SkiBike Tour 2014-15 - Les Menuires, A Bitter-Sweet Experience

Posted: Friday, 3 April 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

This year has been 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.

Les Menuires - time for some easy riding

Les Menuires was much maligned back in the day, mainly for the brutal and ugly nature of the first wave of architecture. Since then development has been more sympathetic to the environment and recent structures have been of the chalet and super-chalet design. Les Menuires is part of the 3 Valleys domain, an interlinked area of gargantuan proportions; there may be areas of a similar scale in Austria and Italy, but in France it is without equal. Each sector of the 3 Valleys have their own character and appeal to widely differing consumer needs. Whereas Courchevel may now be the second home of Russian Oligarchs, Les Menuires appeals mostly to French visitors who take advantage of the plethora of self-catering apartments available.

I had a great time touring round all the nooks and crannies of the 3 Valleys domain and it also served to be a wonderful opportunity to finally nail down the skibike friendliness of the area.
We had both good and bad days weather wise, but on one of the good ones we managed to hit all the 3 Valleys in a single day and on another I managed to achieve my ambition of finally seeing Orelle after 20 years of trying.

I finally managed to achieve my ambition and see Orelle

So what of the positive aspects of the 3 Valleys?

It is has an unrivalled scale you are spoiled for choice with so many permutations. You could spend weeks running over the area and still find runs that you've missed. The infrastructure is excellent quality and is continually being upgraded, it is unusual to find queues or bottlenecks outside of peak periods.

You could spend weeks and still find runs that you've missed.

I would like to report that it was all plain sailing, but sadly that is not so and I have been left with the lasting impression that it was somewhat of a bitter-sweet experience.

Oddly, on the last day of my trip the lift operators at Les Menuires began to hamper our progress. Even though John has been quietly skibike riding here for the last couple of months and last season too; it appeared that with the arrival of the Easter break, suddenly "Rules is Rules" became the lift operating company's new mantra.
As far as I can work out the lift operators at Les Menuires and St. Martin de Belleville have boxed themselves into a Cul de Sac. They decided that both skibikes and SnowScoots are permitted on the infrastructure, meanwhile the local council has ruled that any device with a saddle isn't permitted to use the slopes, with the sole exception of disability devices, oh and sledges (provided the lift company supplies them of course).
This leaves the lift company in the awkward position of back-tracking and deciding that only skibikes without are saddle are allowed. As far as I am aware, there isn't and nor has there ever been a skibike made without a saddle and that includes all the skibobs going back to day one.
I suspect that someone from the council has heard about skibikes on the slopes and as a result they are now enforcing these complex and contradictory regulations.

La Masse - above Les Menuires

Poor John's base camp became distinctly skibike unfriendly overnight, am I really to blame?
I am hoping that maybe Thierry, on behalf of the Aravis Skibikers, can put on a charm offensive and try to improve the situation for next season, things usually progress far quicker when the natives push for change, rather than all us crazy foreigners what with our weird skibikes with saddles and all.

Without wanting to dwell on the negative aspects of the 3 Valleys, I also have a gripe with the complex and inequitable price structure of the lift tariffs. By mistake, I bought a pass that only covered Les Menuires, not realising that Val Thorens, just minutes up the road and in the same valley is on a completely different tariff.
I needed an extension to access Val Thorens and expected the price to be the difference between the two tariffs, but no, you have to pay considerably more. In my case the extension alone was approximately €30 and that was on top of a €44 ticket, what a rip off!
This is most certainly not an equitable arrangement in my books, but has served to teach me that in such an interlinked domain you shouldn't mess about buy the full 3 Valleys pass regardless of whether you are likely to need it or not to avoid a costly error.

In conclusion, here's a quick breakdown of the current situation regarding skibike friendliness throughout the 3 Valleys:

St. Martin de Belleville - Skibikes with a saddle are not permitted on the slopes or lift infrastructure

Les Menuires - Skibikes with a saddle are not permitted on the slopes or lift infrastructure

Val Thorens - Full skibike access to all chairlifts, gondolas and cable cars

Orelles - Full skibike access to two out of three chairlifts (even though they might be banned on the pistes!)

Meribel - Full skibike access to all gondolas and cable cars

La Tania - Full skibike access to all chairlifts and gondolas

Le Praz - Full skibike access to all chairlifts and gondolas

Courchevel - Full skibike access to all chairlifts, gondolas and cable cars