Who’s way?

Hidden, but not that hidden, trails

Five weeks is a loooong time to be off your bike in a Chamonix summer! In the past bikes have given me plenty of broken bones (which did generally heal) and scars (that chicks were disappointingly uninterested in) that have kept me away from sports for longer, but 5 weeks with what is basically a sore thumb has been pretty annoying. Still, thanks to the excellent work of the consultants and surgeons at Chamonix & Annemasse’s hospitals, and the brilliant physio from Neil at Clinique du Sport (what percentage of Chamonix residents go through their doors every year?) I can ride again.

Sunshine, trees, singletrack, roots. What more do you want?

Every cloud has a silver lining. recently that’s been that as trail running is the only sport I’ve been able to do, I’ve had a chance to explore lots of trails I’ve seen on maps and in photos and wondered if they’d work out for the bike, without the worry of having to carry a bike for a vertical km back up a hill if they don’t.

Previously Hugh’s way from the top of the Prarion lift to St Gervais has been our agreed best way down off the back of Les Houches, but from my running I now had a new idea, and despite having been on exploratory rides with me before, Lorne & Robbie thought they’d come along for the ride too….

The lifts are starting to close around the alps just now, but the Prarion’s running for another week yet, and the Tramway du Mont-Blanc is going until the end of the month. Of some concern to the hordes of DH riders milling about the base of the lift was the news that the new DH tracks are currently closed, though no information was forthcoming on why or how seriously the closure is being taken. Not an issue for us though as, following a scenic pee stop, we were dropping down towards Le Fayet.

Pee with a view

After not being eaten alive by the dogs that guard the livestock around this area of the hill, we took the hidden entrance to the singletrack. I’m going to be really irritating and not tell you where it is, or give you any GPS traces (though it tells me we started riding at 1842m and finished at 587m, with 61m of climbing along the way), but if you look at a map (IGN or Google), and have a wee think, you should be able to work out where it is. And it IS worth the effort having a look.

"Who's trail" Not a bad start to the ride.

The trail starts off not too steep and a really nice mix of loamy ground, roots and rocks. Unfortunately the roots and rocks were still a bit slick from last night’s rain, and Robbie took a wee tumble. With two 1st aid kits between 3 of us though, his main danger was overtreatment rather than bleeding to death.

Like BC, but blurrier

After the initial warm up, you get a brief respite traversing north on a fire road trail before diving off into the woods again on a very easy to miss bit of singletrack. I’ve not ridden in BC, but I’m pretty sure it’s similar to this next section. Wet but grippy, vibrant greens and deep brown hues all around and flowing singletrack but with drops and root gaps that you need fluent body English to negotiate without losing momentum.

Again, this eventually comes to an end and you have another short fireroad section. Good to give the mind a rest and a chance for a chat though, it’s not a race.

Leaving Montfort, by air.

The final section came from Tom of Chamonix Bike Book fame. Leaving Montfort you turn right off the main track on to an uninspiring looking track through a field. Very quickly you’re back in the trees though, and for the next 450 vertical meters or so you’re transported back to the best trails from the UK. Steep and fast singletrack though dead leaves and natural berms, with enough root sections to snap one of Lorne’s spokes and knock the chain out of his chain device.

Robbie getting loose

Before you know it you’re on the main road between Le Fayet and St Gervais. We could have just headed down on the tarmac for a fast burn back to the tramway station, or pedalled up the road to St Gervais and then taken pipeline back to Le Fayet. Instead we took the 650b choice and pedalled 5 minutes up the hill to join a trail down to Le Fayet by the tramway tracks. It’s not the highlight of the day and with more time I’d pedal for 10 minutes more and hit pipeline, but it’s still fairly nice riding and got us into Le Fayet with 5 minutes to spare before the tram departed, so pretty much perfect really.

Just like Scotland, but not.

As ever with the tramway, the days riding’s not over with the trundle back up as you still have about 700m to drop from the Bellevue station back down to Les Houches. With the old DH trails from the Bellevue lift station now had over 2 years without maintenance, they’re getting harder and harder to ride, so we opted for our usual choice of starting on the old DH track then leaving it after the berm section to join what is allegedly Cedric Gracia’s favourite Chamonix trail back to the centre of Les Houches.

"Who's trail" keeping the riding quality high to the bitter end.

It’s good to be back.

Boom, I'm back. (I was told not to put in portrait shots, but this one's too good to miss, cheers Lorne for shot!)