How to ride a bike in Chamonix.

Chamonix. It's got lifts and sun.

“There’s no such thing as a new idea”. A phrase well kent in magazine journalism. You pretty quickly wind through the various permutations of articles you can write about bikes and, unless you are a genuinely talented journalist (and if you are, then the $ ain’t in blethering ’bout bikes), you start repeating yourself.

Even this intro is a repeat of an intro I used in 2014 to explain why I was repeating myself.

This photo is a repeat from 2013. It was a really good ride though, and just look at those colours eh! Worth a repeat I'd say. Aig des Houches descent with Lorne and Spence, October 2013.

To save it getting too meta, I’m not going to repeat the rest of that article, instead I’m going to spear off on a new well trodden tangent.

The ‘how to’ article.

At least this one is covering newish ground. I don’t think anyone’s written a how to go play bike in Chamonix piece before. So, without further ado (as in I’m boring even myself now), here is all the info you wanted to know but couldn’t find on the crime-against-marketing that is the compagnie du mont blanc website.

You use lifts to ride this. And a bit of pedal too....but not too much if you take the right route. Somewhere above Vallorcine, August 2015.

Lifts.

These are the lifts you can take your bike on, you can find roughly when they are open here.

Le Tour/ Vallorcine: Lift info here Mellow angled flowy riding on the whole, with some great stuff down into Switzerland

Grands Montets: Lift info here Limited riding, but some good trails worth a look none the less. Limited is a relative term in Chamonix after all. A wee fly in the ointment. The GM lift burnt down in autumn 2018 and is not scheduled to be rebuilt until 2020 or later. We wait with baited breath to see if the Plan Joran lift opens for bikes….

Flegere: Lift info here If you don’t like rocks, tech, or big views you’re unlikely to enjoy Flegere.

Brevent: Lift info here There is a LOT of riding from Brevent, but it’s all on the steeper, more technical side of things.

Les Houches: Lift info here The much overlooked, underappreciated hotspot of Chamonix biking. Huge amounts of trails with more being added all the time and also the gateway to the larger Portes du Mont Blanc area.

Tramway du Mont Blanc: Lift info here 100 year old lift infrastructure that works great for bikes, getting you back into the Chamonix valley

Then, not actually Chamonix, but covered by the “unlimited” Chamonix lift pass as well as the local lift passes you have:

Mont d’Arbois Petite Fontaine & Rochebrune: Lift info here The Portes du Mont Blanc are a bit like the whole Les Gets/Morzine area, but without any people and only a couple of purpose built trails.

Jaillet: Lift info here Riding out of Megeve, and with a maze of great trails underneath it.

Bettex St Gervais: Lift info here Home to one of the best greeny/blue flow trails in the alps.

Les Contamines: Lift info here Hidden away at the top of a long dark valley, doesn’t get the attention it deserves from aficionados of lift accessed big mountain scenery riding.

Another mostly-lift-but-a-wee-pedal-too trail. Who's Way way back in 2013. Lorne on one of the first goes on the complete line after piecing it all together.

Lift Passes.

So you know what lifts you can use, but what lifts can you afford to use? In 2018 you had 3 choices.

1) 22.00 euro VTT day pass which gives you a day unlimited use of the lifts at Le Tour OR Les Houches OR Grands Montets (except Grands Montets was closed to bikes for 2018, then burnt down, so really just the first 2 choices).

2) 32.50 euro gives you all of the above on the same day, but you need to get between the areas yourself.

3) 65.00 euro everything pass which means you can use all the lifts listed above, and the non bike accessible lifts too, so also the Midi etc. If you’re fitting bikes around tourism then this pass is for sure the best bet, and if you’re out for a week then the full area summer pass is actually pretty good value at 126 euro for 6 days, and worth getting for the access to the Tramway Mont Blanc and Portes du Mont Blanc region alone.

The lift pass prices page is hidden on the CdMB website here. Another option if you’re riding here a lot during the summer is the rapidcard, which is a one off purchase of 25 to 50 euro for the card, then every day you use it is much reduced compared to the normal daypass price, with the added advantage of covering the lifts that aren’t on the VTT pass so you can easily ride the Brevent/Flegere/Tramway lifts without a fight at the ticket desk….

If on the off chance you’ve accidentally gone to Chamonix for a full season, you’ll probably want a full season pass. Info for that is actively hidden on the CdMB site, it’s actually part of the residency test to work out how to buy the pass. Here’s the start of a breadcrumb trail for anyone who think’s I’m joking.

Shredding the gnar on Flegere on the remains of the old bike park. Cheers for the photo Toby, October 2018

Trails.

There are some restrictions on where and when you can ride a bike in Chamonix and surrounds, but it’s really not that hard, you just need to ask yourself one question: Is it July / August or not?

Brevent. Class trails, but only outside July & August. This would be September 2015, so not July or August.

No- then you can ride anywhere that isn’t the Aiguille Rouge National Park. The park is well marked on the IGN maps and with little posts on every trail that goes over the park boundary. Simples.

Vallorcine, Swiss side. Ride here whenever you want, there's no trail restrictions at any time of year.

Yes-, then Arrete du Marie 008576/2018 comes into force and you can only ride those listed tracks in the valley. This isn’t really an issue. All those other trails are covered in walkers and trail runners and you canny get any flow at all. At either end of the valley, Les Houches and Le Tour, you have some different rules. Les Houches only limits bikes on the “Grand Sentiers”, so the GR5/Tour du Mont Blanc trail from Bellevue. Fine, just use the recently resurrected DH track. Le Tour has the same limits on the Chamonix side, but the Vallorcine side is a different commune, so no stoppage, and the rest of area accessed from the lifts is in Switzerland where again, bikes are allowed on all the trails as long as you give way to walkers and don’t damage the trails. Saying that, the Tour du Mont Blanc route from Tete du Balme round to Trient has an unofficial ban (think like the voluntary Snowdon ban) during the busy periods of the summer. Fortunately it’s also not the best, or even second best trail round there, so it’s no great hardship to miss it out during July and August.

If all that’s too much hassle to deal with, you could always just hire a guide: Alpineflowmtb, guiding you to your new best trail ever.

It's on a sticker, so it must be right. Le Tour, August 2017.

Trail etiquette. Guess what. You ain’t that important. The town, authorities, lift company, none of them really give a shit whether you come here to bike or not. The biking euro is useful, but compared to the money brought in by walkers, trail runners, alpinistes and skiers… it’s nothing. So if one user group is going to get banned, it’ll be bikes.

Simply put, we are worth the least to the valley. So we kinda have to play nice and not give anyone the excuse to extend any of the existing restrictions. For 99% of the folks biking in Chamonix, this isn’t a problem but there’s always someone who doesn’t quite get it. A refresher if you need it; Say hello (or bonjour, salut, ciao, whatever you’re comfy with), smile, make eye contact, slow down when passing other trail users, slow down to a stop at the side of the trail if it’s narrow, don’t skid every. damn. corner, don’t make cut lines. And some of you really won’t like this but outside of the bike parks, maybe don’t wear a full face helmet. If you’re riding quick enough to think you need the extra protection, you’re probably going too fast for a shared use trail. If you are worried about the trail being too technical and you think you’ll be crashing lots on the way down, perhaps an easier trail will be more fun for you, and most folks walk at least one section on a long descent. A full face lidded, goggle wearing rider barreling down the trail is pretty intimidating and freaks folk out. But, if folks can see your face and make eye contact, conflict is way less likely. Almost everyone you meet is going to be friendly and encouraging, so please don’t give the 1% any more ammunition than they can already make up.

Or to summarise: Be nice, say hi. Don’t be a dick.

There's a simple way to avoid conflict with trail users. Go somewhere quieter. Waaaaay off the back of Brevent with Sandy and Wayne, October 2014. Come back Sandy!

Public Transport. 

Sometimes you want to take your mode of transport onto another mode of transport. In the Chamonix valley you can use both bus and train with the bike. The bike buses that ran from 23rd June to 2nd September in 2018 (similar dates each year) and are in practice free (best carry your carte d’hote) and take you from the town centre to the lifts at Prarion and Le Tour. You can also fit up to 5 bikes on the trains, or considerably more if no one is being a jobsworth, but don’t count on that. The train is free between Servoz and Vallorcine with your Carte d’hote, you have to pay for it from Le Fayet up to Chamonix or from Vallorcine onwards to Switzerland. You can check the train times here.

What’s a carte d’hote I hear you ask? Well, when you stay in a chalet/airbnb/hotel/campsite/whatever, the proprietor will charge you “tax de sejour” or a day tax for being a tourist in the valley. Part of what this tax gets you is a business card sized, umm, card which is for free transport in the valley. If you don’t get given this either your accommodation provider has forgotten, is cheating you out of money, or is not paying tax. Either ways, you should get a card. If you’re staying with friends the tourist info office will happily sell you a card for about the cost of 1 train journey, so it’s a fairly simple cost/benefit analysis to make.

When the lifts don't run there's still the train and valley trails. Les Bois, November 2018

Bike hire and repairs.

Sometime you break your bike and it can be fixed, sometimes it can’t, sometimes that super lightweight rigid singlespeed fat bike just ain’t gonna cut the mustard, sometimes you decide you want an e-bike. All and more of these issues can be dealt with at the following places: Slash, Zero-G, Legend CHX, Echobase

Can you tell what bike Lorne's riding? Do you think it makes a difference to this photo? It's the rider not the bike. En route to Nid d'Aigle, September 2013.

Other stuff.

What is the best bike to ride in Chamonix? Any bike you want really, but the Airdrop Edit is hard to beat… DH focused geometry without being a DH bike, 150mm travel at the back with a bit more at the front, solid reliable build but more than capable of going up the hill under your power too.

I’ve finished riding, where do we toast a successful day shredding the gnar? Anywhere that sells Sapaudia beer. Obviously. Which just happens to be Bighorn, Le Vert and Beckett & Wilde, with more to come…

Yeah, pretty blatant, but Airdrop and Sapaudia have both believed in me and this blog enough to help out when they have plenty of other things to be cracking on with (like making excellent bikes and fine ales), and that in turn is helping you out, so why not support them a bit too for the help you’ve just got.

Chamonix does this sort of stuff really, really well. It's worth a visit. Lorne below Nid d'Aigle, September 2013, probably the single best months 'big' mountain biking I've ever had.

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    Mountain bike blog for Chamonix and the Western Alps

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