Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Trans Savoie 2015

Another huge week of race marshalling done and dusted

Exhausted but ready for more the usual chaos lead into a great week for the competitors. Tons of "epic" descending and high fives everyday come rain or shine, Nico Lau of CUBE / Cube Action Team took the win over Francois Bailly Maitre of BMC / BMC Switzerland with Jamie Nicoll of Polygon Hutchinson United Ride in third.

Me on 'Brown trouser ridge' high above la Plagne. 
Find more superb photo's here by Ronan Dugan.

Summer is coming to an end as guiding season is over in Beaufort.  Here's to hoping for a great Autumn with lots of exploring to be done in Swiss Valais, Aosta Valley, Italy and the greater Gap/Briancon/Queryas region of France.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Sons of Beuafortain go exploring

High alpine singletrack into steep and deep brown pow above Albertville

This short summer's guiding work has not allowed that much time to explore and adventure, despite the barage of thirty plus degree temperatures, ice creams, coke zero's and cold beers. However early in August we got out for one of those special days.

45 minutes, only a short hike-a-bike off the Piapolay lift, where we were able to eye up the descent ahead of us, and also Albertville, down far below us.

We made our way across, and about 700 metres down to a little bit of fireroad descending to be able to link up some footpaths.  We climbed some tech singletrack that lead into a short, but sweet descent full of huge roots that we had to commit too at full speed, blind of course.  The best way to experience a new trail!

After this we still had about 800 metres of the 2000 metre total descent.  We were all very excited by the prospect of this lower section as it is in the next hillside over from the world class Stella trail we guide every Tuesday, leading to many guests each week, claiming it to be the highlight of their holiday and up there with their best ever trail's ridden...

...And it certainly did deliver from about the third corner where we were 20cm deep into old leafs, pine needle's and light dirt. Spray constantly kicking up on our calfs.  Brown pow at an all time high! Some bits were so deep you had to slow down incase there were boulders hidden underneath.  Corners you could really push into and get all the grip you wanted, and straight into another.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

8 years ago

La Varda, les Arc, Savoie, France

About 8 years ago I last rode this trail, and despite having been in the area lots over the past few years when travelling through with the Trans Savoie race I had not been into this area that skirts the ever beautiful Vanoise National Park. In that time I have been lucky enough to descend many thousands of metres of the best alpine singletrack around France, Switzerland and Italy.

I couldn't remember much about the la Varda trail, except that it was so good 8 years ago we did it twice within a couple of days, and that everyone in the les Arc area bangs on about it.  Not wanting to sound like a trail snob because the incredibly high concentration of great natural singletrack trails in the les Arc is like nowhere else, BUT, I prefer the rural feel of Beaufort and high rugged peaks of Chamonix.

This is where I was wrong, and like 8 years ago, the la Varda trail is still as good as ever.  It still deserves the photo's in magazines it has received and articles online

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The ultimate lift, Spring 2015

I have talked before about the beauty and technicality of the area surrounding the Telepherique du Brevent.  It’s somewhere not many mountain bikers venture, like the North face steep skiing lines off the Aiguille du Midi lift, it’s for the high calibre adventurist only.

So off four of us set!

The previous day we’d blasted around the best of le Tour/Switzerland/le Buet area in a mad frenzy trying to tick off the best on offer.  We didn’t ride everything, but we sure had fun, and could have gone back there for Sunday, but no, instead we headed high above Chamonix Town in search of tech rock rides, hike-a-bike and a huge descent into Servoz.  Overall we did 1900 metres of descending. Along the way we bumped into a Scottish hooligan, and linked into our classic Flatiere trails for high speed shredding and mate chasing shenangians.

At the end of the afternoon we drank beer’s and ate French snacks before heading back from Servoz on the train ready for the big Fete de la Musique party in Cham town.  A huge day out with a great crew, a huge evening out partying.  This equals a perfect Chamonix style days!

This is what happens when the pro photog' rides and the guide takes a close-up photo= bike in the background 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Brenta Dolomiti, Trentino, Italy

Holidaying with the parents & surviving one of the gnarliest World Cup downhill tracks

Before I get busy with work for the summer months I was able to sneak off to Italy with my CUBE and a Giant rental bike (Thanks Legend CHX).   The plan was to hike in the foothills of the big Dolomitic rock faces, take in some bike rides and of course sample Italy's legendary food, coffee, beer and sparkling wine.
At one refuge they were still installing the coffee machine which was being moved around in a wheelbarrow
For the main part of this holiday we stayed at the amazing Pra de la Casa B&B, near the ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio. It didn't matter that the resort was dead and had no restaurants open as we were well fed for breakfast, tea, and dinner at the B&B.

We found some great gems to ride just behind the B&B, but already the Italian map was proving a bit of a nightmare. Paths missing, accuracy off in places, yet bang on in others.

Superb walking terrain
Looking for a gap in the clouds we managed a great walk with 2 hours 20 minutes of ascent to the base of the tallest rock faces in the 42km long range of Dolomite rocks. Ascending first up through larch and rhododenron forests, into the chaotic rock fields and limestone pavements and then down through stunning dwarf pine forests.  The walk had a bit of everything, including huge waterfalls near the end.

The following day I drove my car up towards the top of one of ski resorts.  Me and Dad unloaded the bikes and carried on up further whilst super shuttle Mum drove back down (a bit like with Stevie Smith's Seasons segment).  The views were great at top lift station (2100m) as we spied part of our descent in the distance, and the town of Pinhole (700m) low down in the haze.  My Dad (63) got down the whole thing, he walked some sections, but he knew when too be safe to get down all 1400m of trail.  There were some great sections, but also some average sections.  Overall great fun to rack up a huge alpine descent with my Dad, just not quite the continuous high quality of other area's of the Alps I've ridden.
Water and view stop
Rhodo' singletrack
Lean green
Meadow descending nearing the bottom
Meeting point church
Shuttle roles reversed, Mum out on a cruise!

It was time to head on towards Lake Como for the second part of the holiday, but not without taking advantage of crossing a mountain pass and the realisation that one of the toughest UCI Downhill World Cup tracks was on the way.

After more helpful Mum shuttling we traversed our way across super tech, and not particularly flowing singletrack before getting rewarded with some good loamy trails interspersed with fire-road's and Italian map interpretation.

Could be British Columbia

And then it was time, a XC helmet, "enduro" bike, knee pads & a backpack, VAL DI SOLE WORLD CUP TRACK... i rode it like this . It was intense and full on, the bike was great on the constant barrage of mid sized drops and committing chutes. I nearly crashed on the last jump of all places...
Shaking at the bottom of the track this is all I got. Sam Hills corner just left of chairlift pylon.

Lunch in the sun, driving, changing mountainous views, gelato, macchiato's, a few hours of sunshine at Lake Como, lots more great Italian food, beer and hospitality and it was time to head back to Chamonix.  Many many thanks to my parents!

Monday, 25 May 2015

My new favourite place- Part 3

It is possible to beat what you thought was a world class trail when in Gap

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

I woke after a warm nights sleep.  The wind had died down too as I ate my breakfast and took my time to pack everything away.  I was in no rush today.  It was very mild even at 8am & the scenery was stunning.

View under the road bridge near my campspot
From my research I decided to bolt on an extra descent onto a circular loop ride near where I had ridden yesterday.  The climb would be long, beginning on a very minor backroad, and then slogging up a fire road. Over 2 hours later I was nearing the top.

The first part of the descent felt familiar, like Saleve or Servoz. Within beech and pine tree terrain, roots, switchbacks, fast and fun. Again, part way down I stopped to take in the views when it cleared momentarily. Lower down things opened a little and began to feel like the southern alps should.  Dry dusty ribbons of singletrack through pines and spiky bushes.  And then really open terrain, rocky, baron and dry. Grippy and a fun.  It was never to steep and just seemed to keep going and going.  It clearly see's a reasonable amount bike traffic through the season, but not too much to cause braking bumps, a few cut corners that had been covered with tree branches, but otherwise perfect biker singletrack.

At the bottom I couldn't quite believe it, the trail had made yesterdays look average!

A little contouring climb around and then this red shale rock trail came into view on this steep hillside.  The top switchbacks even I walked. As the trail got lower they got better and better, and then more flowy high speed goodness to finish! A mini bonus descent.

Can you see the trail?

The circuit continued up, away from the lake side through another tiny peaceful hamlet.  Oh yeah, I forget to mention. Besides one old dude in a van near the top of the first climb, I hadn't seen anyone all day. 

The last descent I dropped into was actually quite disappointing, it had seen some forestry action so was quite wide up high, lower down it got a bit better, but the trail was strewn with large pebbles.  You can't everything though can you? And it gave me more inspiration to explore this area to try find more gems...

I will be back with friends and in the future hopefully guiding groups. Finale Ligure might have it's seaside, coffee and cheap pizza along with world class trails, but here the trails and views are just as good!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

My new favourite place- Part 2

Desperation is rewarded

I didn't sleep all that well.  The constant wind on the tent and rain storms throughout the night meant the temperature was pretty close to zero.  My old sleeping bag was not good enough, even with a down jacket on. Meteo France was predicting gusts upto 80kms on summits, I was half way up the hillside.

I woke, packed up and followed the winding road in search of the main road, coffee, croissants and phone signal.  I got into Crest and found a patisserie to, again do some online weather searching.  I'd seen a sign for GAP, along with Marseille. The latter being to far to drive for my 3 day trip.  However Gap seemed to be having better weather.  Today it would still be windy, but less grey than around the Vercors Massif.  The drive would be close to 3 hours, and I deliberately chose some back roads to try and take in some scenic roads and minor valleys.  The drive was great, but only a warm up for what was to come.

As I got close to Gap, the skies began to clear & temperatures rose.  I hadn't had a chance to research Gap trails so I looked for a McDonalds where I could get my laptop out and search a favourite VTT tracking website.  It was hot when I got out of the car, that summer heat when you arrive somewhere for 'summer holidays'. Good trails found near a cool looking lake. Sweet, time to go again!

Gap, is just south of the Ecrins mountain range. Famed for ski touring & hiking, and to the south the mountains extend to the seaside of the Provence region. Somewhere associated with a 'Nice' climate.  Maybe this is the town to find a good outdoor shop and buy a new sleeping bag? I did, my bank account is lighter, and my new (down) sleeping bag is also lighter than the old.

I parked in a tiny hamlet and began my 1000m climb to a ridgeline trail.  The summit pylon almost constantly in view with the gently sloping ridge giving me inspiration to get up & see what the descent had to offer.
Ridge line left to right
Rock outcrops and spines
Summit view was special
The views alone were worth the 10km road spin up (note for next time- it can be shuttled with a van), and the descent was amazing.  Loose rouge shale rock that somehow just had enough grip. Fast open, into the tree's for a 100m's or so, then back into the open. I did stop to take in the view on the way down. Lake to the left, rich highly irrigated agricultural land to the right. Beautiful red coloured shale singletrack directly in front!

Arriving back to the car, I was ecstatic.  A trail up there with the very best in Europe I thought.  Shame I didn't have anyone to share it with.  But having journey-ed a long way that day doing exactly as I wanted there was some advantage to this solo road trip.

Being on my own, I had nothing better to do than drive around Lac Serre Poncon and look for a superb camp spot, eat like a champion and test out my new sleeping bag...