To the ends of the valley

Riding under the Tete de Balme chair

OK, it can get a bit insular here in Chamonix. The steep valley walls cut off any sight of the outside world and, as long as you’re only paying attention to mountain sports, then everything you want is on your doorstep.  It’s a bit of a change to look out of the valley occasional and be reminded that the outside world exists, but to do it twice in less than a week, madness.

To cut a long intro short, the bike ban’s started, so most natural trails are now out of bounds thanks to Arrête Municipale (n° 124/2004) which prohibits bikes from all trails other than those listed on it. You can get round this a few ways (click on the “bike ban” tag to see other posts) but pretty much the easiest, most sure fire way is just to leave the Chamonix commune and hit some other trails, hence the trips to Les Houches and Le Tour.

Luke getting to grips with the lack of grip

Les Houches was wet, and as a result, so were we. The trails down at this end of the valley are particularly clay like and things get pretty slippy pretty quickly when it rains. This wasn’t putting us or a couple of Welsh lads on holiday with big Lapierre DH rigs off, you just need to blink a bit more often to get the mud out your eyes.

Not the best shot I know, but when you see this wee chalet, hit the trail that goes past it's back door!

After a few front face laps group-think decided we should drop off the back and down to St Gervais on one of the longer “enduro” style runs. Great for us locals on our “enduro” style bikes, but hard work on a DH bike. Lorne & I had ridden “Hugh’s Way” last summer, getting lost near the top but finding the lower section fine. This time we found the upper trails (see photo above, it’s very easy to miss) but completely failed to get the turn off we’d managed fine last time. Go figure. Either way, it’s a good trail down to St Gervais and great to see some different scenery on the way down.

Some folk are just better at killing time

With 30 minutes to kill in St Gervais before the last tram we went to hit the skate park. If you’re in a similar situation here’s a top tip. Don’t bother. It’s surfaced with a frictionless surface and bikes are apparently not allowed.

From the valleys to the valley, Welsh lads on tour

With the Bellevue lift not running this summer due to cable damage the tramway is the easiest way to get up to that side of the Les Houches hill where the old DH trails started from. They’re in a fairly bad way now, but still worth the blast if you’re up that way. The new trails should be open in a week or so though. Hopefully.

Lorne deep in the Les Houches jungle

Fast forward a few days and Lorne & I are up at Le Tour. The weather is hot and sunny, the trails are dusty. All in all a pleasant change. We head up the gondola & chair, traverse round past the Col de Balme refuge to the Tete de Balme chairlift and are in Switzerland, neutral in the face of war, gold and bike bans.

The Catogne descent which drops down from here is one of my favourites, even more so at the moment as so much of the riding this summer has been deep in the trees, the alpine riding only recently escaping from the snow.

That's a full size Lorne in the shot, not a model

The pictures do the talking again here, narrow singletrack through open alpine terrain, before plunging into the trees. What’s not to like? Well if I’m being picky I’d say the Vallorcine DH track being closed, along with most of the land under the Vallorcine gondola, for the whole summer whilst work is done and that once back up on the Vallorcine gondola and having pedalled up to the Col de Posettes you can’t ride the Aiguillette de Posettes trail due to the bike ban. But that’s just me being picky.

But why be picky when you have trails like this

Instead the Le Tour DH track under the gondola is a reasonable substitute. It’s had some work done on it which has baked in well and it’s riding very well at the moment, definitely worth hitting for a few laps, just watch out for the livestock…

Finally, the bike bus has started back up for July & August, so if you want to save driving up to Le Tour, or just want to be able to ride back down at the end of the day, details are here.

The hills are alive with the sound of...

What next to escape the clutches of the gendarmerie? I feel a road trip coming on.

It's a hard life

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