Les Contamines, no bad.

Les Contamines. Watch out for the cows.

After 2 weeks of near constant rain it seemed the Scottish summer was over in Chamonix. Four days of sun meant the trails were dry (mostly) and spirits were high (mostly). It also meant everyone had headed out to enjoy the trails.

Eager to ride some empty downhill trails, preferably with well built berms, a trip out of the valley was called for, and where better than Pila? Spence would even get to take his DH bike, and the rest of us could sit and eat ice cream or drink coffee.

I guess plenty of other folk had had a similar idea and the queue for the Mont Blanc tunnel was backed up at least 45 minutes, so we headed to Les Contamines aiming to meet friends instead.

This is Les Contamines

In an area filled with off the radar bike friendly lifts, Les Contamines is pretty much an unknown. Before the trip I found some info on the sole bike trail down from the top lift at 1850m to the base at 1180m, some second hand information that the riding is”pretty good” and, that’s about it.

Turned out the riding was indeed “pretty good”.

Just some of the no bad riding, Spence ahead of Nina, but who's going quicker?

The lift pass for the day is a cheap 12.60euro, though you need to pay 2euro for a magnetic card if you don’t have a spare one already. This gets you 2 lifts, the first a short 300m hop open all day and the longer second stage runs from 1500m to the top but closes 1230-1315.

todays weird bike-lift attachment method, "hook through the frame" or if you don't load your own bike, "hook through the fork stanchion!"

Spence had swapped bikes back to his normal all mountain bike and it’s as well he did. The single official DH trail is plenty of fun and, with no climbs, easily ridden on a DH bike but you’d be scuppered for all the other trails.

The official Les Contamines trail being attacked by Nina

The first lap was on said DH trail. Lots of nice berms, especially through the woods, no real braking bumps and good flow. It could do with some bigger features as we all landed flat from every jump, drop or hip, but I guess they’re catering for a more family market.

After the warm up lap we headed up the hill from the lift towards the Chalets de Roselette, before joining a narrow trace of singletrack through the alpine and down towards the valley floor. The trail was particularly good up high, mixing fast sweeping sections with some tighter rock gardens and gnarled old roots. As we got lower in the direction of Notre Damn de la Gorge the trail got steeper and more technical. Never unridable, but certainly demanding, before easing off for the final blast down to the back of the church and the short coast down the road to the telepherique and lunch.

High up in Les Contamines on the trail from the Chalets de Roselette

Some sandwiches in the sun later we headed back up the 1st of the lifts. As the 2nd stage was still closed for lunch we tried a trail running south from the lift through the Bois des Granges.

Spence in the early tech of trail 2 of the day.

It began with a lot of promise, very similar to the previous trail. Alas about 1/3 of the way down it flattened off and got rockier and rockier to the point where it was easier just to carry. We were starting to think it was going to be another average trail to chalk up to experience when the rocks finished and we were left with an amazing technical descent down through the woods and back to the road ready for another lap.

And again in the better lower section.

A few more goes of the DH trail later (we don’t get to ride well built stuff much in Chamonix ok), where Nina had had a massive superman over the bars and I’d ridden into the wrong end of a see-saw jump, we were ready to try exploring more.

Heading east from the top of the lift we dropped into the grassy expanse of the main ski area. A word of advice, don’t.

Another lap of the DH trail.

Nina on the 1st trail of the day.

With a storm on the way in and warnings from the very friendly lifties that the telepherique may have to close we went for one last long lap. Following our tracks we headed back to the Chalets de Roselette but this time turned right instead of left after entering the woods.

A chat with some locals earlier had confirmed we’d found several of the best trails, and told us that the trail we were aiming for was quite wet and had some tricky root sections. I’d gone selectively deaf when they said it was wet and only heard the bit about roots. I like root sections. In the dry.

Rocks n roots.

Fortunately the muddy sections weren’t too bad and on easy sections of the trail, whilst the roots were great. The track eventually spits you out just above (as in through the garden of) the Nant Borrant refuge, which just happens to serve ice cream, coffee and beer. It wasn’t perhaps the same quality as you’d get in Italy, but we weren’t in Italy and it tasted good enough for us.

Ice cream & beer. No more caption needed.

All that was left was the cruise down the Roman road back to the car, though calling it a cruise would be a disservice to the track. Rock slabs, drops onto, off and over the trail, wee jumps abound, and you have to stop by the bridge over the stream to check out the rock formations.

Maybe we’re not going to rush back, but I think we’d all go back pretty happily. Certainly worth a stop by on a trip for a day for some chilled out quiet riding. No bad at all.

Spence & Nina somewhere above Notre Damn de la Gorge.