Blog Tour 2014-15 - Val Thorens Giant Steps

Posted: Thursday, 5 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

What a difference a day makes, yesterday I was riding in a small, quaint, rural ski resort and today I would be switching to the 3 Valleys, quite possibly the largest interlinked ski domain in Europe. Last season I explored the Meribel and Courchevel side, but today I would be heading to the highest point at Val Thorens.

Val Thorens is somewhere I have not been since my first weeks of skiing twenty years ago, it was all so new to me then. But I recall being amazed that all the slopes were above the tree line, lending the place an ethereal lunar quality. I imagine it's all well and good when the sun is shining and the weather is clement, but it must be brutal in blizzard conditions.

My companion for the day would be Kevin, who I think is now into his second or possibly third week of skibike riding. There was no real agenda, just another opportunity to mooch around the resort and have some fun.

Kevin - he didn't say a word, but he did laugh a lot

I chose to drive up as far as Les Menuires, rather than go the whole hog and use it as our rendezvous point. We found each other and set about making our way up to Val Thorens.
Here's where the glitz of the 3 valleys tarnishes a little, the first lift operators we encountered didn't want us on at all, as our leashes weren't attached to our feet! We weren't going anywhere in a hurry and they let us on eventually so we would stop cluttering the place up. I suspect this part might be under the control of the same company that runs St. Martin de Belleville lower down the valley and they just haven't caught up with the skibike beat yet.
Once out of Les Menuires and into Val Thorens itself there were no major issues with chairlifts to report and we didn't choose to ride any of the cable cars or gondolas.

Anything within spitting distance of a blue run was tracked out

The price to ride here is high at €54.30, but then so is the altitude and it really shows in both the quality and quantity of snow. Most pistes were perfect packed down powder snow, but not overly groomed, here there are no issues with freeze-thaw cycles. But it was really the off-piste conditions that blew me away. Anything that was within spitting distance of a blue run was totally tracked out, but still a delight to ride. Straying off the more challenging red runs, were where the really good stuff was to be found. Huge mountainsides, piled high with powder snow and nothing to do all afternoon but go just a little berserk in it.

Nothing to do all afternoon but go just a little berserk

Kevin managed brilliantly after I lead him onto some pretty daunting slopes and we both had our fair share of wipe outs. There again if you don't crash once or twice, you're just not trying hard enough. I even managed a few diddy jumps, I seem to be getting better at the take off, now I need to work on the landings.

Kevin managed brilliantly on some daunting slopes

In conclusion, Val Thorens is a very favourable location to go skibiking if you can afford the overheads. You are spoiled for choice and can head down to Les Menuires if you want variety. Opt for the 3 Valleys ski pass and Meribel, La Tania, Le Praz and Courchevel are waiting for you. Sadly St Martin de Belleville hasn't openend its lifts to skibikes, nor has Orelle the 4th valley, but I live the in hope I will see it in my lifetime.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Areches Beaufort, Heading Off The Grid

Posted: Wednesday, 4 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Today I headed back out, to ride with Kevin in Val Thorens and later Thierry in Les Arcs. En route I will be stopping at somewhere I found whilst pouring over the regional map and spotted a load of lifts marked where there really shouldn't be any.

The place in question is Areches Beaufort and early this year I was told that it is now skibike friendly, how could I resist the opportunity to try somewhere new? The town of Beaufort is situated on the D925, a small provincial road that forms a high mountain pass between Albertville and Moutiers. The pass remains closed in the winter, leaving Beaufort to exist in splendid isolation for much of the year. There are few other ski station nearby, Hauteluce being the closest, some 15 km away, vaguely accessible as the back mountain area of the more well known Les Contamines.

Areches Beaufort - existing in splendid isolation

It is very much a rural area, focussed on wood processing, with timber yards and mills aplenty, It is quite characterful and it is hard work to remain focussed on the road and not gawk at the sights.
The ski station at Areches is just above Beaufort town; down in the valley it had been overcast, but on arrival it was exactly like a kitsch snow globe with masses of light snow floating down gently all around.

I had left Geneva at 09:30 and taken the back roads route, so it was nearly 13:00 by the time I reached the kiosk all ready to ride, I was able to buy a 4 hour ticket which cost just €24.70.
Areche has two detachable chairlifts, Grand Mont is right in the centre of town, there was no queue and I just hopped on, no questions asked, just a jolly "Bonjour" from the operator.
At the top, there is a good choice of runs, I picked the Perches red run that leads straight to the other detachable chair called Piapolay.

There was about 3 inches of fresh powder snow on top of a base of icy hard packed artificial snow, giving the run somewhat of a "Iron fist in a velvet glove" feel to it. It was gorgeous on the flatter sections, but with a bite to it on any sort of gradient.
At Piapolay the only way back to Areches is via the Boullevard de liaison, a small piste that follows the river down through the woods, it is a delightful run to enjoy pretty views of the many chalets and trees. I would guess that when the snow is poor there must be a shuttle bus to serve the same purpose.

Areches Beaufort - it was 13:00 by the time I was ready to ride

I popped back to the car for some munchies and the clouds began to lift and the majesty of the surrounding mountains was revealed from behind their veil. I took this as the perfect cue to bag the black run down from the top of the Grand Mont chairlift. It didn't seem that difficult viewed from the chairlift, but once on it the pitch is unnerving, it is also rather ridge like, opportunities to run off are few and of course it's all bumps as a result. To my advantage it was all soft, fresh, natural snow so I plotted a steady path down using lots of short swing turns, although I do feel that I deserved an "I was brave" badge at the bottom.

I do feel that I deserved an "I was brave" badge at the bottom

With a couple of hours left, I pottered around testing out the many trails, it should be noted that some are only accessible by drag lift, such as those on the Col de la Forclaz.

In conclusion, Areches is a charming small resort, which in many ways serves as a glimpse into a less commercial past. There's no modern glitz, no giant screens shouting advertising at you wherever you look, a pleasant relief from the marketing overload that so many bigger resorts can exhibit.
This type of place has nothing to offer those who come just to show off, instead there seemed to be a broad mix of all ages present, busy using all the many types of snow sliding disciplines which now includes freestyle skibiking.
Blog reader Roger may also be keen to hear that there are winter footpaths, including one for snow shoes all the way to the top of the Col de la Forclaz, with an altitude of 2320 metres.
It is unlikely you would want to come here for a whole week of skibiking, but there's certainly plenty enough to keep you entertained for a long weekend skibiking at Areches Beaufort.

Areches Beaufort - plenty enough for a long weekend skibiking

For Sale - Custom Built Freestyle Skibike - £450

Posted: Tuesday, 3 March 2015 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , , ,

Custom freestyle skibike for sale - Just £450

The original " Green Beastie " skibike is up for sale, it was a stunningly good skibike right from the start and would suit any beginner to intermediate ski biker. It has an excellent complement of components; with a Magura Odin air rear shock and Rock Shox Judy up front. It has about 150 mm suspension front and rear, the rear has multiple adjustments for your weight and style and at the front, a basic coil spring with pre-load and oil damping. Both haven't missed a beat even in some really cold conditions.

Custom freestyle skibike for sale - 150 mm of suspension travel

At under 10 kg it is light in weight, compared to even the latest American skibikes, including the skis. Its in very good condition, as it was powder coated in 2012 and hasn't been used much since.

MX style folding footpegs - a neat upgrade over normal bike pegs

This is a very easy skibike to learn on and yet solid enough not to get damaged it rides very well too. With its Y shape, it fits the lifts well and with the low top bar, the canopies can be closed on the latest Euro lifts, which does keep the other lift users happy on a cold day.

It can be easily dismantled and fits into a large suitcase, or as I prefer, a wheeled golf travel bag, together with your boots and clothes to travel on an aircraft. At  10 kg, it does leave enough clothes allowance to not need to book another bag.

Its presently fitted with Salomon Snowblades and carbon ski adaptors. The skis will be fully serviced ready to go. The Snowblades are probably a bit narrow for off-piste skibike riding, but never the less, I have spent many a happy day in powder.
Would I change to a wider pair? Probably not if you are learning, but eventually you will fit a wider pair if you are regularly going off-piste. I have a pair of wider Salomon SB10s which you could purchase from me for an additional £50.

So how much will this custom made skibike gem cost you? Just £450 ready to go. If you're interested, please use the contact form to send me a message, or leave a comment below, or join me on the Blog Facebook Group.



I have included some videos so you can get a flavour of what its like on the snow, enjoy:

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Le Crozet

Posted: by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

The last couple of days it has been raining not just here at base camp Geneva, but even high up in the mountains, last season I tried skiing in the rain at Morzine, it sucked. It's also been quite windy here, so I dread to think what the conditions must have been like at altitude, unpleasant would be an understatement.
It was still forecast to rain today, but when I awoke it was bright and sunny. It was too late to make a big trip, so I packed my kit and headed for my most local big hill at Le Crozet, just 20 minutes from my door. It's just as well that I don't live in Geneva permanently, I would never get anything done.

Le Crozet - if I lived in Geneva I would never get anything done

I was last here on my warm up day, right at the start of the tour, sadly conditions have deteriorated thanks to the rain. Everything, including off-piste was boiler plate hard and not that enjoyable, so I just had to take it as an opportunity to practice my super slalom carving technique, well it was that or die horribly.

Le Crozet - I took it as an opportunity to practice my carving technique

I nipped down to Lelex, as my tummy was grumbling about the lack of food for breakfast and by the time I was back at the top the snow had softened. There was quite a mix of; corn snow, slush and ice pebbles, typical Spring conditions really; still it was very pleasant in the sunlight and you can't complain when the cost of a day ticket is just €25.

Le Crozet - you can't complain for €25

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Rest Day

Posted: Sunday, 1 March 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

I made a spectacular tumble yesterday, it would have been exemplary but for the fact that my leg caught on something which radically overextended my right knee backwards. It responded with a nasty click, even with the protective braces I wear, although I imagine it could have been much worse without them.

Today it is a bit puffed up and stiff, but as a couple of rainy days are forecast, I will be taking the opportunity to rest up, take some anti-inflammatory pills and give myself the chance to heal a little before the next expedition starts.

Nerfed knee? - time for some seated skibike riding then

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Avoriaz

Posted: Saturday, 28 February 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Today's visit was to a perennial favourite skibiking spot, Avoriaz. It is a relatively high altitude resort, at least by the standards of the Portes du Soleil and holds the current French record for the highest average snowfall. It offers a good mix of runs; with difficult and steep open skibiking on one side and more sheltered, easy tree line skibiking on the other. It also has a number of links to neighbouring Portes du Soleil resorts, but you have to do your research, because many aren't so skibike friendly, Châtel being somewhat notorious for allowing you to come down, but not go back up again.

Châtel - still not fully skibike friendly

For the first time ever, I arrived at Avoriaz ahead of the French skibikers and had already got in an exploratory ride before they made it to the top station. Sadly, the most testing runs where murky in the extreme and this is also where the best powder pockets are to be found. But it isn't much fun and can be downright dangerous when you can't see the drop-off points.

Off piste - can be downright dangerous when you can't see the drop-off

So instead we headed over to the lower, Les Lindarets side, below the level of clouds and played on some very nice runs through the woods, darting from the slope to the trees and back again. We then went even lower down to Ardent, where we encountered an E.S.F. instructor who seemed very keen to convert his downhill bike, so hopefully we may have a new advocate by next season.

Avoriaz - above Les Lindarets

We headed higher to the top of the Col du Bassachaux on the frontier with Châtel, where skibikes are not allowed on all chairlifts. Moving further along to the Pointe de Mossette above Champery les Crosets and the border with Switzerland it was a different story. The lift operator said he could see no problems as SnowScoots use his lift all the time and as if to prove a point one rode past. On our next visit we will have to get the Portes du Soleil (whole domain) pass and give it a try.

Champery les Crosets - new skibike horizons

After lunch we headed over to sunny Super Morzine and some lovely quiet and enjoyable glade runs, on which I could gladly have spent all day. But the sun had finally broken through the dense cloud at Les Haut Forts, so we headed there pronto in order to get the last run from the top all the way down to the car park. With lots of piled up snow in some spots and scraped bare to ice in others it was quite challenging, but a great way to end a near perfect day at Avoriaz.

Avoriaz - last run down from the top of Les Haut Forts

Special mention should go to Thierry who put in some truly audacious off-piste riding and Stephane who's riding is progressing at lightning speed and many thanks for lunch too.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - What's La Plagne?

Posted: Friday, 27 February 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

With good weather looking likely to hold out, I decided to stay in the Tarentaise region and managed to bag a last minute bargain at The Auberge de Valezan. A more charming and rustic mountain location would be hard to find; the proprietor was a star, both he and the locals all piled in to get me free of an icy patch in the parking lot and on my way for some secret shopping at La Plagne.

After a length drive through fresh snow, going first down then up many hairpin bends, some of which may have contained scenes of mild peril; my initial impression was that I had slipped through a ski centric worm hole and found myself in Avoriaz, only bigger. I won't even bother to do the research, I've sat through a lifetime of business meetings and I can feel it in my waters that the same architect or design team was involved in the project management of La Plagne.

La Plagne - a compromise between the natural features and commercial necessity

To be fair, although I have a penchant for authentic mountain villages, of all the artificial "supermarket skiing" styles, this has to be the most sympathetic to the environment. It is a tasteful compromise between blending with the natural features and brutal commercial necessity.

I know that skibobs have been quietly gaining traction at La Plagne along with the ubiquitous SnowScoot as the new alternative snow pursuits. So the purpose of my visit was to establish whether a modern era freestyle skibiker would be able to get around without any issues.

I had chosen to head for Plagne Bellecote, which is situated a smidgen below 2000 metres altitude, hence the long climb. I decided to use it as a starting point, as in a worst case scenario, there would be gondola lifts in addition to chairlifts to use. I found a spot to park, got myself organised and headed for the ticket kiosk.
I though I had misunderstood, when told the price for a day pass, but no, the lady behind the partition really did want €50; that's Chamonix prices but this sure ain't Chamonix lady.

La Plagne - €50 day pass, hey this ain't Chamonix

I was going to start with the gondola lift but there was a long queue, so I decided to bite the bullet and simply picked a chairlift at random and headed for it. The only concern for the lift operators was that I had a leash, they had never seen my Firem VS inspired bandoleer design, but they were very happy with it and hurried me on my way.
The day had started with some light snow, which was good, but as it progressed conditions became more foggy by the minute and by foggy, I mean you couldn't see the handlebars pea soup type foggy. Typical, yesterday I could see but not ride, today I could ride but not see.

My first impressions are that a great deal of La Plagne's runs are of the flattering blue variety, they are the perfect "Goldilocks slopes", not too steep. nor too shallow, not too flat, nor too bumpy, they're just right. Interspersed between them are a profusion of cute little Teletubbies type hillocks, just right for practising some free ride, but without risk. There were even a number of natural half-pipe shaped gullies, although working out how you could get to them was a challenge.

Eh oh! Teletubbies and their hill - source DHX Media

Hoping to get above the murk I headed for the Roche de Mio, just below the glacier. You could almost feel the sun trying to break through, but still not see it. I tried the fun tunnel piste, which unsurprisingly takes you through a tunnel, darkened and with spooky looped music. I wanted a second go, got a bit lost in the fog and found myself on the Inversens red run; at the bottom of which the Crozats black run starts. I baulked at the prospect of doing this, for the first time, on a skibike, in white-out conditions and opted for a rickety old high speed chairlift to get me back to civilisation. I didn't know whether skibikes were allowed on such quick lifts, but the operator at the bottom was too busy shaping snow to notice me and the one at the top was too engrossed in the book he was reading to even look up!

La Plagne - Hoping to get above the murk I headed for the Roche de Mio

I was surprised to see snow cannons at all levels, right up to 2500 metres, something I have not seen before. I can but assume that this is in response to the demand for reliable snow conditions from top to base station, regardless of Mother Nature's munificence. You could feel the difference though, especially at the end of the day when the volume of traffic had scraped some tricky sections bare.

So despite some appalling conditions, the day was a resounding success. You can get around without issues, but novices might do well to avoid the older chairlifts or just ask for them to be slowed down a bit.
The vertical range is astounding, the highest pistes start at over 3000 metres from which you have the potential to descend down to 1250 metres, that's an astonishing 2000 metres or 6000 feet of vertical range. So perhaps this does put La Plagne on the same level as Chamonix and go some way to amortising the high cost. It is also a large area on par with Meribel that links with Les Arcs and the intermediate resorts.
In conclusion there's no reason why the well healed novice skibiker shouldn't spend a week at La Plagne. There is ample variety for practising, miles of cruising, expert terrain, plenty of easily accessed free ride and a vertical range that would be the envy of many other ski resorts.

There's no reason why the novice skibiker shouldn't spend a week at La Plagne

I thought I would get tomorrow off, to recover, but no, I've just been informed by text that I should be skibiking Avoriaz of all places and the sun may even come out to play too.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Tignes, Almost But No Cigar

Posted: Thursday, 26 February 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

There has been a lot of mixed messages coming from the direction of Tignes, I had no problems way back in 2011 and managed to cover the whole of the Espace Killy by skibike. The following season it appeared that any skibike device with a saddle was totally banned (I hope I wasn't responsible) and as a result it has been off my radar ever since.

Recently a novice English skibiker went on a holiday to Tignes and reported no problems whatsoever, whilst at the same time the Tourist Office had informed French skibikers that skibikes were still not permitted.

Seeing as I was going to be in the region, my solution was to go there, do a bit of secret shopping and see what occurred. I had previously stayed at the Hotel Melezes at Tignes Les Boisses and I chose to stop nearby as; the road runs right next to the pistes, there are free parking spots and you can ride down to a selection of chairlifts and gondolas in minutes.

Hotel Melezes - Tignes les Boisses

I got my lift pass and as there was a huge queue I jumped on the Brevieres chairlift without issue and then the Boisses gondola. This got me into Tignes proper, but it was at the Marais chairlift that things got awkward. The lift operator got in touch with base and escalated the query right up to "Le Chef" and by this I don't mean the person who cooks lunch.

So it seems that the situation is as follows:
  1. Skibikes are permitted on all the pistes at Tignes, provided you have bought a lift ticket.
  2. All skibike devices must have a leash to use the chairlifts.
  3. If your skibike device has a saddle you must wear foot skis to ride the chairlifts, except those shared with pedestrian traffic.
The lifts where I was stopped are of the old fashioned and fast loading design, but in the core of the resort the majority are slow loading detachable types. There is no reason on earth why these can't be used by foot traffic other than out dated thinking.

Chairlifts - better knock up some foot skis

I could have driven up to Tignes le Lac, to see how these restrictions would limit the available terrain, but to be honest, I couldn't be bothered with the hassle. Instead I stowed my skibike stuff, grabbed some brunch from the car, put on my bobble hat and went on a mission to ski the shit out of the place.
So there was this natural, ungroomed black run, yeah whatever and I also got down a shed load of steep and icy red runs, picking my lines around the wounded and fallen, ho hum and I even did some fast cruising blues which I could really get on my edges and carve, hmm...
Skiing for me has now become too safe and boring, all fear gone; it lacks the challenges or rewards of skibiking. Maybe this is why you see skiers buying new skis and boots every other season, they're trying to rekindle some of the excitement of first love, oh those honeymoon moments spent in triage.

So there was this ungroomed black run

But travelling on the chairlifts, to which freestyle skibike access has been denied; all I could see was miles and miles of stunning off-piste and envision how brilliant they would be to go skibiking on. Bugger, might be time to get a SnowScoot.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Maxed Out In Sainte Foy

Posted: Wednesday, 25 February 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

It was a delightful and quick drive along tiny mountain roads from where I am staying at The Auberge du val Jolly in Séez to the ski station at Sainte-Foy-Tarantaise. The recently overcast weather is clearing and the sun has reappeared which makes riding so much easier.

Max couldn't join me till a little later, I assumed he had chores to do, but it later emerged that there had been some serious partying going the night before. When I received a text to say that Max was ready to meet up, we arranged a rendezvous, the look on his face was priceless when he saw me with two skibikes, one for each of us.

Two skibikes! - the look on his face was priceless

We spent a few hours gradually working our way higher up the mountain, first on piste, then  off. I had expected there to be lift issues beyond the first level. which is the limit for Yooners.
I checked with the liftie, who said I was allowed to use the higher lifts, but crazy as the slopes were too steep for skibikes; it was time to disprove that theory.

Slopes too steep for skibikes? - it was time to disprove that theory

After lunch Max swapped to snowboard to join his mates and co-workers making the most of their day off. We headed to the highest point and began a huge traverse, I did my best to keep up but eventually crashed on a steeper section, tumbling about 20 feet down from the skibike. Powder snow doesn't give you much purchase on a 30 degree slope, I thought I would be there all night scrabbling away, but managed to trample down enough snow to make a staircase eventually; by which time my companions had long disappeared.
Every day you can learn something new, sometimes painfully so, I will ride with my leash hooked on for future powder sessions.

My brief visit to Sainte-Foy-Tarantaise has been very memorable, it is a charming and down to earth place with excellent skibike potential whether for a novice or an expert, the off piste on the shallower grades was epic, on par with the best anywhere I've yet found.

Blog Tour 2014-15 - Sainte Foy The Portal To Narnia

Posted: Tuesday, 24 February 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Most people into winter sports will have heard of the two most famous of the Tarrentaise Valley's resorts; Tignes and Val d'Isère, but there are quite a few more smaller areas nearby that slip far too effectively under the radar.

La Rosière would be a good example and my current destination Sainte-Foy-Tarantaise would be another. They are areas that have an enigmatic quality, I never imagined that people would come here on package holidays to snow plough by day and trough on the "all you can eat" buffet by night. Quite the contrary, I saw them as the sort of places where weather beaten and grizzly people would show up in rusty old Volvos to head off piste on telemark skis, or monoskis, or skibikes even.

Places where weather beaten people head off piste on telemark skis or skibikes

This particular jaunt has been in the pipeline for a while, pretty much ever since I heard that BMX rider and self-build skibike fan Max was coming out here to be a seasonaire and then later discovered that Skibike Ltd. ran an operation here for more than 10 years, with a fleet of 35 skibobs for hire.

I took the scenic route from my base camp by Geneva airport and it took me just over 3 hours door to door, if you took the fastest route you might just do it in 2. I left around 09:30 with a view to getting a half-day pass in order to spend the afternoon exploring the skibiking potential.

Sainte-Foy-Tarantaise is just a traditional small Alpine village, with a neat little ski station 15 minutes further up the hill. The weather was somewhat overcast and snowing lightly when I arrived, the place itself seemed relatively deserted, which considering it is still half term for some parts of France, was a surprise.
The tourist office have confirmed that skibikes are still permitted on the lift system and pistes, but I wanted the simplicity of skis to get a feel for the place before properly testing the waters tomorrow in the company of Max.

The weather was somewhat overcast and snowing lightly!

First impressions of Sainte-Foy-Tarantaise are of a very nice mini domain, there are some charming cruising blue runs, some nice steep red runs and huge areas of off-piste to explore. Chairlifts dominate the infrastructure, some detachable and some not, there are no drag lifts at all. There is a smidgen over 1000 metres or 3000 feet of vertical drop from the top to the base station.
Perhaps I have been lucky, but the quality of the snow was exceptionally good, there was powder in abundance and where it was more compacted it had a wonderful squeaky quality that you so rarely find.

The snow was exceptional, it had that rare and wonderful squeaky quality

I am already looking forward to tomorrow's ride with eager anticipation.....