climbing the paved roads to Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes on our slick tire equipped full suspension mountain bikes, the dirt was calling. Unfortunately the muddy trails looked unattractive. We decided to leave the bikes behind and take the lifts up to the top, check out the trails, and decide later in the day whether we wanted to ride or not.
Les Deux Alpes is purported to have some of the best lift assisted mountain biking in the Alpes. We can’t comment on that assertion. But we can tell you that Les Deux offers a web of trails that start near the glacier at the top of the gondola and end up at the dam, Barrage du Chambon, around 7,500 feet below. Marked by Mondial du VTT, a large mountain biking festival, the official mountain biking season in the resort began on the 17th of June, a day before the end of our stay. (In French, mountain biking translates to Vélo Tout Terrain or VTT; literally this converts to “cycle all terrain” analogous to all terrain bicycle or ATB in English.)
All about the ski village were bikes, bike amusements, and booths displaying the season’s latest gear and paraphernalia. Long lines of mountain bikers waited for the gondola ride to the top of the trails. Without bikes, we could skip the bike line and quickly load into the two-stage gondola. Amongst the bikers were skiers and boarders. The lifts at Les Deux Alpes had opened in late June not just for VTT. Skiers also flocked to the resort to experience the largest summer ski area in France. At the top of the second gondola a chair lift takes the snow riders up onto a glacier; the scene on the snowfield looked like mid-winter at a ski resort.
The mountain biking from the top of the second gondola did not look very interesting. For the bikes it was pretty much a wet gravel road through the scree fields until well away from the top. Further down, swoopy single-track appeared. The lower trails looked to be fun, though a bit gooey. They did not seem to offer much in the way of technical challenge.
Later, from the bottom, we took another lift up and walked down through another portion of the riding area. The character of the trails off of the side lift seems similar to what we seen above—a fast, flowy tread with only modest technical challenge. At points there were small and super easy North Shore style build-ups. Each time signs on the trail warned of the coming wooden “stunts” even though the build-ups were typically three feet wide and a mere 18 inches off of the ground. Becky and I couldn’t help but imagine what the CBC Trail in North Vancouverwould look like if similar signage was required. There’d be a fluorescent warning sign every three feet.
We decided to walk down the hill from the top of the side lift. From the signs we soon learned that hikers were not allowed on the mountain biking trails. OK, not to worry, we thought, as other signs directed us to the hiking routes. We’d take these down the hill. That is, we would take the hiking route if we could find the paths. We searched 200 feet down the hill and never saw the “hiking” trails. Perhaps it was too early in the season for the treads to be established. At this point, it seemed like we had already moved well down the hill and might as well continue off piste to the ski village. That was a mistake. We had about 1,800 feet of steep open field descending with gullies and thick brush patches to circumnavigate. By the time we made it to the bottom, it was too late in the day to mountain bike. Besides, the knees were now seriously barking. It seems we took the more extreme route down the hill. Descending on a bike would have been easy.
See what the mountain biking trails at Les Deux Alpes look like on our picture set.