SkiBike Tour 2014-15 - Conclusion, This Is The Life!

Posted: Friday, 17 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,
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Looking back on the 2014-15 skibike season, it is easy to forget that it got off to such a terrible start. Many resorts had a green rather than a white Christmas, even a premium resort like Morzine was forced to bus their guests up to neighbouring Avoriaz where just a few runs were open and lift tickets were rationed. At Morillon, they opened the bare and rocky pistes to anyone that fancied a bit of out of season lift assisted mountain biking on Christmas Day.
Despite a big dump of snow on New Year's eve, the snow drought continued through January and the prospect of the season becoming a total write-off looked ever more plausible.

At the very end of January nature re-established the equilibrium and there were huge snowfalls that continued throughout February. I studied the forecasts and watched the webcams like a hawk; once I had completed all of my work commitments, I blocked booked my diary, packed the car and headed South to Geneva; better late than never!

Time to hit the road - better late than never

I had not been at all well during the winter months and wanted to start the tour with a gentle warm up day in the Jura mountains; blog tour stalwart Thierry drove over from the Aravis area to join me for a whirlwind tour of skibike friendly Col de la Faucille and Lelex / Le Crozet ski stations.

Blog stalwart Thierry

Without any pause for recovery we then had our first group ride of the season at La Clusaz, most of which I spent falling about in the snow and going head over heals in the low visibility.

I then had a couple of days in Sainte Foy, one of which was spent mostly in the company of Max, a skilled BMX rider, working there as a seasonaire. The look on his face when he saw me trudging towards him with not one, but two skibikes in tow, was priceless. His previous skibike experience had been riding his ghetto BMX skibike conversion on his local golf course in South Wales, so riding my skibike on the big mountain was quite a challenge, but one he soon warmed to.

Sainte Foy - skibike friendly, but freestyle skibikes were a novelty

Sainte Foy has historic connections with skibikes, but this was still the first time the lift operators had seen a freestyle skibike. They weren't sure it was wise to take one all the way to the very top of the mountain, but I soon proved the viability of skibikes as all mountain machines and made Sainte Foy the first new skibike friendly station of the season.

Buoyed up by my recent successes, I made a day trip to Tignes to check out whether it was once again skibike friendly. It turned out that you can legally ride skibikes, and can use the gondolas and cable cars for access. The down side is that you can only use the chairlifts with foot skis, which was frustrating, there's no way I will be regressing back to this method of riding and you can guess where all the really good riding was to be found. I ended up switching to skis, it would be great if Tignes caught up with the trend for easy skibike access everywhere, making it only half skibike friendly for the moment.

Tignes - you still can't do this with a freestyle skibike

Whilst in the area I made an expedition to La Plagne to prove its viability as a skibike friendly resort. It has been used by skibobs for many years, but the trip verified that you can also use a freestyle skibike with impunity. La Plagne was the second new skibike friendly resort of the season and fortunately wouldn't be the last either, can you sense a trend emerging?

La Plagne - the second new skibike friendly resort of this season

The venue for the next group ride was Avoriaz, it gave us a chance to scope out the adjacent runs at Châtel and Champery, although we didn't fully appreciate it they were two places we would be seeing more of in the coming weeks.

Avoriaz/Châtel - we would see more of this in the coming weeks

Some very stormy weather followed, but once the clouds had lifted I managed a laid back afternoon at Le Crozet, cruising around and loving the skibiking experience.

Le Crozet - loving the skibike experience

Feeling ready for fresh adventure I headed off the grid for an expedition to the small, isolated village of Areches Beaufort a charming little 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. The conditions weren't brilliant, but it was the third station with a positive attitude to skibiking I had found this season and will be worthy of a return visit next year.

Areches Beaufort - a charming little resort

I had a fun re-union taking giant steps walking on the moon with Kevin the deaf skibiker at Val Thorens. He didn't say a word to me for the whole day, but he laughed like a drain, especially if it involved me making slow motion falls or a really good face plant. Mmmm snow sandwich anyone?

Val Thorens - Kevin the deaf skibiker in action

Thierry and I then broke fresh ground with a trip to Les Arcs fixed in our cross-hairs. Les Arcs is also the self proclaimed "home of (French) snowboarding", this was the place where the snowboard broke out of the snow park and became accepted as an all mountain machine. To say that there are parallels with the history of modern freestyle skibiking would be an understatement. Once again it was totally skibike friendly, making it the fourth skibike friendly resort of the season.

Les Arcs - the fourth skibike friendly skibike of the season

Thierry, Stephane and I then made a visit to the Maurienne valley to enjoy the novelty of being able to skibike at Valloire, the fifth new skibike friendly resort of the season. Valloire has charm and a distinct Gallic/Italianate cross-over vibe, the lift infrastructure at was very good for a smaller resort and the attitude commendable. With easier access from Italy than France, it would make a great spot for a novice Italian skibiker from Milan or Turin to get in some riding experience.

Valloire - the sixth new skibike friendly resort of the season

I took a day off from skibiking and went house hunting in Morillon for a potential base camp for future tours and just maybe a place to retire to later in life.

House hunting in Morillon - a potential base camp for future tours?

I ended the first tranche of the tour by getting thoroughly chilled out on the Dole, drinking Myrtle beer in the car park and musing on the joys of having a great big snowy hill and a chair lift just 30 minutes from my Geneva base camp.

Chilled out drinking Myrtle beer!

Back in November I had spotted Jonathan's interest in skibing via Facebook, I couldn't resist the opportunity to introduce myself, in the vaguest hope that he would give skibiking a go, whilst in the company of some unknown and eccentric Rosbif in Combloux. Amazingly he went for it and even came back for a second bite later on in the tour.

Jonathan in Combloux

On the my last run I unwisely "went for it" on the Boarder Cross circuit, promptly overshot the banking and went sailing into the hillside at full tilt. Fortunately my head broke the fall!
I took a weeks hiatus and headed back to London as "Walking Wounded" to earn myself the cash to spend on "Part Deux" of the tour.

Back in the skibike saddle after a week off, I enjoyed my second ride with Jonathan at the ski station of Praz de Lys / Sommand he was rapidly turning into an off-piste monster!

Jonathan - smashing it at Praz de Lys

I then had an early start to join Thierry on a visit to Champery which was was a little different from the average tour day. Our objectives were; to meet with the operators of the lift company, do some test rides and show how skibikes can safely use the various types of chairlifts. All in the hope that by next season we will have another resort in the Portes du Soleil to ride.

Champery - a little different from the average day

We had passed the ski lifts of Châtel en route for our morning ride at Champery, so it would have been nothing short of churlish not to have stopped on the way back for an afternoon ride. Châtel has been SnowScoot friendly for a long time, more recently it has opened up to skibikes too, for both of us this would be our first opportunity to see how the theory would translate into practice. The trip was a resounding success and Châtel became the sixth new skibike friendly resort of the season.

Châtel - stopped in for a Saturday skibike ride

A second trip to Avoriaz which was somewhat of a reunion, blog co-writer Wayne had come out for a long weekend to join me and was joined by Thierry and John who had come all the way from the 3 Valleys. Group rides always have a different feel to solo expeditions, sometimes you are spurred on to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, like that black run that looked too steep for freestyle skibikes.

Avoriaz - group rides always have a different feel to solo expeditions

Continuing the theme of testing the skibike friendliness of sundry ski stations, my focus of interest shifted to the Les Sept Laux in the Chaîne de Belledonne, somewhat off the beaten track, although not really that remote. John travelled over from Les Menuires to join me and it turned out to be quite a large station, with plenty of variety, very quiet and peaceful and lots of good runs. It was another success and the seventh new skibike friendly station of the season.

Les Sept Laux - quite a large station with plenty of variety

Success at Les Sept Laux spurred me on to check out Chamrousse, another Chaîne de Belledonne ski station. Skibikes aren't officially permitted at this ski station, but they were happy to let me ride providing I had a safety leash. The weather was appalling, but my priority was to ride the eighth new skibike friendly station, tick the box and move on to the 3 Valleys.

Chamrousse - another skibike friendly ski station

This year was the first time someone has made me an offer I couldn't refuse and no the Mafia weren't involved, it was the chance to hang out in the company of fellow skibiker John in Les Menuires to do some easy riding all around the 3 Valleys domain. I would like to report that it was all plain sailing, but sadly that was not so and I have been left with the lasting impression that it was somewhat of a bitter-sweet experience.

The 3 Valleys with John - bitter-sweet

It was such a slow season to get started, but with fresh snowfall and a shift to much colder temperatures it seemed reluctant to end. The timing couldn't have been better for an Easter Monday jaunt to Valmorel in the company of John and Thierry which turned out to be the best riding of the season.

Valmorel - the best riding of the season

A message from Tim and Lesley to say that they were going to make an end of season trip to Morzine, provided a great reason to delay my departure and get in a final group ride of the season in Avoriaz. Due to slow post operative recovery Tim couldn't ride and Leslie wouldn't even consider it, instead I had to hang out with the skiers.

Avoriaz - hanging out with the skiers

So where could I find for the final ride of the tour? I pondered long and hard about where to go, I would have been happy with any of my local little Jura ski stations, but despite bountiful snow, they have all stayed firmly on schedule and already closed for the season. So instead I opted for the Grand Massif domain, which has in so many ways become a home from home.

So where could I find for the final ride of the tour?

I have always found a piece of music that sums up the vibe of a season's tour; this little ditty may not be the most current, but I heard it a couple times on French radio and the words seemed oddly appropriate to me after having I spent so much of this tour hunkering down in a guest or hotel room bed.

2 comments:

  1. Great pics. Thanks for posting!

  1. Thanks Matt Hanson and the write up of the 2015-16 SkiBike Tour can be found here http://www.skibike.me.uk/2016/04/blog-tour-2015-16-conclusion.html