Backpacks in the bikepark // Pila

Pila Bkepark. Toby's wearing a backpack in this shot, but you canny tell, so it's ok.

Ninety six percent of the human body is made up of just four elements; carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen*. As best science can currently tell us, the only way to form these elements is inside a star. The nuclear alchemy at the centre of a distant supernova, eons ago, created these atoms and flung them out across space. In the void of the galaxy, their tiny gravitation forces slowly drew them to other elements. Greater objects exerted greater draws and eventually they were pulled on the fused ball of spacedust we know as earth. Over further millennia these same atoms formed the building blocks of increasingly complex organisms. Bacteria, virus, plants, fishes, mammals. Finally, in 2020, these bits of actual stardust, form us.

With such an improbably fantastic heritage inside us, what have we been inspired to achieve? Mixed bag really. After that amazing journey to arrive where we are you’d think it would be easy enough to accept science as it is, you wouldn’t have folk claiming the earth is flat, that people of slightly different skin colour deserve to die on a beach, 5g gives you coronavirus and vaccines aren’t tested, all because it sounds too complex, too improbable. But we do, blame the solar system.

Any of the atoms in this picture, in the screen you are looking at it on, could have existed since the birth of the universe. Just have a think about that for a minute. Or 13.7 billion years.

There’s been some good stuff too.

Like Italy.

Coffee, ice cream, stylish engineering and Pila bikepark. These four elements may not be as vital to life on earth as C, H, N and O, but they compliment them well.

Mmm. Ridges. Been riding a lot of ridges recently.

So Pila, yeah, it’s all that.

Unfortunately I only really get to ride the lower section due to summer work clashing with opening dates but with the selection of atoms know as SARS-CoV-2 limiting that, best make hay whilst the sun shines.

Which obviously it always does in Aosta.

Bikepark. Why would you hate on this?

The bikepark gets all the attention on the socials, and it is right good with some new to me trails and features since I last lapped the Chamole chairlift in 2018, but if you can handle the fashion faux pas of wearing a backpack in the bikepark then the stuff you explore to from the lifts but outside the tape is every bit as good…

Not the bikepark. Why would you hate on this?

Traverse from the top of the Chamole chairlift along a newly built blue flow trail and you’ll quickly arrive at the Couis 1 chair. Assuming it’s running (it closes Sunday 23rd this year) and you’ll then slowly arrive at the top.

Really slowly.

Took us 30 mins bottom to top, so it’s just as weel the views are good. They get even better at the summit as the Cogne valley unveils itself below and your eyes get drawn to the ridgeline stretching out towards Aosta town.

Said ridge.

You can ride that ridgeline, and if you like ridgelines you should. Then you too can take photos like these.

Look like your cup of tea?

You need to make choices though, turn off left to ride to Cogne (we didn’t), keep going all the way along the ridge to join walking trails 23 and 21 to the valley floor (again, we didn’t, you had to climb a bit, too hot for that game), or turn off right to rejoin the Desarpa trail that winds it’s way back to Pila for more coffee and more fun.

Pull up and look optimistically at the backside. It;s a still so no one will ever know if I made it.

After dingying a climb at 2600m altitude, we instead climbed from the top of the Chamole chair at 2300m. The air was a bit denser, or we were. Either / or.

It’s just a short climb to the Lago Chamole though, then another short climb onto the Testa Nera ridgeline. Definitely got a thing for ridgelines these days.

Chamole muddy funster. (now that is a niche joke)

Again we eschewed the classic choices for a bit of exploring. Where normally you’d turn right for long descending adventure or left for a quick and enjoyable return to the lifts, we went straight.

Then wandered about in circles a bit, turned around, went back to the junction, tried going straight 10 meters further to the left, and found what we were looking for.

A little overgrown, but still grand riding.

Unfortunately it seemed no one else had been looking for a while as the trail was a wee bit overgrown and unloved. A shame as the basic shape of it was classic Aostan gold but them’s the breaks.

And it really wasn’t too shabby where it wasn’t too shrubby.

Still a long way above the valley floor (trademark Alpineflowmtb Guiding) but heading down quick.

Assorted trails later we were at the valley floor, where it was too hot to hang about so headed straight back up again and stayed up high until the lifts closed and we figured we’d have to head for home.

Via ice cream obviously.

From Chamole to Gelato. It sounded better in my head.

Pila; we are stardust, we are golden.

There's a trail to the right, but it's better to join it a little further along the ridge.

All pictures of me taken by Toby, on his bloody phone! All pictures of Toby taken by me on a Sony RX100 which I’ve gone back to playing with the dials on and as a result most shots are out of focus, over/under exposed, too grainy/too blurred. it’s a learning process.

Ciao Pila, grazie mille.

*Of course, these elements don’t just create life, they can destroy it too. Take the next major threat to life you’re going to be hearing lots about: dihydrogen monoxide. A clear, tasteless acid which turns up in nuclear waste, acid rain, fossil fuel power plant fumes and even in human cancers. It can corrode metal and rock, and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 350,000 people a year, yet is found in most food stuffs and drinks. There’s several petitions desperately trying to raise awareness and get this poison banned, hopefully at least one will get some traction somewhere.

Emosson dam / Things are generally better than you think they are.

Dams. They look so solid to us yet barely register on the timescales of the landscape they impose upon. Silly humans and their concepts of permanence.

Here’s a question for you*:

In the last 20 years the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty** has?

A) About doubled
B) Remained about the same
C) About halved

Whilst you ponder that one, here's James right at the tippy top of the trail this blog is ostensibly about.

A, obviously.

How about this one then:

How many of the world’s 1 year old children have been vaccinated*** against at least 1 disease?

A) 20%
B) 50%
C) 80%

Here's another thought provoking image of the descent. Good mix on this one.

Again, surely A isn’t it. Depressing but that’s how it goes. Certainly not C. What optimistic fool would think that?

Optimist or pessimist? Over the rise is the best trail you've never ridden or 25 meters drop to pointy rocks?

So yeah, it’s C. Both times. Don’t worry, most people get it wrong. You’d assume by the wonders of multiple choice averages then about 33% would get those questions right, but no, its closer to 13%

And your education doesn’t seem to help either, apparently that last question has a strong correlation where the better your education, the more likely you said A. Which makes sense, as you’d be more aware of the complexities of creating, storing, transporting and administering a vaccine that needs to be kept refrigerated at all times and delivered by highly trained professionals.

Things are about to get dark.

Why’s this? I don’t really know, but clevererer folks than me think it’s because there’s a lag time between your education and your current place in the world. What you learnt at school was probably right(ish) 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago but the world has moved on. It’s just your knowledge that hasn’t. You imagine that because you were taught about famines and corruption and destitution in many regions across the world, things haven’t really changed. If a country can’t feed their population, how can they have a refrigerated transport network? Well they can by having moved on over a 20 year period and now most citizens live a lifestyle similar to the UK not that long ago. In general, on almost any metric you care to use, the world of right now is a better place than the world of your school days. Things really are getting better.  So essentially, before making a flash judgement on something, you need to check what the state of the art is and re-assess your existing knowledge. Then crack on with your whataboutisms that the statue is there because of his philanthropic work and historical context, not the other dubious bits. Like, why else would you want to keep the statue of Jimmy Savile?

It's dark, but keep heading for the light.

Bikes then Graham, how are you pulling this back to bikes?

Way, way, way back in the '90's there was a rider called Jez Avery who's signature move was the "Switzerland Squeeker". It didn't look quite like this, but then not much in the '90's did.

Weel, a similar thing happens with trails. You might have ridden a line on the map 8 years ago, but mountain geology is an active thing, trails change, work gets done to make things less or more rideable. Riders change, our tastes change, our bikes get better. Basically, you need to go back to places every so often to see if the situations changed.

This trail will have changed over time. So has the rider. That's life, life is change, the absence of change is the absence of life. I guess we should embrace change.

Years ago I more or less wrote off Emosson Dam as being not worth the effort of biking except the classic line from the dam to Martigny. James got in touch to see if I wanted to try and find a trail he’d heard of over Emosson dam way. I was fairly sure it’d be ok, just not worth the effort you’d put in to get there, but I’d not seen James in ages and playing bikes is only ever an excuse to catch up with the amazing people that ride them. So I said aye, where shall we meet and a day later we’d both taken the same different train and were sat in a cafe in Finhaut drinking coffee out of antique tea cups whilst a giant cat pinned me to the chair and a road climb in the sun waited for us.

No Mr Brickell, I expect you to die!

Long story short, turned out to be a great trail. It wouldn’t have been a great trail 15 years ago because my bike would have broken on the way down (twice) and I’d have broken on the way up if I’d tried to pedal something that would survive the down.

This is not the most hardcore bit of the down, but it still caught both of us by surprise!

We explored a bit, we turned around from the first attempt due to too much snow, we found the second plan, we sessioned a few bits, we looked at dragon flies, we rode some great trail, we talked about all sorts of shit.

Actually, that’s not praise enough. It really was a good trail. We chose not to ride a couple of short sections, partly because we are now old, partly because even though both of us are happy to represent for bike companies that produce bikes we really like (obviously mine is better though, covid compliant fist bumps to Airdrop for the new Edit which has taken the baton passed to it by my old Edit and Bolted down the hill) we don’t want to replace those bikes too often and big piles of rocks do shorten bike lifespans when you drop them into it.

Like a bridge over funiculaaaar, Switzerland takes trails seriously.

The upper section had the most bike threatening terrain, but past the initial couple hundred meters of descent things mellowed out and it turned onto one of those trails that you know is older than your grandparents yet somehow was built with 2020 bikes in mind. Tight switchbacks but with supportive berms, assorted small lips with perfectly placed backsides to aim for, rocks that roll or launch depending on your preference. Like I say, really was a good trail.

Impeccable form on display by James here,just look at those dropped heels and hip-hinge.

It’s the trail between the dam, Gietroz and Chatelard. That should give enough clues to tempt you away from the increasingly busy Chamonix without taking away too much of the fun of updating your knowledge.

Seconds after taking this photo, that giant dragonfly grabbed James and flew off towards Mont Blanc. No one's seen him since.

*If you’ve read Factfullness then none of this is news to you. I’m confident most of you haven’t, so I can get away with stealing content.

So many notes that I get to split them with photos. Through the portal we go.

**Extreme poverty is generally defined as living on ‘less than a dollar a day’ but that’s based on 1996 prices, so the world bank considers, for 2019, that extreme poverty is living on less than $2.16 a day. In 2018 an estimated 8.6% of the world lived in extreme poverty, in 1998 24% which is closer to thirded than halved, but there’s plenty room for error in the stats. Unfortunately, and in opposition to the general aim of this piece, the predictions are that for the first time in a very long time the percentage of people living (perhaps surviving might be a better term) in extreme poverty looks set to rise due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Which is shit. And also a reminder that the restarting of economies in the rich nations has knock on effects world wide if we stay with the current global economic model, or that if the world is going to change to a new more human/less $ focused system then we’d better do it quick sharp as time really is running out for a lot of people. Don’t worry though, the ultra rich still got richer so that’s good isn’t it.

18/07/2020 Also, just to clarify and I should have had this in originally; Things getting better isn’t the same as things being good. 8.6% of the world living in extreme poverty whilst the richest 26 people in the world hold 50% of global wealth is a fucking disgrace and needs to change.

Mmmm, steep tech fun.

***Interesting facts for all you die-hard, or at least die-of-preventable-illness, anti-vaxers: the very first vaccine was made in 1796 to neuter smallpox, a disease that was eventually eradicated thanks to that thar vaccination. Regrettably no double blind study was carried out 224 years ago, we had to wait over 150 years for that to start happening, but it does happen. Seriously, how can you believe despite all the evidence that these vaccines are unleashed on the public untested, how does that great conspiracy theory run through governments that can’t even get the trains to run on time?

Light dark light dark. Are you picking up on the subtle themes running through this post or do I need to lay it on more thickly?

Queyras

Queyras Natonal Parc. Or Flowy McFlow Face.

About now I should be busy working, showing riders mostly from the UK or US around amazing alpine trails that I know really well. But, whilst life is a fair chunk of the way back to normal here in France and most of Europe, the UK and US are taking longer to control the pandemic and a summer biking holiday isn’t on the cards for most folks.

Lots of other MTB guides are in the same boat, so we’re off exploring new trails instead.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto. Fun fact, Toto the dog was paid $125. a week, the Munchkins between $50 & $100. (allegedly)

Somewhere a little over four hours drive from Chamonix is a mythical place where the food is cheap, the sun shines 300 plus days a year, and the trails are the golden flowy perfection of bike magazine covers.

David angling for a cover shot. I don't think the blog is quite the same.

No, not Italy, the Queyras. And conveniently Emily of The Inside Line was headed over there to scout out more trails and get some quality #content to use to persuade the world that they should be booking a holiday with her to ride said trails. Which is why last week I packed up the car and headed south over a road bikers dream of cols. Dream / nightmare, the cols Telegraphe, Galibier, Lautaret and d’Izoard are things of legend. One for another day.

Going uphill. Heat doesn't rise, it's just everything sweats when it fights gravity.

As the trip was for a mix of searching out potential new trail gold to mine as well as filuming known trails there was a lot of working around the golden hours of early morning and late evening to get the perfect lightbro. I hate mornings so was happy to be starting out at the respectable time of 5pm to go and bag our shots.

What goes down must go up. Like the graph of a second wave.

Sure enough, an hour or so of pedalling from the Col d’Izoard later we were above a mountain lake, staring towards distant mountains that framed a sinuous snake of singletrack, and bathed in soft evening light.

Oh look, singletrack bathed in evening light.

…and discussing how best to shoot it. Which usually involves riding the same bit of trail several times over to get footage from umpteen angles whilst I alternate between washing out the front wheel and forgetting to turn when I reach the corner. Pattern set for the week.

Shooting done we could enjoy the hundreds of meters of flow through the forest, and move on to the carpark that would be home for the night.

A different day and a different descent, but it carries the mood.

Sun comes up, time to ride bikes again. We pedal through the ever so slightly odd village of Abries, and up tarmac then gravel towards the morning’s objective. Slightly odd, very odd might be better. For reasons none of us felt like exploring, Abries has chosen to populate the sleepy streets with assorted stuffed mannequins performing the mundane tasks of everyday life. Whatever gets you through lock down.

This is not a trail above Abries. Well, it kinda is, but not the trail currently being talked about.

Every meter pedalled was a meter away from the village and towards our trail however. A lovely thing of a trail. Starting up by an idyllic alpage, swooping serenely alongside a meandering river, in and out of copses of trees and meadows of alpine flower, round a mellow unsighted corner, into an obligatory gap jump drop over sharp spiky shale.

Said gap over said shale.

It was a slightly unexpected change in character, mibbies the unstable terroir explains some of the unstable mannequins? Eitherways, it was dispatched and photographed and we continued on past churches and yet more flow. A reminder that alpine trails pretty much always have a surprise of some sort for you.

David on trail, Emily piloting drone to get video, Graham hiding under the eves of a church out of sight of the drone getting snapshots. It's how the magic happens.

If the morning’s trail was about getting footage, the afternoon was about checking out a promising looking line Emily had seen on the map. Without the shuttles you have when guiding it was going to be a bit of a pedal, but how bad could it be really?

Up some road, then some gravel road, then some 4×4 track, we should be able to pedal all the way to the top. And we could, but it was definitely a bit more than any of us had accounted for. Talk turned to trail snacks, peanut M&M’s, Bombay mix. All our food was long eaten.

"You can't eat beauty" which is a shame as chowing down on the view back to the climb would have been really welcome right about here.

No matter, the views were grand and we traversed happily round from the top of the climb to the start of the descent. What did matter was the trail had washed away. A work around was found, and lo, it was flowy.

Light's not quite right here, but the mountains look mint in the background, and there's just enough dust getting kicked up to give you an idea. It was a right good trail.

It stayed flowy. From wide and open top, into thin, then thicker, trees. Snaking straights with sick hairpins. Seen just enough traffic to have a bike line worn in, but no danger of brake bumps. Banger all the way to end. Best trail I’ve ridden in a long time.

We got back to the van under cloudy skies and destroyed every unattended salted crisp, peanut and beer bottle in the van.

A shot from earlier in the day, when it wasn't quite as hot.

Another morning and blue sky again.

We were going for another explore, a look into the unknown, but with the comfort blanket of sections of the trail having been visited before. Known unknown’s if you like. After yesterdays unknown unknowns we stocked up on stoke, food and drink. That mistake wasn’t being repeated.

This shot was taken from a shaded bench where I was eating my sandwich and drinking water I'd just got from the fountain 5 meters away. It's a wonder we left.

The climb was hot and sweaty, 1250m of up in the middle of the afternoon so you can summit in time for golden hour is only ever going to be hot and sweaty, but with some picture perfect wee hamlets to stop in and some stunning cols to admire the views from, it could have been a lot worse.

If you're going to climb, you might as well do it somewhere picturesque.

Even better, the trail to the 2500m summit that looked pretty marginal on the map turned out to be one of the most rideable bits of the climb. A rewarding bench cut track working its way round corners that kept revealing more views and more interest. The reccy bit of riding is where it’s at. What’s over the next ridge? The joy of exploring that got so many of us on bikes as kids.

Bike in high place. Some fine product placement of my Airdrop Edit.

No matter how agreeable a climb, 2545m is 2545m. A semi derelict observatory post was a fun distraction, but we all needed the rejuvenating powers of cheap sugar and e number laced sweets to get us ready for the descent.

And whit a descent. Bit loose up high on the grey rock, but fun. Contouring round the hill inbetween hairpins. From the Col de Fromage a wee traverse drops into a Queyras classic. Maybe a few too many rocks on the trail to truly call it flow, but shit tonnes of fast straights and just supportive enough corners.

Part way down the down.

Turning off the worn line to cross a bridge and the trail changes character. Less angle but still just enough for you to pump more than pedal. A lot more than pedal. Beautiful swooping balcon trail through a stunning forest with lush grassy forest floor. A briefest of shower from the clouds that had been building all afternoon couldn’t ruin the mood, just improve the light. Sunlight dappled through the trees with beautiful rain drops.

This is actually much higher up, but without the go-pro footage of the stunning forest trail, it's the closest you;re getting.

It ended back in the village, 10m from the ice cream selling gite. Result, best trail I’d ridden since yesterday.

We packed up the van and headed on out and up.

Col Agnel is the 2nd highest paved col in France dontchaknow. And has view things.

Camped nearly at the top of the Col Agnel, we were poised to be at the top of the climb in time to catch the light whilst getting started as late as possible. At nearly 2700m the air is pretty chilly and a little thin, so we were all a bit tired and grumpy by the morning. We pedalled up the last of the road towards Italy, then over bog, path and snow up to the Col Vieux and the col view.

This is the reality of shooting stuff. Being up so early the sun is weak enough to stare directly into.

This last big trail was one Emily and David knew well, so the surprises were all mine on the way down and with about 1300m to descend there was plenty of opportunity to surprise. Even once we’d left the high alpine and settled into what felt like familiar Queyras flow territory the trail turned into a cobbled highway. Not one of your nice flat cobbled highways either, a wall to wall wtf of rounded stones at all angles and heights. Pick a line and stayed loose.

Pick a line and stay loose. Top technique advice for pretty much any terrain you choose.

We cruised back into Abries where we’d left my car days before and headed for morning crepes only the cafe was closed, so coffee it is and on to the next village for a boulangerie lunch.

Before lunch. Long before lunch. We can't even see lunch from here.

The weather hadn’t quite broken yet, so why not try one last unexplored line highlighted on Emily’s map. Traverse for 20 mins then fast fun through a burnt forest reclaimed by a carpet of flowers. But with the odd (very odd) slab and tech to keep you on your toes. Fitting end.

A slab of definitely not gabbro. More of a drop than you;d like to riders right.

Driving home the weather finally broke. Not far up the road to Col d’Izoard the thunder started to be accompanied by lightening, the spots of rain became a torrent became hail. The road went white. Or yellowy brown. The Izoard is possibly the most beautiful col I’ve been over, but not in a storm when the slopes get washed across the road. Where were those 300 days of sunshine now?

If you move quick enough, you'll stay in the light.

Lifts in a time of Corona. Lift openings 2020

La Mole October 2019 // A big cloud coming to swallow our future.

Nope, never read the book. Or seen the film. Never found the time really.

Normally by now I’d’ve put up a post with the summer opening dates for lifts within an hour or so of Chamonix. Seems 2020 isn’t doing normally. Instead, here’s a list of what might open and when according to each of the bikepark’s official outlets, some of which are more up to date than others. I’ll update it as more details emerge, but I wouldn’t book a holiday without double checking the info at source first. Last update 07/05/2020 12/05/2020 13/05/2020 21/05/2020 23/05/2020 27/05/2020 28/05/2020 04/06/2020 11/06/2020.

There's no current riding images for you, so this piece will be brought to you by the north east of Italy. Here's Claire, the guidess with the mostess, leading the group out on day 3 of the Lake to Lake tour. Bit rocky.

We still can’t quite get out to ride bikes on Chamonix’s trails, but hopefully that starts back on the 11th May. Until then, read the preliminary lift opening info and look at pictures from last Autumn’s work guiding the Lake to Lake trips in the north of Italy.

Jonnie on without doubt the most exploratory of the days. Some of the trails were well known, but others don't see much traffic. This is one of the latter that even includes a wee bit of via ferrata to keep anxiety levels high...

Chamonix, from CdMB, provisional dependant on evolution of government advice *NOW CONFIRMED*.

Planpraz: 6/7th June then 13th June – 20th September
Flegere: Weekends from 13th June then 4th July – 13th September, then 17th October to 1st November (delayed to 20th June due to weather)
Brevent: Weekends from 13th June then 4th July – 13th September
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 13th June – 20th September
Le Tour: Gondola weekends from 13th June then everything 4th July – 13th September (delayed to 20th June due to weather)
Vallorcine: Weekend of 27th June then 4th July – 30th August
Bellevue: 27th June – 20th September
Prarion: 4th July – 13th September (+ weekends from the 6th June, except it looks like the weather’s too bad to open for the weekend 6/7 June)
Grand Montets: 4th July – 6th September, with restrictions on hours.

Away from Chamonix you’ve got:

La Thuile: 4th July- 30th August are the published dates. Fingers crossed they can manage it, and that we can visit. I need my coffee. www.lathuile.it/en/chairlift_time.html
Megeve: 4th July – 6th September. Megeve is now 2 resorts, so the Mont Blanc natural resort bit is www.montblancnaturalresort.com/fr/horaires-tarifs-megeve and the Jaillet side is ???? megeve.com/fr/ete/se-depenser/remontees-mecaniques-ete/
St Gervais: 27th June – 30th August Access to the “Whizz” trail from 0900 to 1800… ete.ski-saintgervais.com/fr/e5-liens
Les Contamines: 8th July – 6th September. Information up on their website as usual. www.lescontamines.net/home_calendar.html
Grand Massif: 27th June – 30th August. Assorted start and finish times across the area, with a big caveat that these are their target dates and it might change yet. Basically between 4th July and 30th August with the added super bonus of Les Carroz from the 27th June. summer.grand-massif.com/mountain-biking
Pila: 27th June – 7th September, plus bonus weekends of 13th and 21st June for the gondola. Hopefully. pila.it/en/summer-season/
Portes du Soleil: 13th June – 20th September. Again, the PdS have caveated the shit out of this being very government regulations and weather dependant, but they are hoping to open Les Gets for weekends only from 30th May (now confirmed!!), Avoriaz have recently confirmed July 4th opening, Chatel confirmed 27th June, with full opening in June until end of August when lifts will start closing. en.portesdusoleil.com/
Courmayeur: Wait, what, Courmayeur? Aye, seems bikes now travel for free on the Courmayeur lifts. woop, etc. Unfortunately no confirmed dates for now. www.courmayeur-montblanc.com/?q=tariffs&language=ja
Verbier: 6th June – 25th October. Over the border in Switzerland things are a bit more relaxed, so…. Weekends only from 6th June, all the days from 4th July – 21st September, then weekends though until 25th October. Big question, can we get over the border? www.verbierbikepark.ch/horaires_fr.php
Les Arcs: 4th July – 29th August. Not all the info is up yet on the website, but they’ve been busy advertising 4th July as the hoped for opening date for 2020. Fingers crossed. lesarcs.com/hiking/summer-area-les-arcs-peisey-vallandry-opening-hoursprices.html

Mountains in October sometimes means 'atmospheric' weather conditions. Bruce demonstrating fine colour choice on the Swiss/Italian border.

That’s what’s lifts are opening, hopefully, and when, hopefully. Borders, accommodation, cafes, bars, shuttles, public transport? We don’t know the answers to that yet, but I guess things will get clearer as we go on. In France the best, or at least most official, source is the government. ‘Cos, like, they make the rules. www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus or the EU wide reopen.eu

Last day last descent of the tour, dropping down to Lake Como and beers.

Normally I start these things with some fanciful, unrelated tale that’s caught my interest recently and drag the analogy kicking and screaming round to bikes. I really wanted to write something about what seems obvious right now maybe wasn’t quite so obvious in the past. To write about Florence Nightingale, statistician and social reformer (and nurse), and data analysis being more useful than a lamp at stopping infections in the Crimean war. Then about people analysing damage to planes that came back from WWII dogfights and concluding that as they had no bullet holes around the cockpit and engine, those bits must be armoured enough already without ever asking what holes were in the planes that didn’t come back. But I just don’t really feel like it. As mentioned before, it’s not normal times. If you’re stuck for things to do, try googling both those subjects. It’s really interesting.

Scotland or Italy? After a committing drive to a refuge then several coffees, you start the 700m climb with a bit of scenery.

I have a feeling there’ll be plenty of exploratory riding content appearing in the next few months as many of us in the alps remain unemployed and look to the hills for escape. Maybe this summer’ll be a grand opportunity to explore closer to home? Maybe the borders will open and I’ll be off working as a guide around the Alps? Hopefully the optimists are right and 2020 blossoms into a fine summer for everyone. Do what you should for where you are and I guess the trail etiquette adage is more accurate than ever just now. Be Nice, Say Hi*.

Some of my best memories from the trips were whilst on shuttle duty. Just sitting at the side of the road looking at the views, or drinking coffees whilst waiting in cafes. I am very much looking forward to getting back that life.

*Saying Hi removes the need to shake hands. good forward thinking that.

Playlist.

 

Probably the last day of lift accessed skiing in winter '20. Average skiing, above average light.

Has it come to this? Where do I begin…. I’m bored. Stuck in time, indefinitely inside, I just don’t know what to do with myself. Safe from harm, yes, only what do I do now?

Get ready!

Ready to start bicycle season, all of my thoughts turn into try try trying 2 remember whatever goes into the bag, (little black backpack best, bit you can try basket, case, brown paper bag…) Riding solo’s easy; whenever it all comes down to you I can’t forget safety stuffAfter all, the the superheros of BMX never mind tu pac first aid kits, what if I want to fall off my bike today?

I know where I went wrong, This time, krafty like, empty everything after all my generations last rides in the fallAll I need’s laid out there. Good riddance toto the mouldy peaches / garbage, alvvays at the bottom of everything, This is the kit this charming man wantedlay it down on a plain surface, this time document everythingPhotograph taken, now I know all I needed 2 ride. All we have is now loaded, ready (or not) 2 leave home; go bike rider.

A reminder. This is a low, travel is dangerous, transmission; it’s so easy! Remember, it’s hard to kill a bad thing. I’m gonna be going out encore une fois, just right here, right now, stay close sit tight. Today has been ok. Tomorrow we carry on. We can work it out  The world’ll be ok.

If the instagram post is now thought of as long form content to complement your insta-story, then the blog is as dead as print. So lets go old school and use some windows paint to edit the photo.

1. Evoc FR Trail 20l bag
2. Pump. A big easy to use one because there’s usually 18 tyres to puncture per ride, with added duct tape
3. Inner tube 650b
4. Another inner tube 650b
5. Zip ties, ski straps, tie wire and toe clip straps. For holding bikes or riders or vans together
6. Tyre plugs. Where would we be without tyre plugs
7. Puncture repair kit. Sometimes you gotta go old school
8. Spare new brake pads
9. Wee bottle of chain lube (or salad dressing…?)
10. Spare tubeless tyre valve x2
11. Chain magic links (plus another one just for my bike taped to brake hose)
12. Tyre boots. Just add duct tape and an inner tube to save ride
13. Tyre levers x3. Mostly for pushing caliper piston back in
14. Spare jockey wheel
15. “Broken in” brake pads wrapped in tape
16. Random bolts, cleats and spacers in a bag
17. Spare gear cables x2
18. Leatherman. For fixing everything you shouldn’t fix with a leatherman
19. Spare mech hanger
20. Multi tool. crank bros 19
21. Laplander 19cm trail saw
22. Hat for under the lid
23. Nice sunglasses. I like sitting in cafes drinking coffee
24. Free clear sunglasses. I like not getting mud in my eyes
25. USB cable for charging stuff in the van, and
26. MP3 player for tunes in the van, if only there was a playlist somewhere…
27. Spare phone for emergency calls (normal phone in pocket)
28. Buff
29. c.r.e.a.m.
30. All the licences
31. Knee pads (wee ones)
32. Proper wee camera
33. Limited edition Sapaudia Brewing 500ml water bottle
34. Maps, compass, whistle and map case
35. Light dry bag for sandwiches, no more single use plastic (idea stolen from Bike Verbier,  sandwich eaten previously)
36. Random snacks
37. Riding gloves and wrist brace
38. Sunscreen
39. First aid kit
40. Bivvy bag
41. Survival blanket
42. Synthetic insulated jacket
43. Spare riding gloves
44. Shell waterproof mitts
45. Waterproof shorts
46. Waterproof jacket

Not pictured because they weren’t in the bag. Mini headtorch, mini rear & front light, tracking beacon or radio. I guess there’ll be a facemask in there for the next wee whiles too.

Yo Mary Poppins, what you got.

Raconte-moi une histoire…

Don’t overthink the above. I really struggle to remember what I put in my bag at the start of each spring, personal or professional riding. In the past I’d cheat and look at bike guide’s online articles (like this one, cheers Julia) but I finally realised a lot of stress could be avoided by just writing a list at the end of guiding season when I emptied and cleaned the bag. So that’s what I did. Then…

Then we got told to stay at home for 2 months and not ride our bikes. (Two months off. See, can’t help it.)

They say write about what you know, currently I know about listening to music, being bored and plotting for future bike trips. I got bored and tried to write a post using only song titles and band names. It’s served the triple purpose of being a handy note of what I need in the bag, distracted me from more useful projects and created a bit of poor quality content to keep google’s algorithms happy. What more can you expect right now?

These are mostly ting tings from my ipod, but google and desperation was needed to get this thing finally finished (and even then there were some tracks I could’t bring myself to use and just truncated something better), so apologies for the Peter Frampton. And Stroke 9. Sorry about that.

Stuck in time, indefinitely inside. Brand new bike. Unridden and going nowhere. Sad face.

Tracklist: The Streets, Has it come to this? The Chemical Brothers, Where do I begin. Iggy Pop, I’m bored. Drever McCusker Woomble, Stuck in time. Travis, Indefinitely. Moby, Inside. The White Stripes, I just don’t know what to do with myself. Massive Attack, Safe from harm. McAlmont and Butler, Yes. The Charlatans, Only (teethin’). Sleeper, What do I do now. The Temptations, Get ready. Arcade Fire, Ready to start. John Cale, Bicycle. Ash, Season. Spiritualized, All of my thoughts. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Turn into. Julian Cope, Try try try. Blur, (song) 2. Ella Fitzgerald, Remember. Oasis, Whatever. Glasvegas, Go square go (not exactly right, but I get a couple of fudges allowed for quality tunes). Mazzy Star, Into (dust). NOFX, The bag. Stroke 9, little black backpack (sorry, google found this, it’s horrendous). Beth Orton, Best bit. Glasvegas, You. Can, Halleluwah. The Magic Numbers, Try. Green day, Basket case. Roni Size, Brown paper bag. Hinds, Riding solo. Faith no more, Easy. Beth Orton, Whenever. Peter Frampton, It all comes down to you (least bad version of a bad track, sorry). Leonard Cohen, I can’t forget. Beth Orton, Safety. Miles Davis, Stuff. The Cardigans, After all. The the, I saw the light. Mogwai, Superheros of BMX. Nirvana, Nevermind. 2pac, California Love. First Aid Kit, Emmylou. Bombay Bicycle Club, What if. The Lovely Eggs, I want to fall off my bike today. Roddy Woomble, I know where I went wrong. DJ Shadow, This time. New Order, Krafty. Belle and Sebastian, Like (dylan in the movies). The Cranberries, Empty. Idlewild, Everything. The Cardigans, After all. The Who, My generation. Green day, Last ride in. Teenage Fanclub, The fall. Radiohead, All I need. James, Laid. Dinosaur Jr, Out there. Green day, Good riddance. Toto, Africa. The Mouldy Peaches, Jorge Regula. Garbage, Milk (Massive Attack remix with Tricky ‘cos Tricky got cut from the original text). Alvvays, Archie marry me. Bright Eyes, At the bottom of everything. This is the kit, Moonshine freeze. The Smiths, This charming man. The Cranberries, Wanted. Cowboy Junkies, Lay it down. Nirvana, On a plain. The Chemical Brothers, Surface (to air). The Verve, This time. REM, Finest Worksong (from the Document album). Manic Street Preachers, Everything (must go). Weezer, Photograph. Anna Meredith, Taken. Cowboy Junkies, Now I know. Radiohead, All I need. Lily Allan, 22 (well, the first ‘2’ anyways). Ride, Vapour Trail. The Flaming Lips, All we have is now. Primal Scream, Loaded. The Lightning Seeds, Ready or not. Lily Allan 22 (makes sense now). The Chemical Brothers, Leave home. Public Service Broadcasting, Go. Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Bike Rider. Radiohead, A Reminder. Blur, This is a low. Mogwai, Travel is dangerous. Joy Division, Transmission. Guns n’ Roses, It’s so easy. Jimi Hendrix, Remember. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, It’s hard to kill a bad thing. The Proclaimers, I’m gonna be (500 miles). Supergrass, Going out. Sash!, Encore une fois. Radiohead, Just. Fatboy slim, Right here right now, Malcolm Middleton, Stay close sit tight. Emiliana Torrini, Today has been ok. James, Tomorrow. Portishead, We carry on. The Beatles, We can work it out. Teenage Fanclub, The world’ll be OK. (and some bonus tracks)

And if you’re really that desperate to listen to someone else’s taste in music, it’s all on a playlist here.

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.

Maybe.

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…

Something old, something new. something borrowed, something tree.

Chamonix. Does good backdrop. But then, you know that by now.

“The first sentence is the hardest to write.” Once you’ve got a beginning then the rest of the piece should follow easily. I’ve not made this up, it’s been written about here and here, and they’ve earnt way more money than me from writering.

But that first sentence was pretty easy to write, nae effort at all frankly. The issue is the next bit, the quality content.

Quality content. Supplied by Toby's photography skills. #phonephotae.

Charlie Brooker is a bit of a hero of mine. Many years ago he wrote columns for the guardian, which were brilliant because he is a god that moves amongst us mortals. The problem was he didn’t think the content was adding much to the discussion, so stopped them. One of the best writers currently putting finger to keypad stopped writing columns because he didn’t want to add to the piles of dross out there.

Which puts the rest of us in a bit of a shitty position. Just like Candide Thovex killed the headcam with his “oneofthosedays” series, Charlie Brooker essentially killed off all opinion pieces with that opinion. If you’re not improving on what they’ve done, what are you doing?

Not so much piles of dross as piles of choss.

This concept of “infinite piles of dross” got mixed with the old “an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters will eventually write Shakespeare” idea and fleshed out into Jorge Luis Borges’ book “The Library of Babel” which describes an infinite library that contains not only every 410 page book that has been written, but every 410 page combination of letters of the alphabet.

Obviously though, things in fiction never cross into real life.

This trail is brought to you by the letters T, E, C and H.

Except 2019. Go to http://libraryofbabel.info/ and you’ll find the Babel Library. Every possible combination of letters, commas, spaces and full stops, all archived and waiting for you to read it. All of Shakespeare. All of Romeo and Juliet except where they just spoke to each other rather than getting rash with chemicals. All of the entries of this blog. All of the entries that will ever be written for this blog. The story of your life in the style of your favourite author. The exact details of when and how you will die. All of this exists in the library. You just need to find it.

Toby finding flow.

Which is, finally, where we pull this back to biking. See, in the above not-quite-infinite example are all the greatest pieces of writing (and the possibility for some very interesting intellectual property cases) but they are damn well hidden amongst an ocean of incomprehensible drivel. Though at least we now know where the (insert newspaper that least represents your political and moral opinions here) journalists get their inspiration.

Pan shot Thursday. Maybe I should have published this on a Friday?

In the hills above Chamonix there is near infinite possibility for trails, but very finite number of rideable trails. It wouldn’t take too much work to write a programme to scribble lines on the map (I suspect this is how some open source mapping works…though in the novel suicidal librarians scour the bookshelves looking for the index which, as all books possible exist in the library, must be in the library. Hence said mapping may indeed be the key.) but it takes a bit more effort to find or create them on the ground.

It's a rock. Get over it.

So. Blog needs good trails to create good content. Blog doesn’t want to repeat writing about trails it’s already done. Blog has pretty much exhausted the exploration of lines on the map. Conclusion. Blog needs to get off sofa and go and make some more trails.

Why build a trail when you can just ride a little known one instead.

Being a bit lazy, I figured it would be easier to take little used existing trails and just tidy up the bits inbetween, so after a fair bit of wandering about the woods above Les Bossons I’d found enough old hunters trails, cleared away enough bits of shrub and branch and moved enough stones around to call it a trail.

It just needed ridden top to bottom.

The trail starts here. Well really it starts about 10 meters back, but the picture wasn't as good from there.

Enter Toby who, in good late season riding form and on a day off, agreed to ride one of my “it should be a good trail” ideas.

There’s a few easy ways to get up to the Mont Blanc tunnel. From there there’s an easy way to the Chalet Cerro. From there it’s just grunt work getting you and your bike up to 1550m, the start of the trail and the (current) end of the Bosson’s glacier.

Some parts of the climb went easier than others.

You’re going up the same way you ride down for this part, which is good as you know what you’ll have to deal with on the way down, but which is bad as you know what you’ll have… etc, etc. I assume repetition takes up a considerable part of the 104677 books in the Babel Library. In the height of summer there’s a fair bit of pedestrian traffic on the trail here but outside July and August it’s fairly quiet. You’re never going that fast anyway…

The upper half of the trail is best described as challenging.

We’d wanted tech, and we got tech. Sitting at the top of the trail looking at the hills had been a pleasant wee interlude, but from the tenth meter in the trail demands concentration. In Toby’s words ‘you wouldn’t want to ride it everyday’ but once in a while is good to remind you what “technical trail” really means.

Looking good Toby, looking good.

Toby was riding on good form, Toby got to the last trail feature before the trail mellowed to the Chalet Cerro. Toby committed to the line. Toby committed to the crash.

Full commitment. To a subluxed shoulder.

The full descent would need to wait, fortunately it wasn’t going anywhere.

I was however. A few weeks guiding in Italy and a holiday later I was back in Chamonix ready to ride. By now winter made a return the the valley and the trail above Chalet Cerro was too buried to be worth the hassle. But, all this content was written and I felt the need to get something posted before the bike hibernates, who could I persuade out in the snow to finish it off?

Jesus riding the line between winter and not quite winter.

Jesus is leaving the valley to go back to Malaga and if there’s one type of riding you don’t get in Malaga it’s snow covered trails following terminal moraine banks so he was game. The snow didn’t make the trail any easier but there’s still more grip than you think there should be so it pretty much all went as intended.

Not every tree was in for the chop. Mind and duck eh.

It turned out someone else had been in, seen what I’d started and run with it. The chainsaw owning trail pixie had cut out the trees that I’d had to leave to improvisation and improved riding technique and the trail is starting to wear in nicely through the more hidden parts. Flows much better now, cheers. It doesn’t make the top ten descents in valley list, but as 500m descents that start from the foot of a glacier and end by a motorway, passing almost all possible types of terrain (but only one full stop) on the way go, it’s pretty good.

Lovely light. For the 1 hour the winter sun gets onto the trail.

The top half is pretty obvious. For the lower section, after a long traverse rightwards, look out for the second trail heading off to the right. Then just keep following the cleared trail, moved boulders, small benchcuts, occasional chainsawed fallen trees and tyre marks. Or search for “Cosmiques (fondu)” ‘cos the trail follows the melt of the line and is best finished with some IPA.  The more traffic the merrier. For now.

"Every sort of trail"? This'll be the bikepark style bit.

The Library of Babel was formed complete, but the Trails of Chamonix are still evolving. There’s more building happening that ever before, which means the mental index of trails needs constant updating too. More reason to keep riding, but mibbies there’s some skiing to do first.

Keep riding, keep looking, keep finding. (& keep failing...)

Confused by the title? Search the library.

Tour des Combins

Tour des Combins. You can say what you like about Switzerland, but the flag's a big plus...

Let me break the fourth wall on the way this blog works. Usually I’ve had an idea that’s been written down long before the ride happens. Sometimes the ride doesn’t go to plan and the idea doesn’t get used. Sometimes I have a better idea. As a result there’s a file on the laptop with unused stories covering subjects as diverse as “How much fucking up of the environment is considered OK*”, “How addictive is bike riding” and “How quickly did Capucin monkeys invent prostitution after being taught capitalism” (The answer to all these sort-of-questions is “very”).

I had an intro all lovely and written for this, then realised it was perfectly wrong. I like realising things.

Dave realising just how much fun carrying a bike uphill can be at 2800m

So instead of a bit of a rant about how “Mountain Bikes” shouldn’t be called “mountain” bikes because really its “lower down the hill where the trails are interesting” bikes I’m just going to be happy about the idea of going into the hills with friends and enjoying being there**.

Autumn innit. Col du Mille descent

Because three of us went into the mountains, rode a route that we were fairly sure would be good, and had a generally grand time.

That route would be a variation on the Tour des Combins. The ‘Combins’ being the Grand Combin, one of Switzerland’s bigger hills, and the ‘variation on the Tour des’ bit is the classic Tour des Mont Blanc esque hut to hut walk with tweeks to make it betterer for bikes.

Having fun. Mostly.

The first thing that made it betterer for bikes was Bike Verbier giving us a lift up to Bourg St Pierre to start the first climb of the day about 1000m higher than otherwise. If this seemed like a good idea at the time, it seemed like a bloody amazing idea by the time we were slogging up the final hill of the day to the Cabane Chanrion.

The first hike-a-bike of the trip. First of many, we just didn't know how many....

That’s in about 2500 meters time though, we had the initial thousand or so to go up to the Col du Mille first.

They went.

Eventually.

Confusingly, this climb is part of the Col du Mille down. climbing pictures are much quicker to take than DH pics.

You go up to get down, and the down from the Col du Mille is a bit of a classic. Starting at over 2400m, you’ve got a lot of winding alpine singletrack to ride before you hit first shrubby plants then the tree line. Better, just as you’re getting to the tree line you hit one of the best sections of trail I know of. Nothing too technical, and there’s better backdrop elsewhere too, but it just hits all the right sizes of turn on just the right gradient to make something really memorable.

Sanny makes the magazine magic happen whilst Dave rides off into the Col du Mille sunset...

Down then up, well across more than up at first, but eventually up. First on tarmac to Mauvoisin, then gravel to the Mauvoisin dam, then tunnel to Lac Mauvoisin.

Industry

Aye, tunnel. With the normal valley floor trails being under 60 years of water you have to take a few km’s of tunnel along the side of the lake instead.

You canny say the riding’s not varied in the alps…

Varied riding (pushing...) past the damn dam.

The climb keeps going up, the scenery keeps going up, the energy levels keep going down. Thoughts of missing the 18.30 feeding time at the refuge zoo keep entering my head, along with the first musings about e-bikes.

Forgive me father for I have sinned.

There's a hut up that valley. 250 extra watts would really help get there.

Turns out we needn’t have worried. As the Cabane Chanrion comes into view so does the hut guardian, stood atop a lonely peak scanning the horizon for his only 3 guests of the night.

Switzerland or Nepal? Nearing the refuge.

Dinner at 7pm? Why that’ll do nicely sir.

Hut views. Welcome at the end of the day.

This is pretty much where the original start to the tale fell apart. I should be talking about the trails and the riding and the differences but really, the best part was just beginning. Sitting outside in the sun(moon?)chairs watching the moon rise over the mountains and the stars get outpaced by the satellites had nothing to do with biking, we could have arrived on foot, skis or parapont and the experience would have been exactly the same. We have far more in common than which divides us  I guess.

Cabane Chanrion

Another day with another sunrise and another litre of tea in the belly to hydrate. There are better starts to the day than a 400m singletrack descent out the front door, but not many.

Breakfast singletrack. Could be worse.

There are better continuations of the morning than an 800m pedal and push to 2800m altitude, but not many.

More than the previous example however.

Ride then carry then ride then carry then ride. A quick summary of the climb to the col. Sanny pictured on a ride bit.

Passing through the Fenetre de Durand marks the literal and figurative high point of the trip, 2797m up and surrounded by high peaks and glaciers.

Headed for the Fenetre de Durand, surrounded by high peaks and glaciers.

It actually arrives fairly easily, the hardest part of the climb by far is lower down, by the time you get to the last few km’s to the col the slope angle has eased off and the scenery cranked up to 11 to distract you even more.

Good col that.

Fenetre de Durand. Lower than the stuff about it, bigger than the riders trying to climb it.

The descent off the other side into Italy’s no bad either. Moonscape shale and deep deep turquoise lakes that are the thing of Yeti brand managers dreams. A final tech section through derailleur hungry rocks and you’re spat out into a high alpage and the start of a long balcon trail round to Etroubles. Really long. 14km or so with barely altering altitude through some of Italy’s best scenery. Bikes are good.

We're off to button moon, button moon. 80's childhoods, no Paw Patrol there.

I’d had high hopes for the descent into Entroubles. After a summer of bike guiding where pretty much the whole point of riding is to go to places you know and have checked out before, this was going to be a dotted line on the map that I knew nothing about, could find nothing about, but that ticked all the right topographical boxes to give a classic Aosta valley singletrack descent.

Still descending up by the col. It's near continuity.

It didn’t quite work that way. GPS said we were slap bang on the trail but the ground said otherwise. I’m pretty sure there was a trail there once, but I’m also pretty sure the dinosaurs were there once too. Dejectedly we kept picking our way down through open forest until a perfectly groomed trail appeared where no map said it should.

Keep following the map or strike out into the unknown?

Still teasing with pictures from the upper parts of the descent. It was pretty good.

The unknown worked out very well indeed.

A known known rider on an unknown unknown descent in a known unknown Italian valley. Early 2000's politics. And we though things were weird then.

The other thing that worked out very well, the trail ended in a small Italian village. Coffee time.

Drink enough coffee and you too will turn into a roadie. Quick, Sanny, bag that classic col.

Caffeine is an interesting performance enhancing drug. It was also a welcome one at the start of 900m of tarmac climbing. We weren’t going quite to the top of the Grand St Bernard pass on the road, but a couple of sweaty hours later we weren’t much off it. Classic road bike cols are better done on road bikes would be my main conclusion from that.

Hello Bike, Hello Fenetre du Ferret. My much abused and much loved Edit v2 ticks off another classic descent.

Here Dave, on his carbon 29’er hardtail, decided that a better time would be had continuing over the col and descending by road back to Etiez. It was 5pm with 350m of hike-a-bike to the next col and a technical descent still to go. The appeal of travelling 20km without pedalling was too much… We waved Dave off, never to speak of him again. Sanny and I shouldered our bikes and started the plod to the Fenetre du Ferret.

We ain't plodding no more. Starting the drop to La Fouly from Fenetre du Ferret.

Somehow I’ve never been to the Fenetre du Ferret before, but for a first time up there, arriving to early autumn golden hour on a perfect blue sky evening is about as good as it gets. Even with a chilly wind whistling over the rock and snow it was a happy place to be.

The Alps. Does good backdrop. Very good backdrop.

As we started the descent it got even happier. Some descents are memorable due to the situation, some the quality of the riding, some the sheer length of the descent. Dropping from the Fenetre du Ferret to La Fouly ticks all they boxes and more. Just a stunningly good ride in stunningly good scenery.

Wish you were here? Wish you could be here without the thousands of meters of climbing to get here? Me too.

The ride could have continued. From La Fouly there’s the Tour du Mont Blanc trails along the valley floor, a couple of climbs can get you to some classic descents from around Champex Lac or above Orsierres, but it was getting dark and I was hungry. We hit the road and tucked for a very rapid return to Etiez, in the end the full descent, some 30km and 2000m disappeared in 80 minutes. If only all human progress could be so easy!

Sanny making progress. We descended a lot of trail like this. The fading light may have killed off the descent lower down but it didn't look so bad up high.

Cheers and hi-fives go out to Sanny and Dave for being (mostly) willing guinea pigs to the route, Alpavista, a fellow pictures and pontification rider/blogger who gives a breadcrumb trail of clues to put together over a bit of time with a map and educated guessing to help plan routes (except his pontifications are in French which does lend them a much more poetic air than I get). And Lucy and Phil at Bike Verbier who know every trail every where and are two of the best things to happen to mountain biking.

Insert own caption here.

*You can enter a false email address to complete the test here and not worry about getting follow up guilt trips, the point’s more to make us think about just how much we have to change behaviour to live in a way 1 planet can support us.

**Keeping with the transparency theme, normally I get something written up and published within a few days of the ride. All this happened about 3 weeks ago but working riding my bike has got in the way of writing for free about riding my bike.

 

Continuous Professional Development

Beaufortain biking. Atmospheric would describe it this day.

Hello, it’s been a while. Missed me? Not much content here of late but it’s not you, it’s me. Not that I’ve no been riding, just that I’ve been working.

I’ve had umpteen jobs down the years. When I sat at a desk trying to find ways to pay for those walking and cycling routes politicians said Glasgow should have, I didn’t find myself writing EU funding applications for infrastructure projects for fun at the weekend. Yet, with bike guiding, first chance you get to rest your calloused hands and you head off to try ride some trails you’ve never ridden before, and not get paid for it.

It all gets chalked up in the log book I guess.

Anyways, this is why on my week off I found myself hanging out with friends riding new trails in the Tarentaise.

The Tarentaise. Does a good line in ridge trails, thanks to the inside line for showing us them.

And hanging out with friends riding new trails in the Valais.

Ahh, back on the Verbier classics with the Verbier classic James.

And hanging out with friends riding new trails in Beaufortain.

Happy people ride happy trails.

This blog is about the last of those.

Beaufortain is the area you’ve not heard of. Unless you race ski-mo. Or eat a lot of cheese. Cows are definitely priority #1 in this area. Fortunately though, there’s not much number 2 (except courtesy of priority number 1 alas) so bikes are encouraged as a way to supplement the cheese-and-skiing financial model that so much of the alps seems to survive on. Yay for generous unemployment benefit.

This trail is probably not made by cows. Chris seems to like it though.

So how do VTT get encouraged to join the vache? Lots of way-marked trails, some pumptracks, cheap chairlifts and free buses. Pretty good eh.

With a forecast as all over the place as a Prime Ministerial haircut, we met at noon. Well, we planned to. Everyone was late. It started raining, we put our jackets on, it stopped raining, and that was the weather fixed for the day. You learn these tricks at guide school.

You're never far from a cross in the alps. Farmer or religion.

Time to ride. Chris was meeting us down in Beaufort. There’s a free bus from Beaufort back up to Les Saises. Les Saisies is about 900 meters above Beaufort. You can see where this is going.

Down. And round a corner. This trail is going down and round a corner.

The “Adret’naline” (or something like that, trail building is stronger than trail naming out here) trail from Les Saisies to Beaufort is pretty good. The start’s a bit meh but once into the woods things start going downhill in a good way. As both Martin and me had spent the morning watching Val di Sole practice highlights we weren’t in the mood to be stopping for photos so you’ll just have to take our word for it, but as free uplifted trails go, hard to beat.

Not from the Adret'aline trail, but similar idea. Trees, leaves, hidden roots, quite fast, Martin in the air.

Next up, main course. We’d met Chris in Beaufort, had some quiche, got on a bus, headed up to Mont Bisanne (top tip, stay on the bus after the Les Saisies stop, you get a bit more vertical for free. Or buy a ticket for the chairlift if pedalling 150m of vert doesn’t appeal) and looked at the views.

Might have been raining in Chamonix, but it were right dust above Albertville.

The “Dev’Albertville” trail’s been kicking about my to do list for a few years now, so it was grand to finally get onto it. It starts a wee bit boringly with some fireroad and a bit of climbing, but once on the ridge proper, dropping down to Albertville 1600m below, it’s worth the effort. Plenty single track, some switchbacks but nowt too tight, bitta tech, bitta fast stuff, there’s even a cracking handbuilt berm-berm-berm-kicker-berm-berm-repeat section towards the end.

This is what the trail gives you, it's up to the rider to make of it what they can....

There’s also a couple of mid descent climbs, some tarmac and a badly signposted posh housing estate to negotiate, but if you can’t see past those flies to enjoy your ointment, well, this analogy’s not for you frankly.

What goes down invariably has to head back up again. In this case, on the back of a bus.

Then, more buses. Not free, but €5 to get you and your bike from Albertville back to Beaufort then Les Saises again doesn’t seem too harsh to me, just mibbies bring something to help secure your bike with….

Nearing town... I fear the photos suggest the trail was all fast straights, that's just the bits I had the camera out for.

Due to not really reading the bus times in much detail, it was now 7.15 pm and time to head home, but with a just a wee bit more (ok, any) planning you could link up a lot of good trails here with the buses, returning to the fine cafes of Beaufort on most every lap. Something for the next week off I guess.

Toe straps. There's a reason every guide has one towards the bottom of the rucsac.

Finale / Lads lads lads

Ever wondered where trail names come from....? Finale Ligure trip 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve been down to Finale, but as the weather in Chamonix has decided to skip spring, and summer, to go directly to late autumn, it seemed a good way to escape the snow. Hence, lads, lads, lads go to Finale.

We looked at going elsewhere, San Remo, Molini, Sospel. But Finale’s just so easy. It’s easy to find out about the new trails, it’s easy to get around, easy to get somewhere nice to stay, to get pizza and glelato and coffee.

Finale. Blown out, rutted and overplayed. Spence looks happy with that.

There’s quite a few folk saying that Finale’s a bit played out, there’s no secret trails no more, everything’s blown out and rutted. Aye, mibbies, but that’s half of what I love about the place. Smooth trails are easy to ride fast. Holding on through the ruts and craters of umpteen years abuse really makes you appreciate how fast you’re moving.

Nose tap on the natural hit?

And this is important. Presence, being acutely aware of the moment, the here and now, is a skill we’re losing. If you’re flicking between driving a car, chatting to the passengers and texting on the phone, none of the above are getting your full attention. Our ancient monkey selves had to make sure that lump in the bushes wasn’t about to jump on you as you tried to dig out a particularly tasty looking potato, and if it did, that you got up the tree quick enough. Plowing through the chunder on Little Champery, either you’re in the moment or you’re in hospital. It’s a steep relearning curve to get those primate synapses firing, and if you don’t, you might miss out on the potato at aperitivo.

A few years ago, this was a perfectly smooth flow trail....

In fairness, things have changed a lot since my first visit in 2013. Back then trail info was hard to come by, my main technique was using old Superenduro race cards and riding to the trail heads then following the Minion traces. Like we used to do anywhere new really. Now you just fire up Trailforks and check the GPX trace. I do miss some of those days, you could have hours of fun directly above the town just pedalling up and riding down fairly fresh trails with no real idea where you were going. But you can’t deny that the network that’s available now is way better. And it has Little Champery, which is blown out and rutted and well good.

Inginiri. Not sure who was taking more risk, me at speed or Lorne taking the shot.

Not everything’s blown out either. Ingineri from below NATO for example. Raced in 2015, it was good then but even more fun now to ride than race, so many rises into bends where the bike gets set light as you’re about to turn in. So many corners with a little shimmy left before the right encouraging the scandi flick. And so much variety too!

Roller Coaster. There're rolls and you can coast down it.

Din gets in on the act too. We’d headed for Toboggan. Toboggan did not look like a good idea. A few trees down I can handle, but when you can’t see the trail for the wood, nah. Explains why the guided groups were being dropped 1/2 way along the trail. So we rode Rollercoaster instead. I’d not ridden here since 2017 when it was a bit greasy from overnight rain and it was one of my first rides back from injury.What a difference a more or less working body and a load more grip makes! The trail swoops. That’s ‘woop’ sandwiched between two sets of curves. The trail swoops.

There's a lot of this in Finale :-)

In and out of natural rolls in the terrain, around natural features that seem perfectly placed for the flow. And a wee bit of braking bump chunder here and there too, just to keep you on your toes.

Never been here before..... Somewhere near Mallare

There’s another way to get round the feeling that some of the trails are a bit past their best. Go further afield.

Backcountry Finale’s Luca took us by the hand and bundled us into a Pajero then, after shoogling us about on a variety of ever rougher and narrower 4×4 tracks, proceeded to throw us down all manner of trail we’d never have ridden otherwise. Partly because they’re a bit hard to find, but mostly because the logistics would be a complete nightmare and we’d have taken 2 days to ride the same using the knotted pipe-cleaners I call legs to pedal about with.

Spence heading for the sea at the end of a long days riding.

That and it had pissed it down the night before, so Luca mixed and matched trails. Maybe we missed out on some gems early in the day, but it meant we didn’t freeze and get covered in mud. And Lorne and I got let loose on Little Champery in the primest grip I’ve ever ridden it in, so that was nice.

Which'll land first, me or the shadow?

Finale’s one of the economic models that gets chucked on the table when riders are trying to argue the financial case for building trails, or even just not getting banned from the trails. Riding around Mallare, the new frontier for Finale trails, with Luca was trickle down economics in action, where 11 riders and a few guides and drivers arrived at the door of the hamlet restaurant for a slap up feed.

Spotting the riders at Spotorno.

It might cost more than a simple 10 euro shuttle up to Din or NATO, but you’re definitely getting your dollars worth. Cheers to Luca and Alessandro for the work they’ve put into helping open a new area of riding as well as their shuttling and guiding, and cheers too to the Swiss crew we were riding with for putting up with our complete lack of German.

Obligatory pissing about up at NATO shot, cheers Lorne.

The bike scene in Finale has changed in the last few years, but then the bike scene as changed everywhere. Nostalgia might not have killed anyone recently. Actually it’s not killed anyone for a century, the last record of it as cause of death is for an American soldier in 1918. I digress, as usual. Finale’s trails are evolving, so you can enjoy the change or stop going. We’ll be back.

Finale. We'll be back, even if it's just for the food.

 

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