Mountain Biking in Chamonix
Having been lost in a whirl of Olympic fever for the last ten days (Go Team GB!!), it has suddenly dawned on me that we’re already a week into August and therefore over halfway through the summer season in Chamonix.
But that certainly doesn’t mean things are winding up over here; on the contrary, the town is buzzing, the activity companies are in full swing and August is host to some of the best events of the summer, if not the whole year!
People are often surprised by how busy Chamonix is during August but the flow of visitors to this popular mountain town is actually very well spread out throughout the year. Surprisingly, the winter only accounts for one third of its annual visitors, with the summer months of mid-June to mid-Sept claiming another third, and the remaining 33% come during the quieter months of late spring and autumn.
This summer is seeing an increase in the number of mountain bikers coming to the valley, probably thanks to the creation of better, more varied mountain bike trails in. Traditionally, Chamonix has always had more of a draw for climbers and alpinists; with mountain bikers preferring resorts like Les Gets and Morzine in the Portes du Soleil. However, the last 3 years have seen more and more bikers putting Chamonix high on their list of resorts to visit.
The variety of terrain in the valley makes some areas more suited than others to the creation of bike trails.
Route development continues balancing the need to add various skill level trails but recognising that some routes are simply too popular with hikers for them to be feasible. Many of the normal hiking trails are accessible to bikers, although do check for restrictions during July and August as some of the popular hikes are off limits to bikes during the peak months. The Aiguilles du Midi cable car and the Montenvers train do not accept bikes at any time of year but the south facing Brevent/Flegere area welcomes bikers all summer, even though there aren’t any official bike trails on this side of the valley and it is definitely reserved for the more experienced rider!
One of the best areas to head to with your bike is Le Tour/La Balme, at the top end of the valley, where there are currently 3 dedicated mountain biking tracks covering a range of abilities. Graded the same as the ski pistes in the winter (green to black), there is a green trail from the top of the Autannes chairlift down to Charamillon; a blue track from Charamillion back down to the car park at Le Tour; and on the other side of the area, a challenging downhill course (graded black) for the gnarly boys and girls, that goes from the top of the Vallorcine gondola all the way down to Vallorcine itself. Les Houches is another favourite spot to head to for lovely flowing single track and cross country trails with stunning descents either back down to Chamonix or over the other side to St Gervais and Le Fayet.
In order to explore these areas on your bike, you aren’t entirely reliant on pedal power as bikes can be taken on the trains and there is also a “bike bus” service that runs throughout the day with bike racks fitted on the back. With the exception of the Midi cable car and Montenvers train, all of the main lefts from the valley floor accept bikes as well as some chair lifts, giving you access to the higher altitude trails without the thigh burn. There is also a specific lift pass for bikers (and paragliders) – the Cham’Sport – which costs €20 per day and gives you unlimited ascents on all of the “bike friendly” Compagnie du Mont Blanc lifts.
Les Houches has its own version of the pass for the Prarion and the Bellevue lifts only costing €16 per day. Chamonix is well equipped with good quality bike shops where you can hire a variety of bikes from town cruisers and road bikes to hard tail cross country bikes or full-on downhill rigs. Again with the nature of the terrain around here, you also want to make sure you’re properly protected so a full range of helmets and body armour are also available for hire.
Events wise this month, coming up, we’ve got the annual Fete des Guides on the 15th August – a celebration of mountain guides past and present with a presentation ceremony for all the newly qualified guides followed by a spectacular sound and light show at the natural climbing wall in Les Gaillands. August is also host to the mind blowing Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – a trail running event that attracts over 5000 runners from all over, who come to take part in one of the ultimate physical challenges in the world. There are a number of different races that take place simultaneously but the highlight is undoubtedly the Ultra Trail itself – 2300 runners embarking on a tour of the entire Mont Blanc massif, 168kms, passing through 3 countries and taking in a mind blowing 9600m of vertical ascent!
Whilst the mere thought of actually taking part leaves me utterly exhausted, I do consider myself a member of the elite supporter’s club, valiantly clapping and cheering on the runners for 5 days solid.
It is a truly fabulous spectator’s event right at the end of August and definitely a date for your diary if you’re still planning a last minute getaway to the Alpes!
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Mountain Biking in Chamonix was posted on 7 August 2012 by Guest Blogger.