Back in BC

Tech trails in damp conditions (Korova Milk Bar, Whistler)

Just back from another amazing three weeks’ biking in Canada.  I’ll let the photos do most of the talking but BC once again proved why it is the centre of the mountain biking universe with a wide variety of very well-built trails and a biking culture that most of Europe can only dream of, while the weather ended up perfect with just a little rain to keep the dirt tacky and the temperatures perfect for pedalling.

We spent a bit more time in Whistler’s bike park than I would have liked, especially with a shoulder/rib injury from a silly crash on day one making me feel a bit stiff and cautious on the bigger jumps, but you can’t really complain at getting 6-8 long runs in a day compared to 3-4 shorter ones outside the park.  Still, we did manage to hit a few classic trails too around Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish (my favourite trails of the trip) and a couple of nights’ camping in the Chilcotins for some big Alps-meets-BC alpine days.

I’m slightly regretting not applying for a Canadian working holiday visa while I was still 30 to really take advantage of the BC summer and winter but am still looking forward to some good autumn trail riding around Chamonix until winter hits and the skis come back out to play.  The lifts might not be running at the moment but there’s still a lot of pedalling to do in spots old and new close to home.

Thanks as always to everyone I rode with in Canada and helped out in various ways.  See you all again next year hopefully!

Dropping in (A-Line, Whistler Bike Park)

Midway down the last run of my favourite day of the trip (Hueso, Squamish)

Big pedal/push for big alpine descents (Ridge-o-Rama, Chilcotins)

Big climb for our final day, well worth the effort (Lord of the Squirrels, Whistler)

Summertime on the Bikes

One of many big solo days this summer (Mont Joly/Tete de la Combaz)

Even after more biking than skiing last winter I was still really looking forward to another good summer on the bike around Chamonix this year.  I wasn’t feeling quite as fit at the start of summer compared to most years thanks to far less spring ski touring than usual but some pedally days sorted that out pretty quickly before the lifts started to open in mid-June.  I was happy with my old bike which I’d been riding for the last two years, but when I saw a bit of a deal on my dream frame and a bit of web design work came together I couldn’t resist so ordered it up and switched all of my components across.  I’m very glad that I made the change, as the length feels a better fit on me and it rides nicer in every situation.

As usual some trail restrictions came into action in mid-summer and Brevent & Flegere didn’t allow bike access at all since all of the trails are off-limits there, and as usual Chamonix’s moaniest mountain bikers took to the internet to whinge about it while the rest of us took full advantage of the huge area covered by our summer lift passes and the excellent natural trails on offer between Trient and Megeve.  Exploring new natural trails off the lifts is probably my favourite style of biking; even if the descents aren’t amazing it’s always a bit of an adventure but I did find some very nice new routes and variations this year especially around Saint Gervais, Les Contamines and Megeve.

Personally the Chamonix commune’s trail restrictions don’t bother me too much since they largely apply to the trails that are very busy with day-hikers in peak season and are therefore not as fun or safe to ride as they are at other times of the year.  Yes, I have been guilty of the odd cheeky run on Posettes or Trappette in mid-summer in the past, but after exploring a lot more of the local terrain I’ve been behaving myself this year and enjoying riding in other spots to save those for September.  And while it was nice to return to those trails for a little variety once the restrictions expired, I really don’t think that they’re as good as I once thought they were anyway.

Some bikers are calling for the restrictions to be overturned but I feel like there’s a lot of ignorance involved in a lot of the arguments, including those by a newly-formed group who are trying to improve local trail access who I have expressed my opinion to but opinions will always be mixed.  With the growing number of bikes on the trails, especially in the last two years, I think it’s more important than ever to understand what the restrictions are and why they are in place, otherwise I feel that it’s quite likely that more restrictions will be made in the near future.  I would have thought that respecting other trail users and the trails themselves would go without saying, but I’ve seen a growing number of bikers (particularly some large groups of bikers) not giving enough respect to walkers and runners and on a couple of trails in particular the increased numbers of skid marks and new cut-lines are going to piss off some people.  I think that education should be the focus now to preserve what we currently have.  And who knows; maybe if the mountain bike community proves that they can ride respectfully then the current restrictions may be loosened in the future.

A few friends are now at various stages of their bike guiding qualifications; Wayne is the first British legitimate bike guide to be based in Chamonix so give him a shout if you’re looking to make the most of the local trails on a visit.  If enough bike visitors are looking to hire guides in Chamonix then guiding is definitely something I think I would enjoy and be good at but I’m not sure if Chamonix’s trails would be able to sustain the high levels of bike traffic that would be required to give even a handful of guides enough work to live on.  So for now I’m happy to just enjoy the trails and show any friends around when they come on holiday; I had some really good days at both ends of the valley in August this year with old friends who I’ve never ridden with before and their comments made me appreciate how good the local riding is more than ever.

September is probably my favourite month of riding in Chamonix but it was cut a little short this year when I had to head back to Glasgow for my grandad’s funeral.  A good ceremony with a big turnout saw him off really well and it’s been good to see the whole family during have a bit of downtime.  Still, I’m definitely looking forward to flying west in a few days’ time for another trip to BC…

New spot & new riding buddies; definitely planning to return here in the Autumn (Mont de l'Arpille)

Nice views from the top end of the valley (Le Tour/Vormaine)

Showing some old pals the old classics (Croix de Fer/Catogne/Trient)

The Leanest Winter

Definitely the highlight of the winter (Barbey Couloir, 27th March)

Well, it’s over now.  This winter has been the warmest and driest in most Chamonix residents’ memories and I skied fewer days than I have in a long long time.  Some storms brought good conditions briefly but skiing less regularly meant than I wasn’t feeling as strong as usual so motivation was pretty low in-between.

At least it was dry enough for some good biking every month and my days on the bike nearly hit double those on skis to make the most of the conditions on offer.

One of the few deeper days of the winter (Helbronner, 13th February)

Plan season didn't last long this winter (Plan de l'Aiguille, 8th March)

A big push up to classic trails, well worth it (Brevent, 3rd April)

A satisfying end to my last run of the winter (<a href="">Verbier, 22nd April</a>)

Hopefully the next six months will be just as warm and dry as the past six for another excellent summer on the bike.

Mini rock roll, just practising for Canada in the autumn (Les Bois, 23rd April)

Hike & Ride

Hiking along the Mont Fort ridgeline

Location: Verbier
Snow: Spring snow; some soft, some firm
Weather: Bluebird, warm

A couple of nice spring snow hikes in Verbier today.

One off Mont Fort first; along the ridge for a ski traverse on the front side, steep ski over the back and a bootpack up to the top of a line on the front side which we had spotted from the lift station with only a few tracks on it, for nice spring snow at the top and a little crust lower down.

Then on to the Bec des Rosses where the climb was much more rocky and technical than the last time I did it but still about an hour up.  Snow on the descent was pretty mixed but soft enough to feel confident on the steep entrance to the classic Dogleg Couloir which was holding firmer and more rutted snow itself with some rocks showing meaning a little sidestepping was required, before cutting out right about halfway down to ski a nice face with only a couple of tracks on it and a nice drop and fast turns to exit.

Graham: Ridgeline hike from Mont Fort

Graham: Closing in on the Bec des Rosses peak

Drop to finish our line; redemption for one I fell on in the morning

Park Day Cancelled

View from the top of Le Tour's Summit Park

Location: Le Tour
Snow: Mixed on piste
Weather: Bluebird, some wind

I was fancying my first park day in a long time today, but nae luck.  Half the park was closed for an unpublicised kids’ comp and the rest was firm, rutted and poorly shaped.  Home for a bike ride after one run.

Barbey Couloir

Alex: The most fun section of the descent

Location: Argentiere Basin
Snow: Boot-top powder where it mattered
Weather: Bluebird

Excellent conditions in Barbey Couloir today off the back side of the Aiguille d’Argentiere.  A little firm at the top but once through the rock choke the snow was near-perfect boot-top powder, just a little sluffy but nothing to worry us much.  Steep but not scary-steep; very fun.  The return ascent to Col du Chardonnet nearly finished our legs off but the mellow spring snow descent back towards the resort was still good fun, and a slushy mogul-filled Pierre Ric homerun brought us down for celebratory panachés in classic style.

Entering the rock choke as the snow got good

Graham: Steep slope, soft snow; perfect

Family Snowboard Day

Quiet pistes in the morning and nice views towards Mont Blanc

Location: Les Contamines
Snow: Spring snow pistes
Weather: Bluebird, warm

My family are staying in Saint Gervais this week (a much better holiday base for families and intermediate skiers than Chamonix) so I’ve been staying with them for the last few days between day trips with my Chamonix friends, but had a day on the hill with them today in Les Contamines, snowboarding most of the day with my sister and future brother-in-law on their first ever week of snowboarding.  They were doing very well for their first week, and being my first day in over three years it took me a few runs to get back into it but a really fun day cruising around in good spring snow.

My rental board even matched my outfit

Wan o’ They Days

Graham: Popping off a natural hip

Location: La Clusaz
Snow: Spring snow
Weather: Hazy cloud, warm

A very fun day in La Clusaz in good spring snow for my first time today, after only ever visiting in sub-par conditions in the past.

Things took a little longer than expected to soften up so we cruised around the pistes and park for most of the morning but after lunch everything softened to excellent spring corn so we lapped the Balme area’s famous natural snowpark all afternoon with a few flips & spins thrown and even caught local legend Candide Thovex doing his thing on a few laps of the terrain that made him the skier he is today.

Really nice to be blasting around without backpacks and with less risks for once.  Today’s lift pass was free on our Chamonix passes but a day like this would be well worth the price of a lift ticket for a return trip sometime.

Graham: First flip of the winter

Dent de Fenestral

The full group at Col de Fenestral

Location: Finhaut
Snow: Soft spring snow, heavy low down
Weather: Bluebird, warm

Very nice soft spring snow on a pretty relaxed tour today.  A quick ascent from Finhaut got us to Col de Fenestral then around a bit to descend the SE face under the Dent de Fenestral.  A nasty start to the entrance couloir meant that a bit of downclimbing was required but the mellow face was holding excellent spring corn (SE, 2500m at 12.30pm) all the way down to the road out, getting heavier lower down but skiing fine even on lightweight gear.

Colin: Hop turn at the start of the descent

Graham: Towards the end of the main descent

Tis the Season

Powder turn overlooking Chamonix town

Location: Plan de l’Aiguille
Snow: Deep powder, heavier lower
Weather: Overcast

South African Alex is in town, so as always that means that the Plan has come into excellent condition.

Three laps skier’s-left today for a change, exploring a bit further for amazing untracked gullies, plenty of natural kickers and excellent landings.  Well worth a bit of bushwhacking to return to the exit track; still a little bit of walking required but skis-on all the way to Grepon once joining the 4×4 track.

Scouting a line, overlooking Les Houches/Les Bossons/Les Pelerins

Graham: Taking advantage of the excellent landings on offer today

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