Last Friday, we rode 50km of the classic ‘Portes du Soleil’ linked trail system in 8 hours!
According to http://www.portesdusoleil.com ‘The Portes du Soleil is made up of 12 linked Alpine village resorts either side of the French-Swiss border. There are 650km of signposted MTB trails and 800km of marked walking trails all accessible via the summer mountain lift network’.
There is a marked Portes du Soleil route that you can follow which is 80km and uses lifts to cut down on the amount of climbing. The lift system is what makes this route great as you give your bike to the liftie who puts it on the rail or hook then you and your bike are whisked up the mountain. We chose to do 50km of the classic route which used 7 lifts.
Starting at Morzine we took the Super Morzine telecabine out of the village and then immediately got on the La Zore teleseige to the summit. Telecabines are enclosed and teleseiges are exposed to the elements. We shared the Super Morzine with a rather excitable French lady who appeared to be have a panic attack as soon as we left the station complete with mopping the sweat off her neck with a hanky – eughhh! The elements got to us on the La Zore, it was freezing as the predicted sunshine stayed resolutely behind the cloud.
A cross country ride followed the ridge towards Avoriaz. Nothing too tricky and a way to get the blood flowing before the first descent. Just before Avoriaz we dropped down onto the Lindarets trail. I let all the downhillers go first as I didn’t want to hold anyone up and then enjoyed the first part of the trail on my own. It’s rocky and twisty but not too steep and spits you out onto a hairpin bend of the road it follows. Regrouping with Mr R we tackled the second section which again is all down and is rocky but with roots and mud added. A great section with stunning views it crosses the Avoriaz downhill courses so you have to keep your eyes peeled for bikes whizzing across the trail.
Arriving at the bowl at the bottom of the valley we picked up the Chaux-Fleurie teleseige up to the top of the Chatel bike park. We were riding the green ‘Panoramic’ trail down which had stunning views of Lac de Montriond. A lovely trail with virtually no-one on it except us and a guide showing a British mountain biker the route. The trail ends at the half way station in Chatel where we caught glimses of riders checking out the Face slope style course for this weekend’s ‘Mountain Style’ competition. We shall be watching that tomorrow! Picking up the second green route in the Chatel bike park called ‘Serpentine’ we dropped off the slope in a series of switchbacks and tabletops, oh and some more mud!
Reaching the bottom of the trail we then had to traverse along a long, boring double track trail to the other side of Chatel to pickup the Super Chatel. I was feeling quite strong at this point which was good because there was still an awful long way to go!
The Super Chatel is a telecabine and we had to wheel our bikes into the cabins on their rear wheels which is quite rare as normally the bikes are hooked on the sides. At the top we found the red Portes Du Soleil (PBS) sign and rode off up the hill. The double track wasn’t difficult or steep but felt really tough. We passed over the Swiss border onto the Pas de Morgins and had to push the bikes up a hiking trail (avoiding the road) for a while until we summited. Ah, time to eat! The air was still cold but at least the sun was out for a moment and we enjoyed our ham sandwiches whilst watching some lost cyclists try to find the true PBS route having taken the road option.
After a little break we pressed on. The trail was a rutted path through pastureland. After a couple of minutes we came to a seemingly impassable mess of mud, water and cow hoof prints. There was no way we could ride through it so we scrambled through some trees to find a shorter crossing and then made a quick, light-footed dash across. The pastureland continues for a while until we came to a house with a little sign on the corner ‘Morgins’. Riding through what seemed to be their front garden we continued down the most narrow, overgrown and tricky trail of the whole day. We’d stumbled onto a trail that was barely ridable and I don’t mind admitting I got off and pushed as it was as difficult as a downhill course.
We came out onto some double track with no sign to tell us which way. After 20 mins or so of riding up we decided the trail was curving in the wrong direction and had to turn round and ride back down. About 10 mins past the wrong turn was a PBS sign. The normally efficient Swiss were a bit poor with their signs. The double track turned into a road which dropped us into Morgins. We weren’t impressed with most of the traverse from Chatel as a downhill track and then road was not what we signed up for.
Morgins is a sleepy Swiss village. We rode in and took the opportunity to pop in the bike shop mainly to warm up before boarding the Folleuse teleseige. We woke up the liftie and got us and our bikes loaded. It’s a long lift and below we watched the downhillers on the Morgins downhill courses which crisscrossed their way underneath us.
It’s a desolate place at the top at 1814m, sometimes in the cloud but the sun was out for us which was very pleasant indeed. Riding through pastureland, over raised cattle grids we popped out onto double track. A shortish slightly uphill ride to the Champoussin teleseige followed. Champoussin is the slowest lift on the planet and seems to take forever to reach the top. Once there it’s a high, thin trail to greet us – not one for those with vertigo! I saw a marmot on the trail up here – a rarity as they shy away from humans.
Over into the Crosets valley we thought we recognised the top as our next destination but when we got there we found out we’d stumbled upon the Col des Portes du Soliel. Backtracking our way down we wanted to get to the Crosets teleseige which would be our last of the day. To get there though we had to go down a downhill course – not what you need at this stage in the day. Most of it was ridable for me but there was one stupidly steep section that I had to pass my bike down to Mr R who managed to electrocute himself on the cattle fencing in the process. Now I say ‘stupidly steep’ but only because it was the only way down to the lift station – on a downhill course it’s fine but not as a through route. Getting to the bottom of the course we found our way to the lift station blocked by a lorry. We tried to find another way round but there was none so we had to push our way through.
At the top we were at the highest point on our route – Pointe de Mossette at 2277m. Cold, hostile and dangerous are the words that spring to mind – a real live Alp! After surviving the descent of the col we picked up a doubletrack, rocky super fast and very, very long trail which ended at a little buvette (mountain restaurant).
Past the buvette the trail changes yet again into a rutted single track on the high pastureland. Pedals can easily catch on the high sides of the trail or rocks pretrubing from the edges. The trail eventually splits into a walkers trail and a mountain bikers trail. The mountain bikers trail is wide and fairly smooth single track which becomes rockier and rockier. It eventually widens to doubletrack with great views again of Lac de Montriond. It was here we came across a fallen rider in the middle of the trail. Fortunately, the rider was with her friends and we later saw the PGHM helicopter from Chamonix circling ready to evacuate her to hospital.
We made it back to the bowl where we were earlier but this time flaked out on a sunny bench until the smell of crepes enticed me to get up and refuel! From there it was just a short road ride (we missed the turn) down to Lindarets famous for it’s goats – where we fussed one of the said goats and continued on our way.
We eventually made it to Lac de Montriond and sat in the sunshine for a moment to try to thaw our frozen fingers and noses. Another road stretch into Morzine and back to the car – 8 hours after we started!