Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Horrendous traverses into delightful descents

solo mission today lead me to Dorenaz to check out the trails

There seems to be an ongoing theme, the Valais region of Switzerland keeps pulling us over the boarder.  On Sunday we skied what this season was considered quite nice snow in a 40 degree couloir above Finhaut, and today I was near Martigny to sample the trails on offer using the Dorenaz gondola.  The beauty of spring is that you can mix winter sports and summer ones.

About 10 minutes from Martigny you'll find a tiny lift that can hold up to 10 people whilst your bikes are suspended underneath.  I had two journeys up when it was only me.  The maximum number of people that were in a cabin today was 5. A school girl returning to her village high above the valley, an old farmer boy coming to do maintenance on his 'alpage' fields & some other old dears.  It's a strange place.  Very Swiss.  The yellow Poste bus has a priority parking space right next to the lift that runs year round almost every hour.  How, why, what, where and when I'm not 100% sure.  But in recent years mountain biker's have been building official DH tracks.

And of course, being in the Valais the number of potentially good dotted footpath lines on the map is ridiculous.

I started on the downhill course which is well known to be steep.  Call it the new bike, or perhaps because it was the first run of the day, but I didn't really feel it.  Maybe after a few runs it'd go better when you had an idea of what to expect.  Maybe on a proper downhill bike that could handle repetitive steep steps and drops...
Views back to Mont Blanc Massif
So it began, exploration and adventure time.  A tale of highs and low's. Carrying the bike around sketchy traverses tightly gripping onto handrail chains.

I'd found a few potential options on various bike websites.  They all started much higher up from the lift so as I started spinning up the road I kept an eye on the snow line.  Unfortunately I was unable to get as high as I had hoped for one trail so another sketchy traverse eventually lead me to 2/3 of the way down the singletrack.  Brown POW! Deep leaves covered the trail that meandered down the steep hillside.  The switchbacks were perfect.  There was no need to nose manual or hop your way around, just flow around corner after corner.  Lower down, you cross over a minor road a few times on tight technical trails in light forests and then finish with this:
Wild garlic singletrack
The real gem of the day came on my last run that took me around to above Martigny town.  This was part of a descent that in summer can be started from 2124 metres.  I joined in at 1100 metres, and it still took me 20 minutes to get down to the bottom. In short this trail compares to the ultra special Albertville trails.  Where I started from was steep but it flowed with more perfect, not too tight switchbacks, then into a dry dusty trail swooping in, down and around before dropping you into a long rocky section in the open.  I thought I'd missed my right turn, but decided to carry on as the trail was so good.  Just rocky enough to be technical, but still very fast. The trail had seen recent maintenance to the drainage ditch's.  In Chamonix Valley they are built deliberately large to hinder mountain bikers, in Valais, they accept that mountain bikers are part of the outdoor culture and design accordingly.

I hadn't missed my right turn, a little uphill, and the trail texture changes. I was right in the open, just above the vineyards.  The surface was dry, hard and almost sandy.  A perfect enduro section, a little down, smooth across, a rock step, and more smooth ribbon singletrack to follow.
Too good not to show again
Dorenaz deserves some more exploring once the snow disappears above 2000 metres altitude.  For mountain bikers, after the lift another 1000m must be pedalled to get to highest 'goods'.  For downhillers, session-ing the trail straight out of the lift is also well worth a visit.  Get in the flow of it, and it'll be a great "vtt descente".

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Earliest start ever

2015 really starts here

This winter has not been the greatest.  We've had some great days, but in general the snow coverage has been poor and as temperature's increase it soon disappear's. 

And that is just what happened and how we ended up riding on Sunday the 8th of March 2015 at the Saleve.  The earliest start to an alpine biking season I've experienced after a long mild period melted lots of low lying snow.

The Saleve lift was open for one last day before it shut for the end of it's 'winter' schedule.  I wanted to check out some trails on the Petit Saleve and pedal a little. Despite the late night shift me and Tom were up and away early to make the most of the day with our 'enduro' bikes.

The new CUBE was finished up on Saturday afternoon between work shifts and ready to roll.  I'd been keeping an eye on the Saleve mountains for a while.  Petit Saleve had been snow clear for atlas 3 weeks however the very top of the main mountainside still had snow.  We didn't know if this would effect us as the lift doesn't actually drop you at the highest point of the mountain.
Snow near the top for Tom

As fun as it scooting with feet out, we were glad once the snow disappeared from the trail and we could let it flow somewhat.  It was around about 1000 metre altitude mark that the snow went, and the autumnal fallen leaves were revealed.  The trails had not seen much traffic so you really had to keep your eyes peeled to be able to see the ribbon of trail in front of you.

The lower we got, the drier the trails got, and despite neither of us having ridden for about 4 months, the speeds also began to creep up.  We hit our favourite fast natural berm chute's that lead into a fast, twisty, trail that culminates with 3 or 4 mini rock gardens.  Enough to keep us on our toes as we got used to riding again.  We ended up at the bottom of the village where we'd normally pedal back up on our downhill bikes and drop over the frontside and back to the lift.  This time however we were going up to the Petit Saleve as we didn't have any downhill bikes with us today.
Mont Blanc hiding in the background on the way up
We'd heard about Petit Saleve from CUBE Bikes Yarno who lived nearby when we he worked for Kona and from Tom's Morzine friends.  All reviews were very positive despite the climb up and pedal back to the lift.   For our first lap we pushed up the direct route which was horrible and steep.  On our second lap we pedalled around on a pretty gentle track that features the odd technical limestone rock outcrop.  Take the pedal, it's only 30-45 minutes.

The trails up there are similar to the main Saleve side just without the jumps and big berms suited to downhill bikes.  This was mountain biking terrain, pedal up, and zoom back down on woodland singletrack.  Great fun and there are a few more options up there to be explored on this mellow hillside.  In places you could be riding in a UK park as you traverse a footpath through a clearing before dropping into another section of flowy trail that has seen just enough spade work to be fun, but enough to keep it feeling real.

On our second lap we actually descended the top part of an official French VTT route.  And for an XC itinerary it was amazing!
Hazy view from the top 

The pedal back takes about 20 minutes if your cruising on the track by the railway line, or a bit less if your feeling fit on the road.

After loading the van we of course took a diversion past McDonalds as it tradition with Saleve trips.

The day after I was ski touring to a 3500m col in the Argentierre basin and descending on great spring snow.  Who know's what the next few weeks will bring us.

The Cube Stereo 160 was riding very well.  The rear suspension felt very planted like a downhill bike.  Perhaps I will have to play around if I feel the need to make it snappier, but it could be a rocket ship as it is.  I didn't do many jumps or drops so for now I'm not sure how it would do in more downhill orientated terrain.  Time will tell.  With the shock in climb mode there was no bob at all from the suspension.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Spring 2015 arrives a year early

Some people hadn't packed their bikes away yet and had been doing a mix of skiing and biking.  I had sold my bikes so instead had been studying for my next IML tests and doing a bit of walking in the autumnal weather that had returned to the northern Alps.

It was with news that Courmayeur was unable to open is ski pistes, and that the ever Swiss resort of Verbier was even offering reduced price passes as their ski area was so poor that several people were talking about more biking.  I was kindly lent a Mega, 26 inch, but it was superb to be heading out.
Green style!
Five of us actually quite comfortably got our bikes into the back of the Bluebird minibus and headed down to Servoz for several laps of leafy goodness.  Load the van and repeat! We even managed to befriend a dog and take her for a lap in the minibus.  She eventually ran off when she had a chance to escape from Mr G.
Stabby T getting low

Humpage huck!
More Jarno green style

After a stylish Super U carpark lunch where we were treated to such culinary delights as the goat's cheese and banana baguette and turkish delight style chocolate it was time for the classic Merlet track!

You definitely know that you are back in Chamonix Valley after riding in Servoz.  Big rocks, exposure to your side, roots all over the place at awkward angles, and more rocks.  You really have to be on your toe's at all times, in the dry you can try daring lines hopping over a root here and then trying to charge through the next set hoping that your rear wheel doesn't slip out.  And of course there are some switchbacks to contend with too. By the time we got down to les Bossons, everyone was grinning and/or grimacing from close calls on the way down.  Only option was to do another lap!

So what a way to finish November 2014!  There is no snow forecast for a while, people will keep on riding, running and walking.  And I'll keep on studying.
Wheel size debate: 26" is quite possibly dead.  The sweet little Mega I rode was great, the tyres gripped like anything. It felt familiar after a season on a similar, but slightly newer version.  It's still a great bike for around here.  BUT.  The wheels, they are small and you do feel all the bumps and roots more.  And when you try and pump, there is not quite that same zippy acceleration as when you get 27.5" wheels going.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The annual big change in seasons

It's that time of year again when bikes get packed away.  Or in my case this season, sold.
I'm a mountain bike guide without a bike, but despite fluctuating snow line levels I'm in the mindset now of winter ski touring and snowshoeing.

Today we scored our first ski turns of the season.  Cham has not had as much snowfall as neighbouring Swiss Valais so it was time to drive over again, much like the end of the biking season.  The Valais keeps on calling us!

A few photo's, until next "summer time", enjoy:

*chainmark does not condone the use of snowboards

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Digging day

After my visit last week to the ever classic forests around Ludlow I was determined to make it back to my trail to sort out the fallen tree problem before I return to Chamonix for winter and skiing time! Happy with the results! Hope some people enjoy:

Old trail leading into new straight on section to lower part of fallen tree

Ramp/Rollover/Jump up and over fallen tree

Ramp/rollover/jump from on top

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Welsh goodness

British perseverance paid off

Some of us nearly turned down to a lower route after about 10 minutes in near 50mph Welsh winds up above Hay-on-Wye.  But we carried on and it wasn't too bad.  A great ride up, down and around The Black Mountains. Shame the iPhone died:
Hay Bluff view
On the way up to Lord Hereford's Knob (!)
A mighty Hereford drink from the night before

Friday, 24 October 2014

Being shown around my classic stomping ground

Another chance to be shown around trails.  Not as glamorous as Switzerland, but just as good! Mortimers Forest and Bringewood, Ludlow, Shropshire, England

The woods of Mortimers Forest and Bringewood are where I grew up mountain biking so I always love going back.  A few years ago I built a long section of singletrack trail to link in above a much loved piece of trail that had been a staple of rides for many years.  It was my way of giving back to the forest riders and builders.

Over the last few years whilst I've been away riding 1000m+ descents my Dad has still been out exploring every corner of these forests.  Sometimes walking with my Mother, other times out on road rides with his Wednesday night Pub Ride group or usually with his main Sunday morning off road group. They are trail connoisseurs, though they might not look it.  They are the type of group that make up every British Forestry carpark on a Sunday morning.  Escaping the wife for a few hours of banter with the boys.  Not descending at pro downhiller speed, they still have fun weekend after weekend.

1 beast, 1 29" trail weapon, 1 5'8" trail searcher
Today however it was midweek, my Dad had fed the cattle and got permission from Mum to go out riding.  It's not been too wet around here recently, some soggy climbing took us up and around Mortimers Forest and towards the first new descent.  The start is hidden, as every good secret trail should, and then joins into a great terraced section that gently traverses the hillside to your left.  A few gentle rises keep the trail going between the bumps and downs.  A field comes into a view on your left, a sharper left corner and the faint trail continues.  It's seen bike tracks for sure, but not too many, just enough for the trail to stay defined year in year out. And more importantly for it to remain a secret pleasure to those that have found it.

We climb back up a sticky fire road and just past the start of the previous trail is the next trail.  This time loamy and with slightly banked corners.  It's seen a little bit of spade work to get it to ride.  Tight, but if you pump the bike into and out of the short tight corners you keep speed into the next section, an opening with one of those rare perfect corners.  Just enough grip, just enough support, perhaps its today's conditions that make it so good, or perhaps its the trail sculptures skills that do.  I hit it a few times to try and get a good photo:

We head around and up towards another area where my Dad has been exploring for a few years now.  It's great to be shown trails that tightly twist their way further down the hillside making the most of the great dirt and less than amazing terrain available.  What results is a slow but fun trail that snakes it's way through dense young forest.  You don't need to pedal, just look ahead to try and keep your flow!

 Around the hillside we go again,  "That trail down there isn't so good anymore, heavily rutted and always so muddy" my Dad explains.  We hit the the old old downhill track that then sends us into My Trail.  It's fast, I've not ridden it for two years, but I know exactly where to be.  I hop an off camber root, I know what the trail is should to do, but will it?  How eroded has it become?  I spy a little rut, I plan to hit it for support and carry speed back up the hillside over the next little pump bump rise and then down into a corner. Dropper post up.  I didn't have one of these when I built the trail and it makes the 100 metre length of climb easy, drop post, and drop in! Wow its good today.  "TREE!"  And a big one.  To finish my trail we have to lift our bikes over the tree.

It's time to head back out of the bottom of the valley, but not without the real classic of the area.  This old trail has been there for many years, often we'd lap it several times it's that good.  Today was as good as autumn could bring.  It sits low in the valley and was full of leaves and moist air.  Sticky, with the odd slippery root thrown in, but still fun!

My Dad now won't ride much in these woods much, he know's of better places for winter riding conditions.  Come spring he'll no doubt be back with a group of old dudes to (slowly) shred the singletrack!