Les Arcs: Putting the Fun in Funiculaire

It's going to be so yuge, we will never tire of winning. Ok, maybe we'll get a little tired of winning, but there will be yuge winning. I got Melania a card.

Ah spring. Where the days get warmer, the snow melts away, the skiing day gets shorter and the bike rides get longer.

Then we start moaning about having to pedal up the hill and look about for ways we can cheat and confuse the insulated gore-tex jacket wearing majority by cadging a lift up with them before everything closes until summer season proper. Some instagram based FOMO triggered by Emily Horridge and her shots of riding off the Les Arcs funicular prompted the car getting pointed south to the Savoie…

Where would you rather be, riding this off a lift....or skiing slushy bumps. Hard question that.

In the past I’ve tried to keep the blog kinda semi-relevant to the “Chamonix” bit of the title by writing about spots less than an hour from town. This got a bit stretched when the first Finale entry appeared, and pretty much abandoned when Whistler got tripped to. Still, I’ve driven to Bourg St Maurice in about 90 mins from Chamonix before, so I figured that it’d be fine to include, and also figured that if we were meeting Emily at the lifts at 11, then picking up Lorne and 9 and Toby just after should give us plenty time. Except, we’ve all got new bikes since I last tried putting 3 bikes and 3 bodys inside the car. And today I’m the shortest of the crew, not the tallest. And I forgot cars need fuel to move. And it turns out there’s more traffic during the day than at double espresso in the morning.

Anyways. 1hr late, we were ready to ride the funicular.

Bikes on a train. Bit more modern than the tramway du mont blanc train too.

You canny buy a VTT pass yet (it’s still winter mind) but handily the 19euro pedestrian pass lets you ride the lift all day, which is pretty much all day, 0800 to 2000. Good value that. A couple of minutes and 800m vertical later we step out into Les Arcs 1600 and head to the local trail everyone’s heard of.

Black 8.

Black 8. Lorne dressed appropriately, but forgot to give the bike the memo.

Everyone’s heard of it because it’s really good. You could probably spend a day just starting on the official trail and experimenting with the many variations each lap and not get bored.

The official Black 8 line was reminiscent of some of the Whistler bike park trails. Even when you didn’t know what was coming up, if you were riding at the right “flow” speed for the bit of trail you could launch off pretty much whatever you saw, safe in the knowledge there would be a landing more or less in the right place, a catch berm to steer you in the right direction, and everything would be just fine.

Emily hors-piste on (or off?) black 8

Well, until our last lap, but we’ll come to that later.

Yet more black 8 dustbowl goodness. Can you tell Lorne and I did one more lap? Just to get photos for y'all obviously. We got nowt out of it.

Like I said, you could probably lap the variations of Black 8 all day and leave feeling satisfied with your 19euro investment, but we were riding with locals, so obviously we weren’t going to stick to the marked line….

Heading away from the marked trails on a wee explore. Will you look at that sky! (Orbital, Fluffy Clouds anyone?)

We rode a wheen of trails. I’m not exactly sure which was which, but names getting bandied about as well as Black 8 included Brown Pow, Secret Garden, Secret Secret Garden, Secret Secret Secret Garden (so secret Emily had only ridden S3G for the first time the day before, and was already showing it off to us!) Little Losinj, Schlitten Land, No Brainer.

No idea what this trail was called. "Fun" would be a good name though.

This is a lot of names, which mean very little to anyone who’s not ridden there or is in on the joke, so you’ll just have to either go and explore yourselves to find them all, or give Emily a shout. Though given the number of other trails we were hearing about for the summer when there’s more lift options, you probably won’t ride all of them even then.

Crew! Riding solo's grand and all, but so's having a bunch of you out to share the fun.

One trail does stand out but, the riding if not the name. After a road traverse from the top of the funicular and a brief climb, we’d been descending a fun, if rocky, trail through the edge of the forest and out into the fields for a while. As we got lower, the trail got faster. And faster. With Emily up front and Lorne trying to hold her wheel, I was next in the train to guess at the line through the dust and dodge the flying rocks. You could argue it would make sense for us to have left more space between each other for a clear run, but where would the fun be in that? Rattling along trying to hold pace with each other, yelling encouragement/insults as appropriate, trying to find theinsidelines and kicking up as much dust as you can. Ain’t that what everyone’s inner MTB wean wants to do? Actually you could probably also argue we should have been riding slower and wearing layers of cotton wool, but that’s by the by.

Because dusty berms are fun. (though the aftermath isn't great for camera internals....)

With such quick uplift, and no need to work out where we were going, we kept lapping the trails, 800m drop at a time. We’d stopped for a sandwich and damn fine coffee (no, really, best coffee I’ve had this side of Italy: Pause Coffee) at lunch time, but that was about 5 hours and 4000m ago.

Emily testing if the woodwork survived the winter. There're so many wee lines dotted about the woods under the funiculaire

It was about now that I re-learnt the lesson I seem to have to re-learn every summer. That a full day of riding off the lifts, not eating or drinking enough, and loose terrain generally results in an unexpected encounter with the ground.

I remembered this as, on Black 8, a long root garden knocked me off line and into the air, just where you really should be on the ground and getting composed for a wee off trail kicker. Instead of rolling up the kicker, I landed on the last couple inches of the takeoff, got fired over the bars, and found myself heading headfirst for a large tree stump. Faced with a choice between arriving on the stump with my head (new helmet is about 90euro, heads are best protected) and absorbing the impact with my left wrist (nope, not going to happen) I came up with a cheeky parcour right hand flip off the stump. I was so busy congratulating myself on my ingenuity I forgot to pay any attention to the next bit which was where I piled into the rocks and logs of the forest upside down and left assorted bits of skin behind.

Still, first crash of the season out the way.

Look how happy I am, it's like I don't know what's going to happen in 5 minutes time.

That was kinda that for the day; bikes were starting to need fettling, bodies were tired, and we needed to get home, but plans were getting made already for a return trip once the lifts open again.

Toby. He wheelie wants to come back. Wheelie. Weely. Really. See what I did there?

Cheers once again to Emily and David for being grand hosts and showing us trails, secret trails, secret secret trails (you get the idea…) and where to go for coffee. If you’ve still not booked your alps trip for summer then you could do way worse than check out theinsidelinemtb. Don’t just take my word for it either, proper fast folk like it there too… And cheers to Lorne and Toby for the photos after I forgot my camera. Here’s hoping it’s the start of another class alpine summer.

Crashing, what a bummer.