A Saleve for the uplift blues?

A view to a kill....

After 2 weeks of pretty poor biking weather (grand for getting the ski season going though)  whilst the Brevent lifts were open, the skies have cleared and there’s been wall to wall sunshine.

Locked, loaded & ready to roll

And frost.

It is November after all.

Unfortunately the Chamonix lifts are closed so, always keen to let someone else do the hard work, we loaded up and headed out of town for some mid November lift access mountain biking. Got to love the alps.

Up above the streets and houses

45mins to 1hr from Chamonix and on the outskirts of Geneva is the tourist lift “la Saleve” You can buy a single uplift for about 6euro or for 43euro get a book of 10 passes which you can share amongst a few riders and are valid for 12 months from purchase. Bargain. The front face of Saleve doesn’t look too promising for biking, unless you’re filming for Where the trail ends but there’s a network of trails winding down from the top through some fairly unlikely looking terrain.

Jan, La Saleve enduro routeWayne straight line

When we arrived it was cloudy and freezing cold in the carpark, irritating as it was sunny and freezing cold back in Chamonix, however heading up in the lift we got through a cloud band 1/2 way up and into the sunshine. Still cold though.

Once at the top tracks head off in all directions with several popular XC bike loops around the top. We were here to ride down though, so crossed the road and followed the traverse path for a few minutes to where the proper trails start. Despite looking like unofficial tracks, the trails are marked with little bike symbols. Nevertheless, the turn-off from the road can be easy to miss. It’s about 100m down the tarmac road, on your right and a sharper turn than it first looks. Once onto the trail though, just keep following your nose! There’s a huge number of variations, if you want to get to the best of them, speak to a local (there’s plenty of them about!)

Jan: on the trail, in the trees

The top half of the main trail is a great example of what good trail building should be. Fast and flowing, despite the damp and slidy conditions, with well constructed jumps which look intimidating but ride smoothly if you commit. It gets pretty tight in places with tree gaps little wider than your bars, but the berms keep you on the right line and in the gaps. The limestone geology also makes a change from Chamonix’s granite with a bit more grip in the wet than we were all used to.

The lower section is very good in the dry… it wasn’t dry today. The claggy mud was sticking to everything it touched, leaving everyone with semi-slick tyres. Low speeds meant none of the many, many crashes were serious and generally it was easier to slide down on, or at least near, the bike than try to walk.

Jan guinea pigging the gap

As a contrast to the fast, full-face style tracks that take the more direct line down, there are some enduro-style trails that take a less steep line further east to the village of Monnetier. These don’t get ridden as much, and you can tell. The entrance, roughly 200m down the start of the main trail, which breaks off right was covered in leaves and without Wayne’s local knowledge we’d never have found it. Once on the trail the line was a little more obvious, but still well covered in leaves. Hopefully next time it’ll be easier to see where we’re going as it did mess with the flow a bit! To get back to the lifts, head through the village, cycling uphill (wouldn’t be much fun with a DH rig this bit) for about 10 minutes till you round a left hand hairpin and see the gravel road which you use on the main DH tracks on your right.

Robbie on the last section of the trail

The last section back to the gondola is common to most of the tracks. The trail starts as a walking path with singletrack cut-throughs to avoid steps made for walkers. Then you get to a long series of rock stairs cut out of the cliff with a fair sized drop to your right. fine in the dry if there’s no one walking up, but not even the local heros were riding them today! After this the trail gets interesting again, with yet more great trail building work.

Jan on upper sectionJan and Wayne main descent upper section

After a summer of riding trails in the high alps, Saleve feels almost like going back to the riding in the UK. Lots of trails built by locals with whatever materials are available, damp slidy dirt despite it not having rained for several days, lots of trees, except here you have a gondola to lift you 660 metres rather than a farmers trailer or pedalling.

Cheers to the trail builders for a great days riding.

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