean Friday 4th June 2021. Yes, it’s taken a while to get this online.

The men, the myths, the legends.... The headgear! Dimitri and Luke, primary instigators of the trip, ready for the rain.


Lift openings 2022 // Third time lucky 

Loads of information about when lifts open in and around Chamonix, so obviously illustrated by a lift that's not featured in the article. #lazyjournalism

Remember 2016? Halcyon days now that.

2020; global pandemic, world in lockdown… still, at least it’ll all be over by Christmas.

2021; what another variant!?! What next, WW3, pfft.  

I guess we should learn not to joke. Go fuck yourself Putin 

Finale trail on point, weather on point, turn bar style on point, bright clothing on point, athletes facial expression......4 out of 5 is pretty good.

Assuming there is a summer here’s when the lift companies reckon they’ll open their lifts, gleaned from umpteen hours checking through websites and some emails. Or, of course, I could just make up a load of dates. Prarion is open from 1st May to 25th November. Boom. Who needs researched and verified information when you can say what people want to hear? Why accept being an adult sometimes involves things you don’t like and a small loss to you might mean a life saving change to someone else? The world isn’t what you want all the time. If only I could disconnect any website that disagreed with my newly made up dates and then the lie would be true. Doesn’t matter when the lifts actually opened, who’s going to go and check after all.

Support actual, free journalism. Social media is not a substitute. 

I think this was the first "winter sun" bike trip I've been on. Doubt it'll be the last

As for the last 2 years I’ll keep updating it if/when dates change (update score: 15/04/2022, 30/04/2022, 05/05/2022, 25/05/2022), but with any luck it’s not going to be as volatile as before.  

Why I’m invoking luck is anyone’s guess. 

Chamonix, from CdMB, but provisional dependent on evolution of government advice etc. etc.  

Bellevue: 11th June – 18th September (closing 2 weeks later than 2021)  

Flegere: 9th June – 11th September (closing 1 week earlier than 2021, opening a couple days earlier as replacement for Montenvers which is closing for works)  

Planpraz: 11th June – 11th September  (same opening as 2021) then 22nd October – 6th November 

Brevent: 11th June – 11th September (same opening as 2021) 

Tramway du Mont Blanc: 11th June – 18th September (closing 1 week earlier than 2021) 

Le Tour: Closed for 2022. Both lifts closed for replacement of the Charamillon telecabine, so only Vallorcine telecabine for uplift in 2022  

Vallorcine: 11th June – 11th September (opening 2 weeks early, closing 2 weeks later….but really just the same as Le Tour dates as 2021) 

Prarion: 18th June – 11th September (+ weekends from the 4th June, closing 1 week earlier than 2021) 

Grand Montets: 2nd July – 4th September (same dates as 2021 but crucially, 7 days a week not weekends only) 

An interlude, for Fiona and Tim to blast through some fine Finale singletrack. Wearing bright clothes, cheers for that guys!

Away from Chamonix you’ve got: 

La Thuile: 25th June- 4th September are the current dates, and no EWS this year to clutter up the season. 

Megeve: 25th June – 11th September. Megeve is really 2 resorts, so the Mont Blanc natural resort bit is staggered between 25th June and 11th September (1 week longer than 2021) and the Jaillet side is….still unknown. 

St Gervais: 25th June – 4th September (same dates as 2021) 

Les Contamines: 2nd July – 4th September. A week shorter than the last few years, but at least it’s still open. If more folks went there to ride mibbies it would stay open longer? 

Grand Massif: 3rd June – 11th September. Assorted start and finish times across the area, with a usual caveat that these are their target dates and it might change yet, and that not all the areas have decided when they’re opening yet. Les Carroz is go from the 18th June to 11th September, Samoens is hosting the Velo Vert festival over the first weekend of June, so it’d be grand if they’re open from then but it’s possible (likely…) they’re then closed until 25th June. Prove me wrong Samoens! Flaine is busy cancelling the Magland – Flaine lift that would have opened up 2000m+ bike descents, so we’re not talking about them any more 

Pila: 25th June – 11th September. The best bike park in all of the world, Whistler has terrible coffee, unlike Pila. Although it has published summer 22 opening dates, again, unlike Pila (although now it has, and I guessed right. Go me. Plus Couis 1 chair runs 30th July to 21st August)

Portes du Soleil: 29th May – 24th September. Morzine is first to put up its 2022 dates with 17th June to 11th Sept. Les Gets Chavannes side open weekends only from 26-29th May and everything open from 17th June, then 4th Sept to 18th September weekends only. Chatel is weekends only from the 10th June, then all the time from 24th June to 4th September, then weekends only again to 25th September. Champery and Morgins will probably run until late October, but that’s just assumptions, and you know where assumptions get us. 

Verbier: 4th June – 30th October. Weekends only from 4th June all the days from 16th June. Le Chable to Verbier is only open from the 2nd July, although apparently there’s going to be a bus replacement service… 16th July – 28th August for Bruson. Woop. 

Les Arcs: 4th July – 29th August. All the info now on the website, but crucially and early communicated is that there’s no funicular for summer 2022, just the sketchy-yet-better-than-nothing bus shuttles.  

La Clusaz: 2nd July to 28th August, and weekends only from 11th June and to 25th September. New addition to the table for 2022, here by popular demand, although hoping demand doesn’t make it too popular, fresh trails only stay fresh for so long…

Are we turning a corner in the political upheaval / pandemic / war? I don't know, but Martin was turning a corner in Finale.

Usually there’s a bit of a ramble here about some of the stuff we’ve been riding, what trails are in good nick, snow levels and all that jazz. Usually, but not this year. Usually I have knocked out 100+ days skiing in all kind of shitty snow without a hint of injury. Usually came to an end in late February with my first ever knee injury. This also put an end to what had been a pretty good winter of biking. Lots of pumptrack, some Finale action, good dry trails on slopes in the sun. The recovery is pretty much done but I’m being very cautious so the riding I’m doing is too boring to write about. So I wont. Instead you’ve had a selection of images from Finale in January, which was right good.  

Headed for aperitivo

And if you zoom in really close, you can see the martian surveillance ships gathering intelligence for the forthcoming alien invasion. 

Yeah Finale


Smells like Digne spirit* 

MTB ing at the Terres Noires and Evo Bikepark. What else do you want me to say SEO robots?

Cast your mind back to when you were wee.  

No, a bit further back.  


What job did you want to have when you grew up: Astronaut? Train Driver? Vet?  

I don't think Lorne ever wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, but he does look like he's on the moon.

I wanted to be a digger driver, possibly due to growing up on a housing estate in the process of construction. Then I went skiing and digger driving got binned in favour of being a ski bum. Few people get to say they’ve achieved their childhood employment dreams (could Buzz Aldrin dream of being paid to walk on the moon if the job didn’t exist?) but I’m happy to say I’ve ticked that box.  

November light is way way better than November rain. Just ask Guns n Roses. Or Patrick

Since as long ago as I can remember, the first snow of winter has got me well psyched. Not for the skiing right there and then, I’ve always liked my skis to remain mostly intact and don’t fancy blowing my knees out on a rock at the very start of winter. Nope, it’s the anticipation of what this winter could be that gets me. 

The first snows of winter fell on Chamonix last week and…. 

So what bikeparks have you ridden that look like this?

Well, kinda nothing.

I was happy from an environmental perspective that it can still snow, but really I just wanted to keep biking. Only now it was cold and everything about 1500m was covered in snow. 

This is definitely not Chamonix

Time to make like a migratory bird and head south. 

The Terres Noires around Dignes Les Bains and Evo Bikepark have been on the to-do list for a whiles. I’ve been to the areas over by Guillaumes but not their freeride cousins to the west. Plenty friends have, to varying degrees of success (top tip, don’t try riding Terres Noires in the rain…) and it’s hard not to be aware of Evo if you watch French VTT propaganda. 

The puddles were giving us the fear....

Arriving at the carpark two-ish in the afternoon after a five hour drive south, group enthusiasm was high. Arguably higher than the temperature which was hovering a bit above freezing in the sun and definitely below in the shade. Navigation wasn’t a problem, Fiona and Patrick had given it a go in the wet 6 months earlier. 

Apparently the trail is much easier without a body weight’s worth of dirt stuck to your frame and wheels.  

Fiona and Lorne trying to move at the speed of the dying light.

We pedalled up, and then rode down. The up was easy, tarmac and gravel road at an agreeable gradient. The down also started at an agreeable angle, fun singletrack through nicely spaced trees still in full autumn bloom.

And then, with no warning, we burst out into the open and a rollercoaster trail along a rib of dark grey (I’d say slightly darker than Zeb Ultimate, not quite as dark as a Lyric Select+. How else do we know colours?) wound, meandered, then dropped, in front of us. 

The world seemed a pretty good place at this point

The trail just kept doing this; flatish fast bit, steeper bit with trees, until we hit some jumps and drops to play on. Which obviously we stopped to do because, you know, jumps.

And the light was dead good for photos.

That lovely low golden glow you get about 30/45 mins before the sun sets.  

So this post has been brought to you entirely by the medium of phone photography. Which sometimes just isn't quite as good as real cameras, but I look pure dead good in this, so it's going in anyways.

Turns out we still had quite a bit of trail to go.

More than 30/45mins at least… 

It was still a lot of great riding, but the photo stops got shorter and less frequent as it dawned on us (or maybe ‘awareness set’ would have the closer connotations) that the sun was going to finish its descent before we did.  

I mean, you canny deny the light is stunning. And it's always good to have more trail to descend...

Turns out phone torches are of limited use for bike riding, but just about sufficient to stop you getting run over by cars… 

Some navigational faff later, we got to our Airbnb. Which is where I’ll give a big shout out for Beatrice et Gilles at Le Doux Coin. Ok, maybe not for the precision of their directions, but the welcome, the unlimited yogi tea bags, the coffee machine, the comfy beds, the local VTT trail knowledge, the tarte aux pommes and homemade croissants for breakfast all beat that. 

Day 2. By this point in their migration a Canadian Goose would be 2400 km south already. We just drove 6km to get to Evo Bikepark.  

Evo Bikepark. Patrick playing about on the dirtjumps whilst we wait for the shuttle van to turn up

Then sat in the car for a few minutes. It was warm in the car. It was not warm outside. 

Wearing pretty much every item of clothing in the boot, we got out and braved the park.  

Whip it. Not just about jumps. There's berm things too.

I guess if you don’t live in the alps, Evo is probably the kinda set up you’re most used to. A selection of battered vehicles trundling up a logging access road dragging an equally battered trailer behind it. For us used to chairlifts and gondolas, it was a novel experience. With 220m of height gained each lap you soon get used to it though. Depending on what trail you hit depends on how long it takes, but laps are pretty quick. 

Light bro. Last laps at Evo when trails and riders had defrosted.

The park stays in the shade through most of the day, which must be grand in the height of a southern summer, but in an early November cold snap it meant a lot of the corners were still just a touch too icy. The new French winter tyre rules don’t cover bikes, and summer rubber isn’t designed for ice, so keeping speed for the jumps could be a bit tricky. All the better excuse for casing. 

Whip it. A wee turn bar is obviously not a whip, but no one was watching when I was more sideways than Kade so this is what's getting run with.

By the afternoon both dirt and riders had warmed up and things were flowing better. The tech trails were all fine for us misplaced Scottish folks, but the black jump trails were a wee bit rich in taste for our case-ability.

Red on the other hand, braw. Whip it is as close to A-Line as I’ve ridden outside of BC.

We probably had the most fun on the blue Savage Train though. Mellow, low stress and well built. And just fun to be out in a (not particularly savage) train with friends as we all tried in our own ways to learn, or re-learn, what to do in the bit between wheels leaving and returning to the ground. 

Some people are good at blowing their own trumpet. Fiona learnt to play the fiddle however, so obviously never quite got the hang of brass instruments. It's always good to see friends progress and grow.

Will be back. 

When it’s warmer. 

In the present we had food to find and the multicoloured fountains of Dignes Les Bains to watch. Oh, the cultural highlights we see on bike trips. 

The classic it's steeper than it looks photo. Steep enough you wouldn't want to try walking down it in 5:10's at least

Day 3. The Great Snipe could potentially have covered 6800km by now. We did about 0.2% of that. Armed with a GPX trace from a friend’s previous visit and the hope that wearing just a t-shirt and shorts in November wasn’t going to be a mistake, we started pedalling up hill. Same story as Friday, lots of tarmac, lots of easy angled logging road etc etc.   

November in Alpes de Haute Provence. There's worse ways to go up a hill

The descent even started the same way. Albeit a bit better. Fast open trail through wide spaced trees resplendent in autumn orange. It almost felt Canadian, between the trees and the way the trail had been built up subtly with added support to keep the flow on the corners.  

Lorne's been watching Cathro's how to bike series. Can you tell?

Then we came to a halt.

You know that bit in a Pulp Fiction where the case is opened and eyes widen at the golden contents inside. 

Well, kinda like that. A playground of dirt lay below. 

Can you hear the choirs of angels singing?

I’m not sure I’ve had an experience like that on bikes before. Skiing is the closest, the times when we’ve quested about in the trees in the hope of finding something we’ve only really imagined, and popped out to the top of a perfect blank canvas of white and drops and slashes.  

I'm not a good enough writer to describe just how much fun we were having at this point. Many. Many funs.

The trail snaked through a labyrinth of ribs and ridges stretching far down into the trees. It was flippin’ amazing. 

Don't you just want to be here? Also, stands out great that yellow in photos, is it a good colour for a bike?

We could have pedalled up and gone again. If it wasn’t for our experience of Friday, and the drive home to look forward to, we probably would of. Instead, we dropped into the lower trails.

These were back to the perfectly worn in singletrack through the trees game. Only this time the dirt had dried to perfection, ridiculous amounts of grip to let you really push into every corner. The low light through the trees made everything look like you were riding in an advertising photo, only you were actually just ripping down a trail in a train with friends. Oddly, stopping for photos wasn’t a priority here, so use the imagination you’ve got and have a wee smile to yourself. Unless you’re reading this on your phone in company. Because then you’ll just look a bit weird and folk’ll start edging away from you. 

Smile if you're having fun. Or want to worry people...

Giddy with the shared stoke that comes with a stunningly good trail like this, psyche was high. There were a few wee climbs and changes in trail from hero dirt in the trees and the weirdly grippy grey shale that makes up most of the photos, but the trail remained consistently amazing.  

It is way more intimidating on the ground than it looks in the photos, the ridge isn't wide and slipping off would mean going a long way, but it's well addictive fun!

Hitting an open field of blind drops-to-flat on the grey shale where a trail that avoided the worst of them had been marked out (and obviously ignored) we all got away with some serious miscalculations.

So, obviously, instead of learning from this I took it a step further and hit the ground. Well, somebody had to do it.  Snow is definitely softer, and doesn’t take quite so many chunks out your skin. 

Looks fun eh. Turns out the grey stuff doesn't give much.

It didn’t really matter; the trail was still going and still grand. Finishing with a short section of switchbacks before dropping into the final cruise down the road, we were nearly ready for unironic post ride high fives. But we’re Scottish, so we just muttered something along the lines of it were good that and got on with packing the car to go home.  

Ok so the picture is from Friday evening, but it nicely conveys the end of ride going home feeling, so lets bung it in here regardless

The forecast is looking like stubbornly high pressure in Chamonix, it’s definitely not time to pack the bike away yet, but at some point sooner rather than later it is going to snow properly. The ski season will start. The biking will drop away. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, but if this was the last trip of 2021 it was good to end on a high. Oh well, whatever, never mind. 

 You can't see it in this picture, but the Airbnb cat is sat on Fiona's stem and she's telling it that one day, all this will be its. Hakuna matata y'all.

*Full credit for the title goes to Lorne, I’ll take the credit for writing 1700 words based on the closing 9 repeat refrain. Patrick and Fiona need to up their game when it comes to helping get words out onto paper. 

Park dug. Because bike life is just all about cute dogs and cats

I am just going outside and may be some time // La Grave

I considered "One foot in La Grave" as a post title. Glad I decided naw.

The year is 1912. Captain Scott’s mission to be first to the south pole is not going quite to plan. Having been beaten to the bottom of the world, they now face bad weather, worse food and multiple injuries. Knowing his gangrene and frostbite were reducing the remaining three member’s chances of survival, Lawrence Oates says those fateful words and leaves the tent to die in the storm.


Terribly English.

This is not Antartica. This is the Glacier de la Girose and a way better place to go for all manner of reasons.

We’re way past the Victorian era now (yeah I ken, it was the Edwardian, but the mindset of the stiff upper british lip prevailed. Still does if you ask the right tory) so going outside is just a good way to clear the head of demons. For some at least.

Not La Grave. A hut trip to Cabane du Mille in August. The riding was grand too, but the photos of the sunrise are going to impress you more.

I’ve had an outstanding 6 week spell of riding. Guiding on some amazing trails with great people, organising hut trips, hitting a prime selection of bike parks with friends, playing out in groups of 1 or 2 or 10. Almost every time someone in the crew has been able to progress or ride something they’ve never ridden before. Been watching friends achieve big things too, be it newly crowned Masters World Champ Emily Horridge casually smash the entire field or best of all, riding with Lorraine Truong, actual singletrack riding with Lorraine which can’t be anything but the highlight of the year.

It’s a whole lot of good, if you ignore a couple of unpleasant injuries and some broken bikes along the way….

Lorraine doing Lorraine. And hoarding all the headsets and Fox 38's in Switzerland.

Which confuses my poor wee west coast Scot brain. I’m a grumpy soul and all this positivity and friendship got a bit too much for me. Fun and enjoyment can’t be good for you, where’s the misery? What am I playing at just going and enjoying myself and doing a job that’s fun and rewarding when there’s so much that’s shite in the world and I could be trying to do something about? Why do I want to just play bikes to the detriment of all the other things in my life?

This is La Grave. Riding solo means just shots of trails. Don't like it? Tough.

Everyone seems to suffer from some sort of mental block. Makes sense, how many folk get through life never getting a stomach bug or injury? How exactly can you be expected to live your 3 score and 10 without the brain needing a lie down and a warm mug of soup occasionally? Being triggered by happiness is probably not that common, or at least I hope not, but variety is the spice of life eh.

Eitherways. After 6 weeks of riding with friends and having the time of my life, a ride on my own to look at hills and let my mind go where it wanted was needed.

This is a trail. Honest. Squint a bit, you'll see it. Just by the rocks....

Handy then I had a week in the Haute Alpes with Endless Trails MTB and the “bike park” of La Grave to learn. If you’ve no heard of La Grave you’re probably not that into skiing. I am into skiing, and La Grave has an almost mythical status for us lot.

La Grave in winter. Lorne and Fawcett head into La Voute....

This is summer however, and we all know how the ‘good in winter = bad in summer’ ski area rule goes.

In winter there's some grand tree skiing just here. Summer, just singletrack and a load of multi-coloured lifts.

I’ve put bike park in ” ” up there for a reason.

It’s not exactly a bike park.

I mean, there are trails built for bikes, but it’s not Pila. Singletrack with surprises…. There’s a few berms, drops and kickers, but they’re pretty rare. And unlike most parks, don’t assume every feature rolls or goes. I mean, it all goes, just mibbies not the way you think it should. There’s also no grading. Which is very similar to the winter La Grave. If you have to ask it’s too expensive can be translated to if you have to ask it’s too hard. Bring your A game or you’ll probably be walking at least a bit of every trail.

What are the trails like then? Pretty good.

Trails are pretty good. And not all about the gnar either.

First off you need to get up the hill, the La Grave lift system is just as idiosyncratic and interesting in summer as winter, but you get up there eventually.

The trails feel a lot like La Thuile did before enduro was cool (strong bit of I’ve been riding this longer than you superiority name dropping there). Rough because they’re rough, not because they’ve been battered into submission by a million Megaplowers. I made notes if you want it though, because I was kinda working after all, and professionals take notes don’t they? Goes something like:

Vallons. Scenic , ok.

Cote Fine. Favourite trail, almost fast and flowy. Almost. Huge fan all the way down, especially in the lower trees. Lots of throwing shapes and hanging off the back buzzing ass on tyre to get it round stuff.

Honest, there is a trail down here. It's the rocky bit. Chavala.

Avag One. Rowdiest trail, a lot of looking for an exit and holding on until you get there.

Desoutter. Tried to eat my stanchions, so that’s a black mark against it, but lower part might be better than lower part Cote Fine, so if you swap trail at that point…

Chavala. Aye, pretty fun. Has slabs.

King Stone Road. Well! I guess if you’re in La Grave you got to ride it. There canny be many “bike park” trails like it, the trail “Top of the World” wishes it was. Stunning ride in a stunning place, do it even if you’re going to walk half of it.

There. I feel like I earnt that carte prof now.

La Grave. Does good backdrop. Like a lot of places to be fair.

Anyways, the trails are pretty engaging. Which is exactly what I was needing. Somewhere to get lost in the moment and get to yon place where only the now exists and all those things that have been clogging up the head have gone leaving the simple joy of riding a bike as well as you can.

This is a La Grave liaison trail. One of the easy bits.

I also felt a lot better at the end of the day than I did at the start. There’s plenty to be said for a day moving at your own pace, making decisions based entirely on what you feel not your perception of what other people want, not having the nagging doubt that someone’s not having a good time or finding it too hard or just hates your guts and is only out because they didn’t know which way the trail goes. And a lot to be said for having the time to think all that through and realise you’re probably worrying too much, like almost everyone probably is, and just get on with life. Which it turns out isn’t fair, and has little interest in what you think.

Bikes are good for all that eh.

Mountains make me feel better. Usually. Other things make other people feel better. Usually. We're all different.

With any luck there might be some more content appearing here in less than 5 months. It’s not that I’ve not been writing stuff, it’s just I now get paid for it to appear in IMB magazine, and much as it’s nice to vomit words into the ether here, money is kinda handy.

What's your first coffee of the day outlook?