Smells like Digne spirit* 

MTB ing at the Terres Noires and Evo Bikepark. What else do you want me to say SEO robots?

Cast your mind back to when you were wee.  

No, a bit further back.  

Better.  

What job did you want to have when you grew up: Astronaut? Train Driver? Vet?  

I don't think Lorne ever wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, but he does look like he's on the moon.

I wanted to be a digger driver, possibly due to growing up on a housing estate in the process of construction. Then I went skiing and digger driving got binned in favour of being a ski bum. Few people get to say they’ve achieved their childhood employment dreams (could Buzz Aldrin dream of being paid to walk on the moon if the job didn’t exist?) but I’m happy to say I’ve ticked that box.  

November light is way way better than November rain. Just ask Guns n Roses. Or Patrick

Since as long ago as I can remember, the first snow of winter has got me well psyched. Not for the skiing right there and then, I’ve always liked my skis to remain mostly intact and don’t fancy blowing my knees out on a rock at the very start of winter. Nope, it’s the anticipation of what this winter could be that gets me. 

The first snows of winter fell on Chamonix last week and…. 

So what bikeparks have you ridden that look like this?

Well, kinda nothing.

I was happy from an environmental perspective that it can still snow, but really I just wanted to keep biking. Only now it was cold and everything about 1500m was covered in snow. 

This is definitely not Chamonix

Time to make like a migratory bird and head south. 

The Terres Noires around Dignes Les Bains and Evo Bikepark have been on the to-do list for a whiles. I’ve been to the areas over by Guillaumes but not their freeride cousins to the west. Plenty friends have, to varying degrees of success (top tip, don’t try riding Terres Noires in the rain…) and it’s hard not to be aware of Evo if you watch French VTT propaganda. 

The puddles were giving us the fear....

Arriving at the carpark two-ish in the afternoon after a five hour drive south, group enthusiasm was high. Arguably higher than the temperature which was hovering a bit above freezing in the sun and definitely below in the shade. Navigation wasn’t a problem, Fiona and Patrick had given it a go in the wet 6 months earlier. 

Apparently the trail is much easier without a body weight’s worth of dirt stuck to your frame and wheels.  

Fiona and Lorne trying to move at the speed of the dying light.

We pedalled up, and then rode down. The up was easy, tarmac and gravel road at an agreeable gradient. The down also started at an agreeable angle, fun singletrack through nicely spaced trees still in full autumn bloom.

And then, with no warning, we burst out into the open and a rollercoaster trail along a rib of dark grey (I’d say slightly darker than Zeb Ultimate, not quite as dark as a Lyric Select+. How else do we know colours?) wound, meandered, then dropped, in front of us. 

The world seemed a pretty good place at this point

The trail just kept doing this; flatish fast bit, steeper bit with trees, until we hit some jumps and drops to play on. Which obviously we stopped to do because, you know, jumps.

And the light was dead good for photos.

That lovely low golden glow you get about 30/45 mins before the sun sets.  

So this post has been brought to you entirely by the medium of phone photography. Which sometimes just isn't quite as good as real cameras, but I look pure dead good in this, so it's going in anyways.

Turns out we still had quite a bit of trail to go.

More than 30/45mins at least… 

It was still a lot of great riding, but the photo stops got shorter and less frequent as it dawned on us (or maybe ‘awareness set’ would have the closer connotations) that the sun was going to finish its descent before we did.  

I mean, you canny deny the light is stunning. And it's always good to have more trail to descend...

Turns out phone torches are of limited use for bike riding, but just about sufficient to stop you getting run over by cars… 

Some navigational faff later, we got to our Airbnb. Which is where I’ll give a big shout out for Beatrice et Gilles at Le Doux Coin. Ok, maybe not for the precision of their directions, but the welcome, the unlimited yogi tea bags, the coffee machine, the comfy beds, the local VTT trail knowledge, the tarte aux pommes and homemade croissants for breakfast all beat that. 

Day 2. By this point in their migration a Canadian Goose would be 2400 km south already. We just drove 6km to get to Evo Bikepark.  

Evo Bikepark. Patrick playing about on the dirtjumps whilst we wait for the shuttle van to turn up

Then sat in the car for a few minutes. It was warm in the car. It was not warm outside. 

Wearing pretty much every item of clothing in the boot, we got out and braved the park.  

Whip it. Not just about jumps. There's berm things too.

I guess if you don’t live in the alps, Evo is probably the kinda set up you’re most used to. A selection of battered vehicles trundling up a logging access road dragging an equally battered trailer behind it. For us used to chairlifts and gondolas, it was a novel experience. With 220m of height gained each lap you soon get used to it though. Depending on what trail you hit depends on how long it takes, but laps are pretty quick. 

Light bro. Last laps at Evo when trails and riders had defrosted.

The park stays in the shade through most of the day, which must be grand in the height of a southern summer, but in an early November cold snap it meant a lot of the corners were still just a touch too icy. The new French winter tyre rules don’t cover bikes, and summer rubber isn’t designed for ice, so keeping speed for the jumps could be a bit tricky. All the better excuse for casing. 

Whip it. A wee turn bar is obviously not a whip, but no one was watching when I was more sideways than Kade so this is what's getting run with.

By the afternoon both dirt and riders had warmed up and things were flowing better. The tech trails were all fine for us misplaced Scottish folks, but the black jump trails were a wee bit rich in taste for our case-ability.

Red on the other hand, braw. Whip it is as close to A-Line as I’ve ridden outside of BC.

We probably had the most fun on the blue Savage Train though. Mellow, low stress and well built. And just fun to be out in a (not particularly savage) train with friends as we all tried in our own ways to learn, or re-learn, what to do in the bit between wheels leaving and returning to the ground. 

Some people are good at blowing their own trumpet. Fiona learnt to play the fiddle however, so obviously never quite got the hang of brass instruments. It's always good to see friends progress and grow.

Will be back. 

When it’s warmer. 

In the present we had food to find and the multicoloured fountains of Dignes Les Bains to watch. Oh, the cultural highlights we see on bike trips. 

The classic it's steeper than it looks photo. Steep enough you wouldn't want to try walking down it in 5:10's at least

Day 3. The Great Snipe could potentially have covered 6800km by now. We did about 0.2% of that. Armed with a GPX trace from a friend’s previous visit and the hope that wearing just a t-shirt and shorts in November wasn’t going to be a mistake, we started pedalling up hill. Same story as Friday, lots of tarmac, lots of easy angled logging road etc etc.   

November in Alpes de Haute Provence. There's worse ways to go up a hill

The descent even started the same way. Albeit a bit better. Fast open trail through wide spaced trees resplendent in autumn orange. It almost felt Canadian, between the trees and the way the trail had been built up subtly with added support to keep the flow on the corners.  

Lorne's been watching Cathro's how to bike series. Can you tell?

Then we came to a halt.

You know that bit in a Pulp Fiction where the case is opened and eyes widen at the golden contents inside. 

Well, kinda like that. A playground of dirt lay below. 

Can you hear the choirs of angels singing?

I’m not sure I’ve had an experience like that on bikes before. Skiing is the closest, the times when we’ve quested about in the trees in the hope of finding something we’ve only really imagined, and popped out to the top of a perfect blank canvas of white and drops and slashes.  

I'm not a good enough writer to describe just how much fun we were having at this point. Many. Many funs.

The trail snaked through a labyrinth of ribs and ridges stretching far down into the trees. It was flippin’ amazing. 

Don't you just want to be here? Also, stands out great that yellow in photos, is it a good colour for a bike?

We could have pedalled up and gone again. If it wasn’t for our experience of Friday, and the drive home to look forward to, we probably would of. Instead, we dropped into the lower trails.

These were back to the perfectly worn in singletrack through the trees game. Only this time the dirt had dried to perfection, ridiculous amounts of grip to let you really push into every corner. The low light through the trees made everything look like you were riding in an advertising photo, only you were actually just ripping down a trail in a train with friends. Oddly, stopping for photos wasn’t a priority here, so use the imagination you’ve got and have a wee smile to yourself. Unless you’re reading this on your phone in company. Because then you’ll just look a bit weird and folk’ll start edging away from you. 

Smile if you're having fun. Or want to worry people...

Giddy with the shared stoke that comes with a stunningly good trail like this, psyche was high. There were a few wee climbs and changes in trail from hero dirt in the trees and the weirdly grippy grey shale that makes up most of the photos, but the trail remained consistently amazing.  

It is way more intimidating on the ground than it looks in the photos, the ridge isn't wide and slipping off would mean going a long way, but it's well addictive fun!

Hitting an open field of blind drops-to-flat on the grey shale where a trail that avoided the worst of them had been marked out (and obviously ignored) we all got away with some serious miscalculations.

So, obviously, instead of learning from this I took it a step further and hit the ground. Well, somebody had to do it.  Snow is definitely softer, and doesn’t take quite so many chunks out your skin. 

Looks fun eh. Turns out the grey stuff doesn't give much.

It didn’t really matter; the trail was still going and still grand. Finishing with a short section of switchbacks before dropping into the final cruise down the road, we were nearly ready for unironic post ride high fives. But we’re Scottish, so we just muttered something along the lines of it were good that and got on with packing the car to go home.  

Ok so the picture is from Friday evening, but it nicely conveys the end of ride going home feeling, so lets bung it in here regardless

The forecast is looking like stubbornly high pressure in Chamonix, it’s definitely not time to pack the bike away yet, but at some point sooner rather than later it is going to snow properly. The ski season will start. The biking will drop away. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, but if this was the last trip of 2021 it was good to end on a high. Oh well, whatever, never mind. 

 You can't see it in this picture, but the Airbnb cat is sat on Fiona's stem and she's telling it that one day, all this will be its. Hakuna matata y'all.

*Full credit for the title goes to Lorne, I’ll take the credit for writing 1700 words based on the closing 9 repeat refrain. Patrick and Fiona need to up their game when it comes to helping get words out onto paper. 

Park dug. Because bike life is just all about cute dogs and cats

  • Chamonix Bike Blog

    Mountain bike blog for Chamonix and the Western Alps

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