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 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.


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.


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.


Anything for an easy life.

All the Bike Verbier team in one photo! Not whilst drinking tea!!!

Do you want it all, and do you want it now? Genuine achievement just takes so damn long and so much effort. Wouldn’t it be easier just to want something then get it with out all the hard work inbetween?

Well, aye, it would. So rather than put the long miles in getting ourselves back to biking fitness and riding our way into some sort of form, we’ve just looked at where we can hop on the lift and get dropped off at the top of the hill instead.

Pila. With over 800m of vert to play with each lap, we obviously spent half the day playing on this one corner/bank/thing.

First stop. Pila.

Through the tunnel, past the open border and into Italy. Pila should be 45 minutes drive from Chamonix, but for some reason every trip there involves getting lost in the maze of streets surrounding the lift station. We got there in the end. Obviously. There wouldn’t be a post here if we were still trying to achieve escape velocity from the city.

Autumn or Spring? Pila. I'm confident of that one.

For the enormous outlay of 3 euros, you and your bike can be lifted up 800m to the Les Fleurs station. For the cost of a cappuccino more you can go 400m higher to the Pila ski area, which we did on our first lap then didn’t bother with afterwards. The first few hundred meters of the trails are still under snow and really not worth the hassle.

Hmm, something's no right here lads.

Back to Les Fleurs and a short ride/push up the hill outside the lift station, followed by a couple minutes coast along the road, gets you to the main Pila Bike Park home run. Keep going along the road and you’ll find walking trails dropping down to your left which deliver varying degrees of interest, varying on your early season tolerance to damp greasy rocks…

Mmmm, greasy rocks. Toby tucks in.

The park trails are in pretty good condition just now. A few braking bumps but nothing terrible. A couple trees down but easy passed. No dust but, wait, what!?! No dust is a first for all of us in Pila.

Lorne somewhere in the Pila bikepark

Next day next venue. Chamonix to Verbier is less distance yet longer time driving than the trip to Pila, but still easy under the hour to Le Chable. Like Pila you usually go skiing by parking in a huge valley base car park, taking a lift to the ski area, then another lift to the skiing. Hence, the bikers get to use that first stage lift then drop back down to the valley floor. Simples.

Phil, heading for the valley floor.

Unlike Pila, the lift doesn’t cost 3 euros a go. But if you’ve got a Chamonix season pass you can use one of your wee free vouchers. Free. How often do you hear that in Switzerland?

There is still a wee bit of snow on some of the highest trails from Verbier town, so we were dropping down a couple hundred meters on road first before traversing onto some summer guiding favourites. Nuthouse, Church, Comfort Zone. Grand to be back out on the trails I worked on last year with the rest of the Bike Verbier crew, even if we probably spent more time standing in the sun chatting than riding. Surely all these games are just about the people not the sport itself?

Anja looking confused at going riding without have clients to pick up from wherever they've left the trail. Because guides never crash...

Where else? Les Arcs ticks the valley floor base / ski area shuttle lift box, and it’s open until 28th April. Then there’s La Saleve. Open all year (well, except when they’re fixing it, what is it with France and broken telepheriques?) and rumour has it there’s been lots of digging going on there.

Brake straight then turn. Textbook technique fae James, he should give his riders some tips...

In an ideal piece of narrative one of these would form the third tangent of the triptych, neatly tying three countries worth of riding together and letting me make all sorts of subtext about different places achieving the same thing. This isn’t the ideal though. The weather wasn’t looking so inspiring and I kinda wanted to go skiing still and there’s work to be done around the flat and, and, and. Honestly, why is everything so much effort?

Porsche 911 targa, painted not wrapped. Probably the most Swiss car I've ever seen.

Ccccchanges: Lift openings 2019

How many bikes can you fit in a telecabine? Many. You can fit many.

Another winter has passed, another few months of snow is melting away, another post trying to collate all the lift opening dates for the summer gets cobbled together.

This year the theme is “oops, that lift’s broken as well”. Yes, not been a great year for Compagnie du Mont Blanc. Starting with the multiple cable failures on the Aiguille du Midi cash cow/telecabine, there’s also been problems with the Planpraz telecabine, Col Cornu chairlift, Bochard telecabine, Grands Montets telecabine, and the Charamillon telecabine.

Riding under the watchful eye and questionable hand of Jesus. Coupeau trails in the wet often go better with some praying...

How this pans out for summer MTB action is:

Grands Montets. After the slightly careless burning to the ground of the mid station in October 2018, current chat on opening is 2021. The Plan Joran telecabine is open this summer, but whether they let dirty bikers into their shiny new(ish) cable car is another question.

Brevent. The issue with Planpraz is apparently fixed, but we’ve heard that before in Chamonix this year. And there’s absolutely nothing to worry about for the Brevent top station, 100% no issues with that at all and no chance of short notice closures for repairs…

Who needs a 10mm lens when you can just lie on the apex of the corner. Merlet trail nice and snow free at the start of April.

Flegere. The main gondola up from the valley floor has come to the end of its life, so is getting removed and replaced this summer. You can traverse to Flegere from Brevent easier than Brevent to Flegere, so that’s good news. Assuming the Planpraz lift doesn’t break again. Less good is the news that all the trails under the cables will be closed until 30th November for the works.

Le Tour. The Charamillon telecabine is overdue replacement but, due to assorted local issues, this keeps getting knocked back. Currently looking like 2020, but who knows. If it breaks then access from Vallorcine is easy enough and it’s likely the opening dates of the Vallorcine lift will be extended to accommodate this.

Jesus takes to the Servoz freeride line, a trickier prospect now the train back's closed.

Train. The train, or year round uplift as we otherwise know it, isn’t running between Le Fayet and Chamonix from 1st April to 21st June. The bus replacement service doesn’t take bikes. Or often dogs.

It’s not all bad news. A fairly average winter for snowfall means that the trails should be snow clear nice and early this summer, and you can already play bike off the lifts at Pila, Verbier and Les Arcs. Woop, etc.

One man and his dog. Llyr and me on the first ride of the year back in March.

Chamonix opening dates (as ever, usual CdMB caveats apply, check for the latest):

Bellevue: 8th June – 22nd September
Le Tour: 8th June – 22nd September
Prarion: 8th June – 16th September
Brevent: 8th June – 15th September (Then Planpraz only 19th October – 3rd November)
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 15th June – 22nd September
Grands Montets: 15th June – 1st September
Vallorcine: 29th June – 1st September
Flegere: Closed to be made into a 10 person telecabine

I'm not sure what I've seen at the edge of the trail, but I'm taking it very seriously.

There’s more to the Alps than Chamonix, what other dates are there:

La Thuile: 29th June – 1st September (is an educated guess, as ever, dates not up, but that’s the usual)
Megeve: 21st June – 15th September. A mix of the Jaillet, Mont d’Arbois, Rochebrune and Petite Fontaine lifts opening dates. If you want the all open it’s July and August, more details at:
St Gervais: Bettex and the alps’ best flow track, open 28th June to 1st September
Les Contamines: Simple to navigate and with all the information for the coming year displayed, other areas take note. Please! 29th June – 1st September
Grand Massif: Assorted (very assorted) start and finish times across the area, and they’re not online yet, but based on past seasons between 15th June – 1st September
Pila: On the ball this year, website all updated and with 2019 dates on it already! 22nd June – 9th September
Portes du Soleil: 22nd June – 8th September for the most part, with Les Gets open at weekends 30th May to 16th June. Website a bit slow on info this year, so here’s just the Les Gets bit, you can work out the rest.
Verbier: Weekends & Holidaydays only from 8th June then all the days from 1st July– 27th October

Toby sending the Le Cry monolith. Do the kids still say sending?

CCcchanges? Aye, so going with the old adage “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, guide” I joined the ranks of the French qualified MTB guides this winter, so I can now work anywhere in Europe that’ll accept my burgundy passport. At some point soon I’ll have details and prices up so you can pay for the pleasure of riding with me instead of just reading about it for free (*Edit, that’ll be the details you need here: Alpine Flow MTB ). I’ve already got a wheen of interesting work planned, so I’m pretty excited really.

Dinnay fret, there’ll still be assorted content popping up here, it just might be increasingly tenuously linked to Chamonix. The Chamonix bit of the title seemed like such a good idea all those years ago. So did lumberjack shirts and baggy baggy jeans though, so perhaps looking backwards and harking to bygone eras isn’t the best idea.

Always seek the difficulty,/ not the danger. /Forge ahead, try, dare/ in the audacity there is enchantment. Gaston Rebuffet

This blog isn’t the only bit of bike related content I’ve done this year. Airdrop have brought out a new bike. As Airdrop is a company that doesn’t do things the normal way, Ed thought it would be good to put some content up on their website about their now superseded Edit V2, showing it having been abused and explaining why you shouldn’t buy one of their new bikes. Which is yet another reason to like what Ed and James are doing. So, here’s a wee link to the bit I wrote explaining why I like my Edit so much. And it’s got a grand title photo that makes me look way more gnar than I am.

Dust! This'd pass for the height of summer back in Oban.

Cheers Lorne and Toby for the photos, and welcome back to bike season then everyone, I’m off for a ski.

How to ride a bike in Chamonix.

Chamonix. It's got lifts and sun.

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

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

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

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

The ‘how to’ article.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lift Passes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Transport. 

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

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

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

Bike hire and repairs.

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

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

Other stuff.

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

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

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

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

Hunting trails

Two days off hunting. Craig David wouldn't approve.

A mission statement is a short definition of an organisations purpose, a phrase to focus and direct the activities of the group. One example is the Starship Enterprise’s “To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!” though the last bit was more about Captain James T Kirk’s efforts at interspecies relations than the attempts to be an interstellar UN. Another example is the US army’s: “The U.S. Army’s mission is to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.” which has evolved somewhat from the traditional Hummer playlist that liberated Baghdad (and suggested some folks don’t quite listen hard enough to lyrics…).

The Chamonix Bike Blog is neither a business, the worlds largest military force nor a fictional spaceship, so doesn’t need a mission statement. If it was though, I guess the closest it’s got is to encourage cyclists to try trails other than the main honeypot routes in the valley, and for everyone to be nice to each other.

Luke and Oli off hunting trails. We found a good 'un here....

In the name of a non existant mission statement, I’ve gone and ridden pure hunners of amazing trails then written something about a few of them here to encourage y’all to go give them a go too.

So if I said that a couple weeks ago, before the snows came, I went for a ride with Oli and Luke down by Sallanches and found a proper cracker of a 1300m descent, you’d expect that I’d now give some clues about where it is and how to go ride it.

Well, I’m not. I’m going to put up a load of photos to make you feel like you really missed out, give a wee bit of an explanation why, then go off on a tangent.

Autumn was absolutely amazing this year. Will ya just look at them thar hills! Obviously Oli isn't, because there's a corner coming up.

So why am I not saying where it is? About 5 years ago I rode this trail with Tom “Chamonix Bike BookWilson North. It wasn’t a complete success, but the terrain hinted at something better so I started looked about the map and saw another promising looking line. Searching through the interwebz I found a tiny amount of information about walking and biking the trail, all of which suggested it was too technical to be worth doing. Problem is, one persons technical is another person’s flowtrail…. With a relatively low expectation for success and plenty other things to try less than 30 mins from the front door, it remained on the ‘to do’ list for about 5 years.

Eventually, opportunities aligned and we said sod it, lets gie it a go. There were a few navigation points on the way down and the occasional uncertainty that we were on the right line, but nothing that can’t be dealt with if you’re an IML or spend winters doing ski lines like these.

Bit tech in places, but all fun and games.

The trail certainly wasn’t for everyone, but there were only 3 short steps all of us chose to walk. A few tweeks of alignment and it could be a classic.

That’s not the point I’m going for though. Because the thing is, we all enjoyed it far far more for not really knowing if this was going to work out. For not knowing if at any moment the good was going to end and we’d be walking the rest of the way to the valley floor. And I don’t want to take that enjoyment away from anyone else. So if you know the trail, you’ll recognise it here, but if you don’t you won’t, so you’re still going to have to go and see if the line YOU think is going to work out will.

Want to ride a trail like this? Well go and find it, you might unearth something better...

Then there’s the other thing.

We rode this trail on a Wednesday. Really, we could only ride this trail on a Wednesday or a Friday. Between 9th September and 20th January the Haute Savoie is in hunting season and these are the only 2 days hunting is forbidden. As the trail is deep in the woods, little frequented, yet easy enough to access if you have a car, it’s a fair assumption there will be hunters in the area. And nobody wants to get shot.

They like their basejumping about here. Canny see why, but Luke's trying to.

A lot of people would say we’re being a touch paranoid, but a 34 year old mountain biker was shot dead on the Super Morzine trails by a 22 year old hunter earlier in October. He was the 4th person to be killed in France due to a hunt since June 1st this year. Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.

Luke Jarmey capturing me in my natural environment. Running away from getting shot in the back.

The investigation into the death is ongoing however some of the details are becoming clearer. Le Dauphine has provided the best information, you can read it in French here: , a rough summary of what’s been written would be: The 8 hunters were in a line parallel with the trail the cyclist was riding, roughly 40 meters from the trail, and had clear visibility. The cyclist was wearing a bright coloured t-shirt and coloured bike and helmet. The round was on an upward trajectory when it hit the cyclist, the hunters should have been shooting towards the ground.

Hard to mistake him for a boar. And it’s not like he was the first non hunter to be killed either, there are legion stories of innocent folks getting shot.

Obligatory 'does good backdrop' shot. Luke up above the Arve Valley.

So you want to go play outdoor between September and January but don’t want to get shot? Advice to walkers, runners and cyclists during hunting periods includes to carry a bell and wear bright colours. And we do, I’ve got lovely pair of fluorescent orange Fox shorts that come out at this time of year. Except the dead mountainbiker was wearing bright colours and on a bright coloured bike when he was shot. Also, much like it’s the cyclists responsibility to not run over the walkers, I kinda feel the onus should be on the hunter to not shoot a human, rather than the human to dress up like a christmas tree.

Muted earth tones. Great for fashion,not so good for not being shot. Oli moves quick enough they'd probably miss.

There are two ways to go hunting in France, a day license or an annual hunting permit. The annual permit costs 447 euro or 150 euro if you only want to kill things in your own department. Not bad compared to buying a summer lift pass. You don’t just buy the license anymore though, following the high accident rates pre 2000 you’re required to sit an exam to get it. Here’s an anglophone’s experience.

Before you start thinking that sounds quite complicated, it’s a license to kill things. With a gun. Compare that to the challenge of sitting a driving license theory and practical exam.

Luke getting stuck in, and trying to ignore the assortment of cameras on his back.

The good news is that deaths are decreasing. In 2002 hunters managed to kill 40 people, which is verging on humans being a legitimate form of game, last year they had that down to ‘only’ 13. The bad news is that November is historically the worst month for deaths. So don’t put the hi vis away quite yet.

Strong rucsac/fallen leaf matching game on show there.

So maybe it’s time for a bit more regulation? The hunting lobby is strong in France (what is it with guns and government?) there’s apparently 1.12 million hunters in France (down from 1.5m in 2000). In 2017, 2,780,000 bikes were sold in France (and you can look at the live selling rate here). I think cyclists outnumber hunters. And dinnay forget the walkers, trailrunners, mushroom hunters, dog owners, horse riders….. So I’m not convinced that hunters are that strong in number, just very very vocal (kinda like the NRA). Mibbies it’s time we were a wee bit more vocal.

Snow free trails. Not sure quite how much of this there is left for 2018.

The purpose of all this isn’t to say hunting should be banned. We have to accept that simply by existing all organisms have a negative and positive influence on the other organisms in the vicinity. We might try to minimize the negative, but even Buddha accidentally stands on an insect every so often. Hunters have just as much right to be in the hills as mountain bikers, or runners, or any other group, but the current rules of society say that no group has the right to go about killing people, and only one of these groups regularly does.

Luke nearing the end of the descent. Get's quite Indian Jones in places. In a good way,not in a snakes and nazis way.

Again, I’m not saying hunting should be banned, just that perhaps there should be a zero tolerance approach to alcohol, one of the weekend days can be a no hunting day, maybe ban shooting over the line of trails within 1km, the calibre and power of the guns could be limited to reduce the range of stray bullets and the damage they can do at a distance (of course, this means you need to get closer to the prey, but then I keep hearing that hunting is about skill and stealth not wantonly blasting away at the undergrowth, so surely this shouldn’t be an issue for all the true hunters).

Really was a cracking find this trail. Oli leads out on the most interesting section.

Before that happens, here’s some useful links to help:

CHASSECO. Kinda a one stop shop for finding out where hunters can hunt and on what days. Quite handy. And also available as an app should you already be cycling and trying to avoid the bullets:

If you want to know what dates the hunts are on, and which animal you really shouldn’t look like, here’s the info:

I've got him in my sights captain!

In summary; hunting trails good, hunting trail users bad.


Verbier. Looking towards Chamonix. Got to get the dig in somewhere ;-)

Verbs, as Massive Attack inform us (when oh when will they do a Sesame Street co-lab?), are ‘doing’ words, so this episode we are doing Verbier. Chamonix’s richer, better schooled, better looking (but not quite as talented….), cousin.

There’s a fair bit of winter rivalry twixt the two as to which is the better resort, with the Chamonix folks laughing at what Verbier calls “extreme”, the Bec du Rosses is just a fun wee ski out for us, whilst the Verbier crews get confused why Chamonerds take all they ropes and harnesses and crap out with them in their rucsac and just backflip over the problem whiles we’re still setting the abseil anchor or working out which foot to put the crampon on first.

Spence riding at the edge of the known world in Verbier. Backflip or rappel? Or just ride the cracking bit of singletrack and ignore the edge?

Truth telt, both places are grand and, being an easy 50 minutes drive apart*, worth going to each of them.

Plus I’ve spent this summer working in Verbier, so it’s not like I’ve spent lots of time learning the trails there or anything.

Starting with the basics, the Verbier bikepark is mostly below the Verbier – Ruinettes lift, but there’s also bikes only trails over by the Savoleyres lift. A bikepark pass will set you back 31chf to 37chf and let you play on the Le Chable-Verbier-Ruinettes gondola, the La Chaux Express and the La Tzoumaz / Savoleyres gondolas which link Verbier and La Tzoumaz via Savoleyres.

And you thought Chamonix had the knackered old lift infrastructure market to itself. Savoleyres gondola, a bit decrepit.

In addition to the bikes only bikepark trails, there’s a wheen of “enduro” trails. Or trails as they’re otherwise known. If there isn’t a no bikes sign at the start then they’re generally well ridden. If there is a no bikes sign at the start, then riding them will cause all manner of issues for everyone else when it comes to bike access and general trail advocacy so best stick to the trails you can ride, it’s not like there’s a shortage of them.

If you stump up the extra few chf for the full 4 valleys lift pass then a whole world of possibilities opens up, kinda like how the Megeve/Les Contamines/St Gervais addition to Chamonix’s pass works. But you’d really need a guide for that…

To La Chaux. AND BEYOND! Anja heads towards the greater 4 valleys lift network, with a hop, skip and a jump.

Anyways, work is work and play is play. Lucky for me a few Chamonix friends have made the trip over when I’m not working at showing people around so I can spend my day off showing people around. It’d be a pretty dull bit of content if I just listed off trail names and descriptions for every trail we rode, but there are a few stand outs.

If you're no already a fan, aways and listen to Idles "Mother".

Margaret Thatcher. If you know where to start, and you know to go far enough right, maybe you can find: Margaret Thatcher. It sits in that liminal zone between legitimate and not legitimate trail. There’s no sign at the start telling you not to ride it, but that’s mostly because not many people know the trail’s there. So I’m not telling.

It could be in Innerleithen though.

Margaret Thatcher does briefly get bogged down in the mire. She got rescued by North Sea oil, the Falklands war and, here, a handy gap jump.

After a slightly out of character start through rocks and moorland, Maggie plumets through coniferous forest. The trail constantly evolves as parts get too worn out so new lines appear through the fresh loam and, of course, fresh roots. It gets steep too, silly steep in places, yet somehow the dirt is just good enough and the corners just rutted enough that you can slip and slide and bounce your way down and jjuuuussssstt get away with it. And if you don’t the undergrowth is pretty forgiving. Talking of corners, unlike the Iron Lady, this trail IS for turning. There’s not many points where you go in a straight line for more than a few meters.

Seems I don't have a picture of either Chez Danny or Nuthouse, so this is the top of Ultimate instead. Which takes a bit more finding and ain't on the maps either...

Chez Danny. There’re two very similar trails out on riders left of the bikepark, Chaz Danny and Nuthouse. I’m not sure which is better really. They both share the same excellent traverse over the alpages away from the park trails which sees you hopping and skipping through the grass like a Von Trapp. Nuthouse does have a better top to bottom flow, Chaz Danny kinda abruptly ends about 2/3rds of the way down the hill. But then, Nuthouse needs a bit of a pedal to get into it whilst Chez Danny is fully up to speed just a few meters in. I’ll go with Chez Danny because I really like corners, and Chez Danny is all about the corners. There’s a bit of straight to start with, and a few more on the lower section, but otherwise you’re either setting up for a corner, executing a corner, or exiting a corner for many hundreds of meters of vertical. A good thing. Unless it’s wet in which case there is no traction worth talking about and you can remove the ‘set up’ and ‘exit’ parts of the above description and replace it with ‘sideways’ after executing a corner.

Airdrop's new prototype 650cm wheel bike. Perfect for those pesky alpine rock gardens. Coming to a bike park trail near you soon.

Wouaiy. Which is the noise you make quite a lot of the time on the way down. Bike Park isn’t the greatest thing about Verbier, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some great bike park. Best started from Fontanet on the Rodze trail where you can get your eye in on the upper jumps framed by, if you’ve been lucky with the weather, one of the better backdrops of any park in the world. In an unusual twist for a European bike park, the jumps are all of a fairly similar size too, so if you get the first few, you should get the rest. Ish. It’s not Canada ey.

Over the whoops (what exactly are you meant to do with whoops? I really don’t get them) and through the wooden arch into Woohai proper (you could also get here straight from Ruinettes, but where’s the fun in that?) At first it’s a lot of tight left, right, left, right, left, repeat corners, with the odd wee gap jump thrown in for measure. As it’s a bike park you don’t feel quite so bad about throwing some shapes to get round the corners, but I’m not sure I’d say that if I worked on the park maintenance team.

You can get a lot of airtime on the Verbier trails (also, this might be the most technically correct photo I've taken, it's the little things that make you proud)

As the angle of the terrain slackens off so can your braking fingers and you enter the best section. Fast, diving around the trees. Big well built berms throw you round the corners and little lips dotted around the trail let you gap over almost everything you could want to, making a root infested trail feel as smooth as tarmac when you get it right.

In Verbier it never stays mellow for long though, soon enough you’re hanging off the back of the bike and chucking it round the turns again. And then you’re dumped out onto fire road faced with a choice. Step up and drop into the black final section of obligatory gap drops and tech rocks. Fun, but not for those of a nervous disposition, or. Down the fire road for a bit to the excellent last red section; deep berms, with the end of the last overlapping the start of the next, just as it should be really, to let you proper pop from corner to corner. One of those trails that massages your ego and fools you into thinking you’re a far better rider than you are. Which means it’s time to get back on the lift, leave the park, and go ride….

Vertigo. To get this shot I climbed a tree to pretty much the top, then noticed the drop off the cliff to the side and asked Spence to hurry up so I could get back down again.

Vertigo. Which isn’t that grand a name for the trail as it’s not really that exposed and Hitchcock hasn’t appeared for his cameo on the trail. Or not yet anyways. The name is immaterial. The pedal round from the bike park round La Chaux with the grand views of the Grand Combin in front of you nicely whets the appetite. The appetizer of the techy traverse from the gravel road to the start of the trail does just that. By the time you start to roll in over the undulating alpage you are definitely ready for the main course.

Starting the main course on Vertigo, Grand Combin in the distance.

A shame then that the first bite is a little soured by the stravafication of the initial turns. Or lack of turns due to the straight lining trench that runs through them. No matter, the bike park crew are apparently going to return this to its former glory soon, and you’re into the woods and all manner of trail taste sensation before you know it anyways.

Vertigo eases you in gently, the trail swoops and flows through the forest for the first half, occasional flashes of the drop appear through the trees but mostly you’d never know how ridiculous a bit of hillside it is for a trail to pass through. Slowly but surely though, the swooping turns tighten up. Soon your arms start to burn from the braking into each cresta run esque hairpin and you’re wishing you’d paid more attention at cornering school.

Mmmmm. Corners.

Then, the section that gives the trail it’s name. You emerge from the woods into some straightforward trail. Gently curving, not too steep. And about 30cm wide, bench cut into the side of a steep slope that ends in a plunge to the gully below. It’s only short, you’re soon back into throwing the bike around corners then the final long deathgrip-if-you-dare straight and the Dirt magazine (R.I.P.) gap jump at the end. My favourite trail off the lifts, I think, Donkey Derby is up there too right enough. Either way, what next, Lama Farm or Comfort Zone?

In a summer characterised by the complete lack of bad weather, Spence managed to visit on the one dreich day of August! Vertigo was still running grand though.

Basically, there’s a lot of good trails. Some are better than others, some are more tech than others. You’re not going to know for yourself unless you go and try them though. Think of this post as a bit of gentle encouragement to go and make the journey over the border from Chamonix. The lifts are open until 28th October** if that’s the extra push you need.

You can do a lot straight off the lifts in Verbier, but you an do more with a bit of legwork.

A big thanks to Bike Verbier who have not only shown me all these trails, but pay me to show other people them too. And, more importantly, loads of harder to find and access trails that you’d have nae chance of getting done otherwise.

Trails are ace. Bikes are ace.

*Or a scenic but pricy train ride apart. Or a sweaty road bike. Or an interesting MTB trip.
** Weather permitting…. I’ve been skiing up at Lac des Vaux in October before!

Ciao fae the now Verbier.

The journey, not the destination.

Tour du Mont Blanc by road bike. It's about the journey not the destination. Obviously. What would be the point otherwise?

There’s not really much point to riding a bike for leisure*, but at least you can normally argue you’re getting somewhere. A circular ride, not so much. A load of effort expended to end up where you started. But if I’m going to start criticising that, I’ll quickly digress to ranting about the futility of human existence and the pointlessness of life in general, and I’m not going to bother because reading the news gives me more than enough things to rant and wave my hands about to.

Instead, embrace the futility. Enjoy the journey rather than the destination.

With two friends visiting and a good weather forecast we came up with a destination, Chamonix, and went looking for a journey.

Things you see on a journey. Big views.

As all 3 of us are now older than we’ve ever been before and have taken different journeys to get to where we’re at, the analogies start flowing. Fortunately for you, the literary and film world are full of reunion journey stories which have been judged and ranked over time, so you can toddle off and enjoy them for a combined nostalgia-and-optimism-for-future hit. I used to work in sustainable transport, I’ve watched the response to the IPCC report. There is no optimism, there is no future.

It's cycle touring, not bike packing. Just because you've been tight and simply strapped your shit onto the bike rather than using a pannier doesn't make it a different sport, it just means you're using the wrong tools for the job.

Where was I? Ah yes, biking. Road biking in particular. I’ve only road biked once before and that was 3 years ago with the same characters. But, things seemed to go quite well then and 1000 days is long enough to forget the bad bits and focus on the good, so we came up with something a little more challenging. (I should point out that Jim and I have some form in this field. After 1 semi successful day in a canoe on Rannoch Moor, a bog that seemed easier to cross by boat than foot, we decided to spend 5 days traversing Scotland by moor, loch and grade 3 rapid. What could go wrong? Lots.)

A selection of fine steeds. Many, many thanks go out to Phil, Theo and Tim for lending us their bikes, and to voile for inventing the multi purpose ski strap.

As we’re all tertiary educated middle class types, forethought and research was done. We rolled out of Chamonix with a detailed plan that went something like: up, down, up, down, uuuuuuuuuuppppppppp, ddddoooowwwwnnnn, uuuuuppppp, dddooowwwnn, uupp, down, up, down up, down, up, with a bit of eat, sleep drink and take the piss out of each other added in to split things up. You’ll notice that there was more up than down there. This is a problem with human power.

Col Des Montets. But you'd probably guessed that already.

Things started well. Col des Montets arrives much easier on a road bike than a mountain bike. And 25c tyres kick the shit out of a super tacky minion for road descending too. Col du Forclaz arrived with a similar lack of fuss (if you exclude the detour to play in the anti tank bunker, we’ve not really grown up much. And to be fair, everyone thought humans were going to wipe themselves out during the cold war, and we somehow missed that, so maybe we will come together and avoid catastrophic climate change) and the tarmac descent to Martigny is way more fun than the 4×4 version.

Col du Forclaz. Well done Sherlock.

Lunch, where we could sit and drink coffee, eat very sharp bread, and take the piss out of each other, then the climb to Grand col St Bernard. Grand is probably the right word for the climb, scale if not humour. It’s like a really shit joke, Sajid Javid stand up quality. ‘What’s 43km long and 1900m high?’ ‘The climb to the Monastery’.

Going up. and up. and etc.

We were laughing at the start. No one was laughing at the end (actually we were laughing a bit in the middle too when Malcolm met the cheese vending machine). It really didn’t help that there was a howling headwind coming down the valley. When drafting works at 7kph, you’ve got issues.

One of the best things about being in the tunnel was the relative lack of headwind. The adjusting light settings on the camera whilst riding was just an added bonus.

When I was planning the ride I’d imagined perfect alpine weather and sublime views of the Grand Combin to distract us from the numbing discomfort of a climb that drags on a bit in a car never mind a laden bike, but the weather hadn’t read my mind and had gone all silent hill on us. By the time we crawled up to the Monastery you could hardly see the other side of the road. So this wasn’t the time to discover that the Monastery that never shuts was locked up. And it wasn’t just us. A random Italian family was trying with equal lack of success to find a way into the building.

A fair amount of my time at uni was lost sat in rooms as Silent Hill got played in the background. This all felt quite familiar. Aaarghhh, ZOMBIE. Kill it.

Turns out we were all just a bit rubbish at opening the blast proof door. We got in, we had some religious tea and soon felt good enough to go back to dealing with the world.

Col du Grand St Bernard. And as it's the morning, you can even see some of the buildings, woop.

Staying in a monastery does seem like a slightly odd choice I’ll grant you, but the St Bernard monastery is a bit of an outlier. For a start it’s at 2500m, so the views are quite good. Or would be if we could have seen much beyond the end of our noses. It’s also a refuge, and at 50chf for bed n board, about as good value an option as you’ll find in Switzerland. As an added bonus, it’s the last few days of the col being open before its winter closure (which lasts until June, winter lasts about as long as the climb up here) so the refuge is dead quiet. We get an 8 person dorm to ourselves and with only 12 people around the dinner table and food cooked for considerably more, we eat well. This is good because Mal the doctor has concluded we are something like 3000kcal in deficit and need to eat more.

St Bernard Monastery stuff.

The second day was always meant to be the ‘easy’ bit. Start with a massive descent, 35km and 1900m, down to Aosta, go for cappuccino, pedal along the relatively flat roads along the Aosta valley, go for more coffee, pedal some more, coffee and food some more, before the one climb of the day, complete with more stops for coffee and topped off with a long descent down into France and food.


You know you're in Italy when...

And it kinda was. Our overnight fears of the damp roads freezing were unfounded, instead with 2 degree air temperature and 98% humidity it was only us that froze on the initial descent. After 15km or so of steadily losing height we got out into the sun and kept cracking on. And on. And on. Descending is fun.

You know the opening scene from The Italian Job, where the Lambo' is cruising up an alpine pass to the sound of Matt Monroe until it meets a digger? Well, that's this pass that is.

Aosta city came as a bit of a shock. For a start it was flat rather than downhill, so we had to pedal. Then there were vehicles fleeing everywhere. And there were potholes. Still, it’s no Glasgow and we were soon out of town and onto the first coffee stop.

A flat road and a big hill. So describes about 20km of the second days ride.

Since we’d left Chamonix the day before we’d pretty much either been going up hill or down. There had been flat, but not very much. Now, with Mont Blanc in front of us and some caffeine in the belly, we were riding rolling flat roads. On the drops and in a line, road biking really started to make sense. You were putting effort through the pedals, no doubt, but not so much that you couldn’t easily hold a conversation, and we were absolutely flying along. You just canny cover ground like this on a mountain bike. Tunnels and villages flashed by and we were at another selection of cafes for lunch.

I might seem to be over selling this, but I really enjoyed the climb. How couldn't you when it looked like this?

The Aosta valley terminates with a bunch of big hills. The easiest way out is the Petit St Bernard pass. At 2188m the petit bit is questionable. Still, it’s less than yesterday’s climb and under blue skies and mid October temperatures it was hard to feel too intimidated.

Nearing the Col du Petit St Bernard. Whit a place tae be.


What a stunning climb. I’m really not used to the idea of climbing being enjoyable. Skiing and mountain biking the climb is a means to the end, the destination is the down, but on such an efficient bike the switchbacks up through the trees with Dent du Geant and Mont Blanc peaking through the foliage, the rolling road passing small villages and tunnels in turn, the rise out of the treeline and into the alpine, the huge views as the col drew near. I was in a happy place.

At the col there was an open bar selling beer. Now all three of us were in a happy place.

Col du Petit Saint Bernard. I'm not sure what happened to make the lad so much smaller here than on the Swiss/Italian col. Mibbies he ate his way across Italy?

The descent to Bourg St Maurice did nothing to burst my euphoric bubble. Descending first thing that morning on damp greasy roads hadn’t changed my mind any on the idea that road bikes are rubbish for going downhill on. As La Rosiere came (rapidly) into view I still wasn’t planning on putting drops on my Edit, but having abandoned MTB technique and channeled Sagan (not Froome) things were really clicking and the meandering road with massive sight lines was just flipping awesome riding.

France before it got potholey. Still stunnin'.

What could bring us down? Potholes, that’s what. Swiss roads were as impeccably smooth and clean as you’d expect from Switzerland. Italy seemed to have laid fresh tarmac earlier in the week in anticipation of our arrival. France hadn’t got the memo. From the Col to La Rosiere had been ok going, but leaving La Rosiere things deteriorated. A lot. Individual potholes you can bunny hop easy enough, but what do you do when the road is one big pothole and your entire tyre is smaller than the tread on the real bike. Slow down and weave about like a drunk is the answer.

It wasnay all bad, but if the 73 could just re-lay the road for the next time I’m there then that’d be grand ta.

Hard to describe just how amazing the light was at this point, and trying to take photos at 50kph is not a long term solution. So you'll just have to extrapolate.

And with that done, our second nights accommodation came into view. Le Relais Camping and a Yurt. Because why not.

Bourg innit. Do you think the campsite is bike friendly then?

Reading multi day riding advice before our trip, the importance of a recovery drink as soon as possible after finishing each days ride was stressed time and time again. With the biggest day to come tomorrow we took this very seriously and headed straight into Bourg St Maurice to find a bar and marvel at the technological masterpiece that is the new Super U carpark.

Malcolm and Jim on the climb to Cormet de Roselend. There was a lot of climb to take photos of....

We did plan to start early on Saturday. On paper (or on screen, doesn’t sound quite the same does it) it looked easy enough, 2 cols and 2 smaller climbs spread over 120km, but everyone I’d chatted to said that this was the bit that kicked them in the arse. We’d fine out soon enough for one way or another but not before we’d tracked down breakfast, which turned out to be the best damn pain au chocolat I’ve had and a leisurely coffee. Leisurely was probably a mistake.

Jim, climbing.

At 10 we were heading out of Bourg and starting up the climb.

Jim, still climbing.

At 11 we were still on the climb.

Malcolm. Also still climbing.

At 12 we were still on the climb.

Cormet de Roselend. It does exist.

It turns out the climb to Cormet de Roselend does go on a bit. Quite pretty though, and somehow I was still enjoying myself.

Pretty views to enjoy.

As seems to be the way of these things, the descent was about as long as the climb, and perfectly enjoyable too. Finally getting to go to Beaufort (which is the secluded French mountain town you imagine when you imagine secluded French mountain towns) and get a cracking lunch only added to my general good feelings about the world. And a nice shorter climb to go next too.

Jim climbing up the descent from Cormet de Roselend. Wait, what.

1000m of climbing is shorter than 1100m of climbing. If I was finding my minor errors in pre-ride map reading slightly painful, Jim’s opinion of it was un typeable. My promises of a water fountain in every village weren’t going down too well either, particularly when we had to detour downhill into Hauteluce to find one. No, there wasn’t a downhill detour back up to where we left the route.

If we're cycling round Mont Blanc, why am I heading directly away from it? Malcolm loving the climb to Col des Saisies

The Col des Saisies may have featured a bar selling carbonated sugar and a pumptrack (of course I did) but alas no sign to let you know where you were. As taking a photo of each col is the recognised way to navigate on a road bike we were left wandering about in circles trying to come up with a solution. Which was to stand in the carpark.

Stood in a carpark at 1633m. Saisies, up yer col signage game eh.

We were now 65km into a near 130km day and it was 15.30. Those of you with memory and maths skills will have deduced that we’d been on the go for 5 1/2 hours. It gets dark at about 19.30. Something somewhere wasn’t going to add up. I checked my lights still had some battery in them.


Being at the top of a col meant we were going downhill again, which does wonders for your average speed if you can pay attention to the road rather than the scenery. Not only that but before long we were back onto kent roads, from near Flumet was ground we’d all covered before and somehow that makes it easier. Onto the uphill drag past Praz sur Arly and Megeve and we were again on the drops and battering through the distance. The long straights towards St Gervais felt easy as we cruised along at over 40kph. We might just manage this before it gets dark.

One of the consequences of 'making progress' is keeping the camera in the pocket. So here's a non chronologically sequenced shot from the day before with an implication of progress made by the off axis orientation of the shot. And you think I just empty the memory card into these collections of infinite monkey typings.

After getting stuck in traffic for a whiles we took a back road detour and freewheeled into Le Fayet, then struggled to accelerate from a standstill in the stiffest gear to make it to the tabac for another round of cocacola, 35km done in roughly an hour.

Cruising outta Le Fayet before things got steep.

Dark of course isn’t just about light. Mood and atmosphere also feature in the metaphor. Climbing the short way out of Le Fayet to Servoz may have been lit by the daylight, but the ascent was done in the dark. Road bikes don’t like proper steep gradients.

Seeing as everything else is about the end, lets go back to the start, day 1, somewhere steep.

The new Servoz road by contrast is cracking, a tarmac pumptrack of rolling fun and frolics through the woods and on to the start of the Vaudagne climb which, as you look at the dual carriage way cutting round the hillside with minimal height gain, feels just a bit unnecessary. It doesn’t matter though. We could walk up this climb and we’ll make it now before the sun set.

Destination beer. 330km 9300m

Rolling back along the road between Les Houches and Chamonix it feels like a lot more than 3 days ago we were heading in the same direction between Chamonx and Les Praz. A few hours later in the bar it feels like a lot less than near half our lives ago we all met in a halls of residence. Which all confirms that time is relative and non linear, despite non of us studying physics.

Somewhere between La Thuile and Col du Petit St Bernard. Or between heaven and paradise.

What of the literal journey completed? Another lap of Mont Blanc done, and again it’s the company that matters, the bikes are just an excuse for the trip, cheers Malcom and Jim for the trip, what’s the next one going to be?

Should we go join a religious order?

For the rest of yous, how’s this for an idea: Mont Blanc road trip…… Go play MTB at ChamonixVerbierPilaLa ThuileLes ArcsMegeveSt GervaisChamonix. And that’s just the places less than 5mins detour to the base of the lift station and I’ve got a blog post for, plenty more to pick from just a tiny bit further out.

Budget Energy Drink. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

*As all leisure activities are pointless, as are all non vocational degrees.