How often have you actually ridden your mountain bike down a mountain? If you mostly ride in the UK, then chances are you don’t do it very often. However, this sport that we all know and love is called “mountain biking” for a reason. If you sit at the top of a mountain pass in the French Alps, looking across towards the snow capped mountains and glaciers of the Mont Blanc range, with 1500m descent of twisty technical single track ahead of you; suddenly it all starts to make sense.
The Portes du Soleil region, in the northern French Alps, has become a Mecca for mountain biking and not without good reason. In winter the area is famous for being the largest linked ski area in the world, but during the summer months it is also easily the largest lift served mountain bike trail area in the world.
The area really does have something to offer all styles and levels of mountain biking. For cross country riders, there are plenty of demanding climbs to challenge your fitness. For downhill riders, there are well over 20 dedicated downhill tracks ranging from easy to insane. For free riders, the area really comes into its own with mile after mile of varied terrain including bike parks, technical forest single track, exposed steep faces and north shore style courses.
In response to the growing demand from mountain bikers from all disciplines, many of the resorts in the area have invested heavily in mountain bike infrastructure.
In Switzerland, the combined areas of Champéry, Val d’Illiez-Les Crosets-Champoussin & Morgins boast a four cross track, a north shore zone, a bike park, 3 downhill courses (including the infamous UCI world cup downhill course, and the UCI 15 km cross country loop.
In Les Gets over in the French side, there is a beginners’ downhill track at the Grand Cry Park and 2 beginners’ MTB parks; the Kid’Zone and Mini Jump Park. For the more experienced there is a dirt and freestyle jump park, a four cross track, a freeride zone in “Gibannaz Canyon”, 4 downhill courses, and 6 cross-country suitable for all riders.
Chatel, which is right at the centre of the area, has perhaps the biggest selection of purpose built MTB areas with 15 MTB tracks (14 of which are downhill profiled), 5 north shore zones, 1 four cross track, the infamous freeride “La Face” mountain style zone, 1 kid’s cross and a drop zone with jump pit, wall ride, quarter, step-ups and step-downs.
Despite having great trails for intermediate, advanced and crazy riders, the Portes du Soleil area is also a fantastic place to learn mountain biking, or to go riding with young families. There are lots of opportunities to get chairlifts up to the tops of the mountains, and then find your way around on 4×4 tracks which don’t tend to be too steep or challenging.
One of the reasons why the Portes du Soleil has become so popular for mountain biking is because the sheer vastness of the area results an incredible mix of varied terrain, and ensures that the trails never become too busy. Indeed, it is possible to ride all day and not see another person. Couple this with picturesque resorts, great value accommodation and the glorious back drop of the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches mountains, and it is clear to see why the Portes du Soleil is one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world.