I recently had a go at one of the biggest biking events of its kind in the Alps; an event where 400kg of cheese is consumed over two days, by the 15,000 people it attracts... The Pass'Portes du Soleil is a circuit tour of the Portes du Soleil, featuring about 80 km / 50 miles of riding, with the aid of 15 ski-lifts to make sure there is very little climbing- just 6000m of fantastic downhill!
It's also the tenth anniversary of the event, so I was definitely keen to be there.
This was something I'd really not experienced before, having done all my biking in the UK, I've been used to endless uphill slogs, with not much downhill as a reward.
I stayed in Chatel, where we had easy access to the lift station, Pre La Joux, where many of the bike companies (over 150 brands are represented at the event) had stands so you could try their bikes out on the trails. I picked up a bike from LaPierre, which was an absolute pleasure to ride after my own £500 hardtail!
Walking around the stands, I bumped into a friend of mine who now lives in the biking mecca of Morzine and has done the ride several times before. As I headed off, she told me not to let the boys intimidate me as is usually the case when they are decked out in all the padding you could possibly get on a body.
To begin with I had a bit of coaching from Steven Ponting from network of MCF MTB schools in the Portes du Soleil who took me off on a section of the trail to learn some skills. We had to navigate through several unexpected patches of N鶩, giving them an opportunity to teach us how to ride with one foot on the bike, bottom behind seat with other, uphill foot, hovering for balance.... a useful trick for mud and snow!
We were then taught how to corner and handle berms properly on some green trails- something I'd not quite mastered before, but -revelation- today it finally clicked- probably because there are so many more opportunities to practice.
We also had a go at some front wheel lifts around the Chaux Fleurie area, before heading for food at Les Linclarets. Before we started the ride, we were given armbands which allow us to eat at any of the food stops. Each area had stands with their own local specialty, and here didn't disappoint. Tartiflette is just what you need after a full mornings mountain biking and there was also charcuterie, more cheese, chocolate, fruit, energy bars... and wine and beer. This was a real treat, unusual for mountain biking where I'm used to soggy sandwiches. So we sat in the sunshine and ate as a brass band played and watched the bikers come and go. I did however, feel more ready for a sleep, than the downhill's that were still to come!
We carried on that afternoon to the highest point, Pointe de Mossette, heading on some very chilly chairlifts. These took me a while to get the knack of - having to roll the bike onto its back wheel and slot it into the chair lift in front, seating ourselves, one at a time, in the chair behind....
We continued to blast through endless downhill's, on a mix of technical single-track, fire-track and more N鶩, until we finally called it quits at about 6:30pm. After a full day of technique coaching and riding about 40km of downhill, we headed down to another food stop for some raclette ( a much needed top up of cheese.)
Sadly the next day it was absolutely chucking it down (okay, normal UK biking conditions) so instead I opted to head back early to Chamonix to recover form my cheese overload!
This is a guest blog from outdoor enthusiast, Katy Dartford. Katy is a freelance journalist and mountain sport enthusiast who, since December 2012, has lived in Chamonix, France.
Her website is www.katydartford.com