SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Les Houches & The Kandahar Run

Posted: Tuesday, 18 February 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Les Houches is one of a number of resorts dotted along the Chamonix valley and the only one, so far, with a skibike friendly policy. The sport of recreational skiing was born in this valley, the locals were bemused at the first British alpine skiers, pelting them with snow balls at every opportunity. Hopefully my reception would be a bit less painful.

My sat nav system pessimistically predicted a 2 hour journey from Geneva base camp, which turned out to be a much more respectable 90 minutes door to door. Les Houches is the closest resort I know to a motorway, it is situated just 5 minutes off the A40 "Autoroute Blanche".

Les Houches - just 5 minutes off the A40 "Autoroute Blanche

Initial impressions weren't that favourable though, it seemed horribly overcrowded with a huge queue for the gondola at 9am. I also seem to have missed the memo from the British Embassy that the only vehicles permitted with British registration plates in Les Houches are shiny new Land Rovers. It all seemed a bit, well, Morzine, to be frank.
I almost turned tail and headed for the tranquillity of nearby Combloux, but I am on a mission that can't be shirked.

Les Houches - 900m of vertical drop

Not wanting to piss off the lifties by carting a hulking skibike through the queues, I headed up on SnowBlades, incognito, to check out the slopes and lift infrastructure. The piste map for Les Houches looks a bit minimal, but there is 900m of vertical drop and the runs, though few, are quite long. It should be noted that many of  the runs are also quite steep. I haven't been skiing that much this season and it's taking a while for my ski mojo to kick in.
I had to really think about how to stance and engage edges with the snow. Then, suddenly in the space of moments, it all came back to me and it felt like I was carving up the mountain like a slalom champ. I could have played for the rest of the day, but it was time to head back to the car and switch to skibiker mode.

Even at the highest points the glaciers hang menacingly above

With the bike assembled and a bite of chocolate consumed, I was back at the gondola within 20 minutes and ready for round 2. One thing that became apparent quite soon was that the chairlifts are not of the detachable type; nor are the lifties used to slowing them down for skibikers. I was doing alright, until one positively insisted that I had to ride the skibike both on and off the chairlift. I have done this before and as Carl Day will testify, the results were pure comedy gold. Today was slightly better, but I would prefer to perfect my ride off technique somewhere else, so I changed strategy.

I missed the memo that the only vehicles permitted are new Land Rovers

You can get to all the slopes just by using the gondola at one end of Les Houches, or the cable car at the other. So this is what I ended up doing, then taking monster runs from top to bottom with stress free uplift back up to the top.
As mentioned previously, there were plenty of steep reds to test your mettle, the gem I discovered late in the day was the Kandahar black run, named after the World Cup ski race. As is often the case, the black grade scares most people off; but whereas many of the red runs were becoming icy and mogulled in the afternoon, this run had sufficient crunchy snow cover to be relatively grippy. There was one section though, which was to all intents a wall, fortunately you could by pass it and enjoy the rest of the run to your hearts content.

Kandahar black run - the grade scares most people off;

In conclusion, Les Houches is a wonderful new discovery to add to my list of skibike friendly haunts. It is easily accessible from Geneva and has a very skibike friendly infrastructure.
You are riding on the shoulders of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the European Union, it dominates the skyline, even at the highest points in the resort the glaciers hang menacingly way above you, when the sun catches them they turn an extraordinary shade of blue, like massive sapphires.
Another gem to add to my cache.