A day in Italy

About 45 days ago in Italy, Hamish Frost having a good day on skis. It probably wouldn't have been as good on a bike.

There are many odd questions you get asked living in Chamonix. Where’s the lift to the Mont Blanc? Is it pronounced Chamonix or Chamonix? Are you a skier or snowborder? Which do you prefer; summer or winter? If you could only do biking or skiing; which?

Obviously these aren’t questions people are interested in the answer to, it’s just humans wanting to avoid silence and keep the distractions going, but the “if you could only…?” questions always intrigues me. Like, what freak scenario are you imagining that will leave the circumstances that would create only being able to ski OR bike?

I mean, obviously we’ve created a freak scenario where the alps might be snowfree within many of our predicted lifetimes, but apart from that…
Light at the end of the tunnel or train? I don't know. But I do know that almost all my rides outside the valley seem to involve tunnels these days.

Bearing in mind the impending environmental doom, was this acceptable? Some exceptionally rough calculations later (Renault trafic producing average 198g/km, Chamonix to Chamonix round trip 170km) I think we fired out 33.66kg / C02 in total, about 3.7kg / C02 pp.

This is equivalent to about 31 km commuting (single occupant at an EU new car average of 120.4g/km the average EU commute being 28.56km  ), 26 minutes heliskiing (based on the Eurocopter AS350 B2 with 5 passengers [so including the guide, not including the pilot] but VERY roughly [turns out C02 emissions for helicopters are quite complex so this is probably under]  so more than one drop, but not including your drive there from home), or a very very short distance of flying, like a really really short distance. I couldn’t find 2 airports close enough together to give an example but feel free to find something to prove me wrong!

This just gives some numbers to what we did, it doesn’t say if it’s acceptable. That’s up to you to decide. Is anything fair game in the pursuit of enjoyment or do we have to accept that all our actions will have a negative impact and we should stop breathing? I don’t know, but I know I feel less guilt that if we’d hopped in the spare helicopter. I can tell I’m losing you.

Hey Millennial. Yup. If you were born in 1990, that's how far the glacier has receded in your life. Photo taken 13/01/2020. Those wee dots on the glacier are people. Yeah, it's receded that far.

Birthday lad Ollie riding out that freak snow free scenario in style.

Anyways, the answer is generally thus. The average day biking is better than the average day skiing, but the best days on bikes don’t come close to the best days on skis. And the best season is the one you’re in.

So in the middle of winter, in a period of average ski days, Ollie’s message to say it’s his birthday and he’ll bike if he wants to was most welcome.

Light bro #shuttlelyfe

Load a van and head to Aosta.

Because in Italy it’s always sunny, the trails always dusty, the coffee always perfect.

It was a bit chilly at first, so we sat in a cafe for a bit. No complaints.

Aosta riding then. There seems to be a very Italian thing that lends itself to shuttles. Assorted sizes of roads weaving up the hills across the country, all with a convenient lay-by, pull in, kerb or dirt shoulder to stop a (invariably) Renault trafic and trailer in, and a cracking bit of singletrack just alongside.

Oh look, they even marked the trail for us.

On a crisp, sunny January morning it was hard to think of a better place to be. Cafe stop to start, foccacia and pizza in the bags for lunch then up the hill to the first drop off of the day.

Where does the trail go? Down. The trail goes down.

Obviously with a trailers worth of bikes (every bike a different brand, 3 wheel sizes, 3 frame materials, we’re a diverse group of white western males) that hadn’t been used for a couple months there was some faffage (1 punctured tyre, 1 punctured brake hose. Not a bad score for a days riding, good guy award goes to Emile for lending his shiny new Starling out to Martin so he didn’t have to skip the rest of the day), but not too much. A few more minutes for the obligatory pees-with-a-view, can anyone remember how to wheel and who’s got a new bike and can we all bounce up and down on it to marvel at how plush fresh suspensions feel like, and we were ready to drop.

Dynamic framing and agressive riding position conveying a sense of movement and urgency.

As 2020 has gone in heavy on the dry January front, the trails were running great. Dusty yet with enough winter frost glue deeper in the dirt to give grand grip. The leaf free trees let plenty of low sunlight through, sunglasses obligatory for much of the day. If you forgot that you were wearing a down jacket you could be fooled into thinking it was summer.


If you’re the gullible sort.

Just like summer. Kinda.

Ride down to the pick up, load up, back up, see who’s driving back down, repeat. Not quite as catchy as eat, sleep, ride repeat, but about as accurate.

Trains. So hot in 2020.

Not that every down was the same. Even when repeating the trails, the introduction of the “leader can’t cut” rule lead to surprisingly carnage free free for all down the most multi optioned trails. There’s something to be said for trying to ride a trail whilst staying on someones rear wheel, and simultaneously looking where the trails goes but checking where the trail doesn’t and you should. Who said we canny multi task.

Where's the cut line? About 3 meters to the right. Whaddaya mean you canny see it?

This wasn’t quite the strava cut fest you’re imagining. Above Saint Christophe is such a maze of trails that you can criss cross your way down the hill, all on a different line but all going in the same vague direction. Best to look uphill as you come into some of the junctions though, the Red Arrows ain’t got shit on some of our formations…

When the trail goes right but the lead rider chooses left... Team pile up.

Not every uplift was the same either. The highest point of the day was reached by pedal power, Renault Trafic’s can only climb so much ice. Worth it for the trail but.

Mediterranean or Alps? Definitely a train.

Basically, it was a day spent taking the piss out of each other, riding in trains at questionable safe distances whilst taking the piss out of each other, and standing about in the sunshine taking the piss out of each other. It’s the formula for a grand days biking and goes some way to explaining why the average day’s riding is so much better than the average day on snow.

Wayne aka ChamonixMTB, Chamonix's first French qualified UK guide drifting into 2020.

Now, who’s birthday’s next…