Tuesday, 20 September 2016

"Enduro was made for you"

Riding with mates old and new

On the afternoon I returned to Chamonix from my final trip guiding the Tour du Mont Blanc I met with an old friend from my Cardiff Uni days.  He's visited me a few times over the years in various styles.  And this trip for Dave was no different.  As I crossed the Col de Balme on foot in wet conditions with clients, he crossed the Cormet de Roseland and Col des Saisses on his road bike with kit strapped to every free tube on the bike possible.

My mate was planning to cycle from Geneva to Nice, via 2 days in Les Arcs mountain biking, and a day in la Thuile with me and a Chamonix friend, bivi-ing along the way.

The lure of Aosta of course played high on our minds and we made plans to ride an Enduro World Series trail in La Thuile on mountain bikes, before leaving Dave to continue on his road bike towards the Mediterranean via some bloody horrendous Col's.

Road climb with Monte Bianco poking through
We were climbing and talking shit between the 3 of us like we'd all been hanging out throughout the summer.  The road climb was rewarded with finding a bar open for cappuccino's at the Col.

Fueled up Italian style we hit a lovely long gentle off road climb up to the start of the descent.  We paused for a bite of baguette over looking both the Cervinio (Matterhorn in Aostan) and Monte Bianco.  A site rarely enjoyable in the Alps, but of course for an old mate, the views came out!

The worst part about the descent was not the EWS, but the recent 4 day rain storm that had hit the northern Alps.  Too much front brake on the open descent and the front wheel would drift as much as the back. Luckily loose rock turned down into larch forest and classical Aosta flow through the forest back to the carpark.

"Enduro was made for you" Dave said to me.  He's right, even in the old days of South Wales riding, we'd slog up big hills for big descents and big smiles.

And like every descent, time with an old friend was over all too quickly.  We all headed off to different parts of France with big smiles and more tales to tell in years to come...

And introducing the savoyard stem saucisson:

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A tale of downs in Switzerland

Did we stumble across the best view in the Alps? Introducing Stella Helvetica:

Several people had been talking about a funicular train above the jazz town of Montreux on the shore's of Lac Leman, that despite being expensive, had some good trails back in to town. The lure of swimming in the lake had us, and with Bex and other Valais trails nearby there would easily be a good few days worth of riding before the next storm came through the alps.

Me and the lone Dutchy headed to Lac Leman, padded up and rode to the central Montreux station next to men in suits, blacked out Mercs and Asian tourists. After being quoted 60CHF for a day pass we said no. Our intel of a cheaper pass was wrong.

So instead we climbed 1000 metres up 20% stretches of road past English speaking all boys, and all girls boarding schools over looking the huge lake.  The views made up for the unexpected climb.  We'd brought all our food from France to save money so that at least made us feel smug at the Col.  Little did we know what was instore.

The trail started by going through bike friendly gate's, a good sign surely?  No, the trail was awkward the whole way down.  It never got going.

Disappointed we got back to our lake side parking.  I'd put two beers in the water to keep cool, even these were luke warm...

The following day we set of early know we had a big climb ahead, we took many breaks to make the 1800 metres upwards more do-able. The views were stunning all the way up so this kept us energised.

The Cabane and it’s lure of cold drinks was nearly in drinking distance.  One last hike-a-bike section, dig deep I thought, lunch will be good and long up here, long enough to dry sweat ridden kit.

10 Swiss Francs later me and Wouts were close to heaven.  The modern refuge (Cabane in Suisse) was a treat in itself, let alone the view north, south, east and west!
From our grassy picnic knoll we looked left into the whole Mont Blanc Massif, and to our right stretched out patchwork Rhone Valley agriculture up to the shore of Lac Leman.

It was eventually time to descend.  We felt fairly re-freshed, but luckily the first section was really mellow and perfect for getting going again. From here we left the Cabane behind us and traversed with just enough downhill gradient that you didn’t need to pedal for about 1 km, all directly under cliff faces.  The trail then changed to a ribbon switching left and right, a traverse here n’ there, left and right again, watch out for the cow poo!  Two farmers were putting out an electric fence, around their up high alpine shack we went and through marvellous corners in a field well in need of some cow grazing.  A wooden fence forced us to stop before our next section of treats lay ahead.  Needles, dry dirt and roots itching to be pushed to the limits of their tyre giving grip.

We whooped down, crossing fire-roads, section after section of goodness.  The final section became rocky with holes that required speed to skip over the top of the big gaps, through a neatly mowed garden and more rock gaps lay ahead.  Speed, despite 1800 metres of climbing in our legs, and nearly 1800 metres of descending in our braking fingers, needed to be kept.  

Just like the smiles that lasted into the bar perfectly positioned at the end of the trail, through the chope’s (Valais-ian for pint), the ride home to the campsite, and for days after!

The tour of this Swiss valley was not over and for the final day we crossed back into Vaud, and Bex for some train laps with some Chamoniards.  It was so dry, the flowy bits of trail were mega fast and grippy, which should have helped in the numerous chutes littered in the woods, but man, are they steep!  Great fun on trail bikes lap after lap!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Getting back on it in Aosta

Dry trails, and even dryer bread. 1600metre+ descent days back to back

Up to the last week in July I had only ridden my bike about 4 times.  My International Mountain Leader work had taken me around the Massif du Mont Blanc and along the edge of the Fiz.  I hadn't missed my bike at all and I knew I was going to have an overload at the end of the month.

The Beaufort guides from last year were re-grouping for reconnaissance, and general banter missions. And where were we going? Italy of course and the wonderful Aosta Valley to escape the hoards of Chamonix.

*Day -1- Dorenaz adventuring with the Dutchies
*Day 0- Le Tour laps into Switzerland with the Dutchies before bottles of Duvel with the crew.

Day 1- La Thuile
The venue for the recent Enduro World Series race was unbelievable.  The tracks were destroyed and tiring.  The odd time I managed to stick out a fast line it felt great, but with lines all over the place and plenty of gnar (large rock gardens, large root gardens) it was tough!  Of course being Brit's (plus a token Netherlander) we wanted to get our money's worth and we rode 90% of the bike park. By the last run, I couldn't pedal uphill, I had to push a short sharp uphill in the middle of the descent, even though I had my hands on the bars pushing the bike, it was still a rest from the constant feature's the trail was littered with.  Huge respect to the EWS racers!

Day 2- La Salle
Re-visiting this route  I did a month or two ago.  It was super hot and some of the boys struggled with the up and down nature of the ride before the big technical descent.  However one of the lads had recently walked in the area with his visiting girlfriend and found a fantastic final variation, a trail full of deep dusty loam that rarely see's more than a few hikers and mule's.

Day 3- Becca France
After last year's mission up here with Rob I wanted to see how it felt if we drove as far up the hillside as possible to cut the climbing to just 600 metres.  How do you think?  Superb! With energy to enjoy the descent from the high alpine down through loamy forests and finally onto the mega rock flow trail we were all buzzing at the bottom.
We were trying to keep costs low for the week staying on campsites, but we had to check out the local pizzeria that night.  Huge salads were followed by great sized pizza's that satisfied even the most Italian sceptical eater, "the pizza's are cheap, that's all".  Still the bakery round the corner didn't hold much hope for the following day.  How can Italians do such great food, but not bread?

Day 4- Shuttle day north of Aosta town
Even though we'd cheated yesterday, with the temperature's hovering around 30.c we decided to check out some trails and take it in turn to be the shuttle driver.
All the trails were superb bar one which turned out to be a fast wooded fireroad.  But you can't win them all, even in Aosta Valley.  This area is full of great shuttle-able trails of good length, all with classic Aosta flow interspersed with technical challenges and of course great views.

Day 5- Chatilgne
With a bit of strategic car driving we managed to cut the climb to just 1000 metres.  However whilst the car's were being dropped the two other lads were left in a small village with only one tiny shop.  They had no choice but to buy the driest bread of the the whole trip for about €6.  With crumbs all over the grass at our lunch spot 800 metres up the climb we slung the bikes over our shoulders for the last section of hike-a-bike to the ridgeline summit high above Aosta town.  It was dry, hot and as we dropped in the dust kicked up along the ridge. As we entered the tree's the orange singletrack twisted through knee high lush grass with perfect fun angled corners.  Lower down it became rocky before kicking us out above Aosta where our next search began, gelato!

Day 6- Grand St. Bernard - Sembrancher (Verbier)- 2200 metres down
We left Italy and headed over the boarder into Switzerland with a grand finale in store.
What I thought would be a long gentle approach to Col de Mille was in part steep bike carrying, part lovely traversing singletrack and steady fireroad climbs finished with a hike a bike just when the legs thought you were almost there.  Having left Italy and cheap food behind we didn't visit the Swiss refuge at Col de Mille (read my next blog post coming soon about the best 5CHF coke's I've ever had) and instead ate the last of our moisture-less bread and prepared for 2200 metres of descending as the storm approached from the Massif.
"That was the best ridgeline I've ever ridden" said one of the boys. Fun and classic Verbier magazine cover-shot trail riding.  Into the tree's we sped hoping small roots and trying to rail the steep banked corners as fast the Canyon team would. Tried, but we all loved it none the less.  Another trail with everything!

We got back to Chamonix before the rain started. Exhausted and hungry.  We all slept well before we all began our next adventure's.  One driving back to England, One riding back to Beaufort, and two with their eye's on more Swiss delights.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Enduro du Beaufortain

Slop fest in one of the quietest corners of the Rhone Alps

With no guiding work in Beaufort this summer a plan was made for the some of the previous years guides to meet up for an early season blast on some of favourite trails.

For the Beaufortain Enduro the lift in Areches was open for the whole weekend and there were two bus uplift options to help gain some height to the downhill stages (not timed).

June had been a pretty poor month for weather with storms rolling in and out and only a few dry days.  I decided to put a bigger tyre on the front of my bike to try and gain some more grip in the impending mud of the Beaufortain forests. It did help a little, but really it was a slip and slide approach to riding for the whole weekend.  For those of us that knew the lines it made life a little easier, but sometimes due to wet roots you couldn't get to where you wanted to and you had hope you could slow down and make the next corner. Everyone was still grinning, and despite there being 300 riders, it never felt busy anywhere.

Our last trail on the Sunday was a new triple black rated trail that was new to us all.  We were excited to check it out.  The top was freshly cut and like a pump track, the bottom, well the bottom was so steep it took several hours to get down with body's strewn all over the place.  In the dry the mega steep roll-ins would be ok as you could get grip for the exit's, on this day it was surfing and knowing when to get off the bike.  Great fun still.

Everything was really well organised for the whole weekend with a constant flow of uplift buses, plenty of snacks at the lunch stop and a nice evening meal and dj set on Saturday night.  I would highly recommend the event!

Luckily the sun came out for course marking and marshalling at the enduro2 mountain bike race:

Saturday, 4 June 2016


Everything a good day should have:

Thanks to Mael for most of the photo's
  1. Not too early a start
  2. Bread (French)
  3. Coffee (Italian)
  4. Road climb to gain some height efficiently
  5. Trail riding in a super scenic valley
  6. Hike a bike
  7. Lunch stop with a view
  8. Snow crossing
  9. River crossing
  10. A high altitude hamlet
  11. Alpine flowers bursting with colour
  12. Near death, non riding related
  13. A Virgin Mary statue
  14. A puncture with jizzing tyre sealant (not a good day for 27.5 PLUS tyres)
  15. Incredibly tight switchbacks
  16. Pine needle smooth singletrack (One of the best sections I've ever ridden this year!)
  17. A snake on the trail
  18. Sitting in a beautiful old town square by an old church
  19. Gelato
  20. More coffee
  21. More tasty snacks
  22. Cold beer
  23. Supermarket shop for local goodies
  24. A German lady expressing her desire for queuing efficiency at the Mont Blanc Tunnel
Can you spot team green?

Wednesday, 25 May 2016


Boarder shred fest in the steeps

A bit close for comforts, the story of the day for not just Shane, all of us!
Normaly my posts mention International boarders and the trails that take me between these lines.  Today was slightly different.  Everyone knows that the Swiss Canton of Valais is full of great trails, and until today I thought that it's neighbouring Canton of Vaud was full of bad drivers, Freddie Mercury status (Montreux), vineyards and whole heap of money!

However right on the boarder of Valais/Vaud is Bex.  That's pronounced 'bay' in French, not Becks like Posh n Becks for you vrai Anglais.

It doesn't matter what Canton your in, in Switzerland public transport is top notch, and seeing as this place is near as ski town, the all-day travel card for mountain bikers is not actually too expensive at 28chf (€25). 

A little research revealed a whole host of trails, but luckily Timmy was on hand to guide us today which was really nice for me to not have to think about navigation.  Timmy is Fabian Barel's long lost brother...  When he tell's you to, "open your eyes" on a certain section of trail it means either get off and walk, or hold your breath and hope the berm at the bottom catches you.

First up was the old Maxi Avalanche course from the ski town Villars which was a mix of superb fun singletrack with fireroad climbs.  These ruined the flow of the trail, but for a mass start race like the Maxi Avalanche would be great for testing fitness, allowing overtaking and stretching the field out.

After lunch back at the van, for the second lap off the train we checked out the Gryon trails.  Fast, rooty, flat out corners had us all grinning, but little did we know what was in store.  Remember, it's still early season, most trails haven't seen much traffic yet and are still covered in last autumns leaves.  Also remember that even though it was 25.C, it did rain a few days ago so under the leaves is a slippery layer of mud.

We dropped in to some of the longest sustained chute sections I have ever ridden, with greasy corners with almost non existent catch berms.  Hold your breath and hope as you surf down, weight back, heels almost dragging into the ground trying to get as much grip as possible. Luckily after we all got through this there was some great flowy, old school DH style trail and then the loop back through the vineyard back to the train stop.
AND REPEAT for another lap, fast roots, slip, slide, slip some more and then flow!

Wayne in survival mode in the steep woods

Vaud's not all that bad!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

It was about time

Exploring Aosta for the first time in 2016

Thats kind of a lie, we had a few experimental, yeah, experimental is a good word to describe the ski tour's that took place in Aosta Valley this winter.

It was about time to get back there on two wheels and try out some new trails. Me and Wayne, my boss, didn't have any work so we journey'd over to search for more Aosta goodness.  The first objective of the day was achieved quite easily, cappuccino, at which time we also found our gelato stop for post ride refreshment.

So it began as most Aosta rides seem to with a big climb on a quiet road that slowly makes it's way upwards through tiny hamlets, usually a mix of beautiful alpine houses and run down old sheds. Wayne was telling me how it was a burden to sit in an Aosta Valley Freeride minibus for 45 minutes-a-time when doing shuttle days. Didn't sound too bad to me... Lunch stop one was followed by snack stop 2, 3, 4 and 5 and then after a good few hours lunch stop two arrived, the trail head.

Aosta town was a long long way down in the valley floor and there was a lot of loose spruce needle between us and the car.  It turned out there was a few rocks too, a couple of picturesque hamlets and a lot of grinning.

€2 for two scoops of delicous gelato and we were set for the journey home through the tunnel.