This weekend saw the 10th edition of the ever popular Pass'Portes du Soleil mountain bike festival which allows you access to around 650km of trails, via 20 lifts and 12 resort villages on route. We headed over to Chatel, the centre for this year's event, to see what was going on and to ride the route.
The total circuit this year was 96km so hats off to those of you who did the whole lot in one day, especially with the snow, rain and tonnes of mud! We opted for splitting the route in two, doing the Swiss side on one day and the French side on the other and so decided that Chatel was the best base to do this from. #Tip no.1 You don't have to do the whole circuit in one go, in fact it's recommended you do break it up into manageable chunks (unless you're super fit and an experienced rider). #Tip no.2 Take a keen photographer with you and there's lots more chances to stop and take a break, especially after some of the uphill sections!
As Chatel was the host village this year, they put on a great show at the main bike Expo where bike and gear manufacturers had stalls, free bike tests (for electric and standard mountain bikes), a meet & greet by the La Pierre team riders, MTB skills training, election of the best women's mountain bike, and dirt jumpers pulling back flips & supermen... On top of this there was a night ride by Hope lights where 50 riders headed out after dark for a spin around, an 80's music concert where Jimmy Somerville performed (my personal highlight!) and a town-based 4X competition, so plenty to keep you entertained once you were out of the saddle.
Our first night in Chatel was at the press launch for the event, hosted at the very glamourous MGM Chalets d'Angele, a luxury apartment complex. Drinking cocktails by the pool and watching fireworks was definitely a great way to start the weekend, although maybe not the best for keeping a clear head with about 40km of riding to do the following day! #Tip no.3 Don't drink too many cocktails the day before a big ride :-)
We'd decided to stay at Camping l'Oustalet at the bottom of the road leading up to the Bike Park and the main Pass'portes Expo in Pré la Joux, which meant you could get to and from the lifts and the centre of town really easily. The facilities here are great and include an indoor heated swimming pool, sauna and bike wash, so if you're thinking of heading over, I can highly recommend it, especially if you want to ease aching muscles at the end of the day.
So on to our first day of riding (which started out with a small mix-up where we'd been given last years maps) and following slightly confusing signs, our first run of the day took us straight back to the bottom of the lift...! On the second ascent we were wondering if Torgon and back would be possible since we'd lost some time, and after chatting to a local who told us it was still really snowy, we decided to knock that loop on the head and ride straight over to Morgins.
The bike park in Morgins is a place I've heard nothing but good things about, and looking down from the lifts you can see why..the DH tracks look pretty damn good! It was a shame that we didn't have time to explore them though, as after indulging in a bit of food and watching the freestyle riders for a bit, we had to head on towards Champoussin and Les Crosets. It was cold on the lifts, and the higher we got the more snow we saw (and rode through!). Luckily the pisteurs had chopped tracks through the snow for us and the hikers to pick our way through... Lots of snow means lots of melt water too, so it was a pretty wet, and muddy cold ride over the top from the Mossettes lift down into Lindarets.
Day 1 concluded with a long XC ride back into Chatel and the promise of a few well deserved beers at the 80's concert that night. It has to be said 80's music wouldn't be my first choice for a gig, but a rendition of "Voyage Voyage" by Desireless and 4 songs by Jimmy Somerville were worth waiting for after a long days riding.
We got a weather update for the following day (Saturday)... which turned out not to be good news - rain, rain & more rain... Since we had all weekend, we thought we'd skip a days riding and look around the expo and the town instead. The riders we spoke to who were brave enough to get up on the hill were shivering and chilled to the bone after only being out for an hour or so, and huddled desparately trying to warm their hands on the gas heaters at the food stations...so good job we decided to stay warm and dry, even if our clean clothes confused the people at the food station!.
So doing the second half of the loop on Sunday turned out to be the best thing to do as the sun finally came out and it was a bit warmer. Having had so much rain the day before meant that conditions were still really muddy and pretty horrendous on one of the DH tracks we chose, so there was much more sideways riding in places than straight lines.. ah well it's all good practice isn't it?!
If you've not ridden the Pass'portes circuit before, it is mainly made up of fire roads, with some road sections, some single track and a fair bit of uphill riding linking it all together, and yes over 90km, so if you're not fit don't try & do it all in one go. The lifts around the circuit close promptly at the end of the day and also in bad weather. #Tip no. 4 Keep checking your timing for lifts and allow extra for possible mechanicals.
We'd seen a lot of bedraggled riders on heavy downhill bikes pushing their bikes up a lot of the route, probably wishing they'd brought an enduro bike and a half lid.. so #Tip no.5 Go enduro!
The food stations on route predominantly serve cold meats, cheese, bread, cake, fruit and chocolate, although there were some doing tartiflette which we made a B-line for. # Tip no. 6 Don't over do it on the food as you'll regret it, or see it again after lots of pedalling!
#Tip no.7 Take lots of thin layers of clothing so you can add / take off as the weather changes. I was really glad I'd packed an extra fleece, and a choice of long & short sleeved tops but the sun-cream was sadly not needed at all. (More gear also means a larger backpack too..)
#Tip no. 8 Make use of the bike buses - There's a bike bus running regularly from the centre of Chatel to the lifts if you don't fancy the uphill pedal to the bike park. And in Morzine there's one taking you up to Les Gets.
All in all it was a great weekend and thankfully I only had 1 mechanical to deal with where my chain broke, which was a minor miracle after some of the rock sections we were riding over (others we spoke to had 4 punctures on the first day..)
Take a look at some of the highlights from the weekend on the Pass'portes du Soleil facebook page and on our social media feeds. If you've got any video footage or photos you want to share send them to us and we'll give you a mention!
- Mountain Biking
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