Picture the scene, its early 2011, I was riding bikes more and more, and after 12 months of discussing it I had decided. 2011 was the year where I would eventually follow my head and my heart and make the summer pilgrimage to the Alps where a week’s mountain biking would satisfy my hunger for some top quality climbs, descents and single-track. So March 2011, I paid my moneys and decided on going on a fully guided back country week (imagine off piste skiing but on the mtb) booked for Sept 2011. All was going well until disaster hit. Early July 2011 I crashed hard when riding some very large mtb jumps in Cheshire, breaking my spine in 3 places, and my hip socket. Disaster. A few weeks in hospital including theatre, and a long rehabilitation period meant that the holiday which I had wanted to do for years was cancelled for the year... Bummer.
Fast forward to April 2012, and I was feeling fit. Strength was coming back and the pain of last year had subsided. Putting the difficulties behind me I decided that this year was the year I would go on the holiday I’ve wanted to go on since I started riding bikes as a proper hobby at age 13. Holiday was booked, flights booked, and started riding more. I was out on the road bike putting an average of approx 170mi per week, and had even started racing. So the legs were coming along, but the upper body was lacking. Spinal injuries aren’t to be taken light-heartedly as I was in a rigid spine brace for 3 months in 2011 which had destroyed any sort of core stability and strength I had. This takes some time to overcome. Anyway, the year passed and with a few road races under my belt and an ever increasing amount of mtb rides, meant that my strength and confidence was coming back. Time flew, and all of a sudden it was the end of August, and I was ready. Stronger and fitter than last year, I was looking forward to riding some awesome trails which would test even the most competent and technically minded rider.
So at 1am on 8th Sept, I loaded up the car and headed down to Luton airport. Hours later I was in Luton, checked in my luggage, dropped my bike bag off to the oversize luggage counter and made my way through to the gates. 4 hours later I touched down in Geneva. Luggage collected and waited about for my transfer. We eventually got to the chalet at about 5pm, just enough time to build the bikes ready for the next day, before we settled down for dinner and a generous helping of red wine.
Early night meant that all of a sudden Sunday had appeared. 9am came, and fully fed and watered riders came out of the chalet and we split into our groups. 2 groups of 5 with 2 guides per group. First day was nothing but tiring. Easy trails to ease us into the week, but warning signs came 10 minutes into our first run when two of the five of my group had already boiled their brakes! (Imagine a 30 minute constant fast descent which requires a LOT of braking with hydraulic disc brakes). We stopped to allow the brakes to cool and the lovely aroma of disc brakes was slightly overpowering. We kept going, using the minibus as a cheat pup the climbs, and after a 6 hour day full of descending, it was time to hit the sack. Day 1 – 4000metres of descending.
Monday came and we were ready to do one of the epics that are on offer. HEIDI is a long ride which climbs and descends over mountains and through forests using natural trails. The scenery was nothing but stunning.
It’s not all open barren landscapes, once we get into the forests, it gets steep, loose, rooty and err, rocky?
The descent down was well worth the climb. Starting at the top of Mont Juvet, down to the Mont Juvet refuge where we stopped for lunch, then the scarily fast 4km long gulley run which caught me out at one point, pinballing me all over the trail. Brown trouser moment over, and my heart rate dropped I set off again, catching up the slower riders. After the open section came the sam hill section, a series of bermed and slightly loose and rooty switchbacks that again, caught me out, sending me upside down into a bush. Rest of the trail was fast. Very fast. Scary in bits. More of the same as we descended down the hill, finishing in a village where the orangina and a ‘serious’ beer was very very well deserved! Back to the chalet for dinner, and then a fair few beers ready for the day off on the Weds.
Well, Wednesday was errm.. rubbish. The rain came. It belted it down non-stop from when we got in on the Tuesday until the end of Wednesday. But this is where the magic came... Snow. Lazy day was in order. Quick walk around town with a few lunch time beers then back to the chalet.
Thursday was another long ride. Up to destination – X (or destination kiss as I got everyone calling it!) for some ridge riding and then descending into Beaufort. The ride started in the snow which came on the previous day.
More descending again and the snow had made the going very soft. Wet and muddy roots, combined with a scattering of electric fences definitely kept you on your toes. Letting the bike slide was the key to the descent. Trusting your tyres to grip again was key, alongside letting go of the brakes, and pointing the bike.
The day went slowly, and we moved on for a final run of the day. One of the guys in my group said that he had had enough for the day, and I got an offer of a bike. A rather nice pimped out intense tracer VP with all the bells and whistles.. Have to say, he missed out on a good trail. We descended for 30 minutes straight down the hill, dropping 2000metres. Switchback after switchback after switchback. This was such fun. If you hit the turns too fast, you just turned harder and go higher on the corner, carrying your speed. This went on for a good 30 minutes and I was at the bottom of the hill with a massive grin on my face. After this, we went back to the chalet and got fed and watered.
Final day came and another big ride was on the cards. Problem. I had no bike. Luckily the chalet chef had a spare bike which I borrowed. Fridays ride was Meribel. A long climb with a ridge ride and then a long descent down to the valley floor. Again, the weather was perfect and the snow on the caps made the scenery absolutely stunning...
More descending followed, more of the same, just harder in difficulty. Sharp, steep, rooty, rocky switchbacks all mixed in with pedally sections. Best fun you can have on 2 wheels.
The week was rounded off with the tightest and steepest trail of the day, made especially for us by the local farmer. This trail was brand new and we were helping to cut the trail in. This was loose, steep, tight, included a mass of line choices and was scary in bits. Best way to finish off the week. And what was better, was that it was within riding distance of the local bar at the chalet!!
So, approx 90mi later, with 3000metres (3km vertical) of climbing and 13000metres (13km vertical) of descent the week was over.
Out of the 10 of us that went, there were a fair few crashes, many mechanicals, two punctures, lots of silly falls, one snapped bike, and lots of destroyed brake pads. But guess what.. It’s the most fun I’ve had on 2 wheels since I’ve started riding the bike. I’d definitely recommend anyone who enjoys mountain biking to experience a week’s guiding in the Alps. It’s well worth it.
Strava ride details;
Day 3 (Garmin died mid-ride)
Day 4; (Bike died at Lunch Time)