2010 Pass Portes du Soleil – Cam’s guide
Introduction: The 2010 Pass Portes event was a bit of a hurried and unplanned affair for me. The same weekend was the Enduro des Nations event which I had planned to compete in with Kashi Leuchs, but our other team mate pulled out at the last minute. I then heard about the Pass Portes event being held in Morzine and after a bit of research on the internet and some queries with locals I decided I wanted to see what it was all about for myself. My new Rocky Mountain Slayer came together within two days of the event, the Maxxis guys built it at the Leogang World Cup and my new Fox 36 forks were waiting for me back in Morzine. I was entered in the event 14 hours before my chosen start day on the Saturday and have to say a huge thanks to the people at the Morzine Tourism office for sorting this out for me.
The Event: Consisted of an entire lap of the Portes du Soleil area taking in 80km of trail, 7000m of descending, 1000m of climbing and two countries (France and Switzerland). The event itself is the 2nd largest mountain bike event in Europe and this year had 4000 participants. For some riders, participation and completing the event is the goal. I did it by myself and it provided some good alone time out on the trails and chair lifts, however racers are friendly and easy to talk to with many speaking English if you want to meet new faces. Others were out for an epic day on the trails sightseeing with their mates. Personally I rode fairly quickly and didn’t waste too much time at the refreshment stops or in the lift lines.
Terrain and Bikes: The Portes du Soleil is in the heart of the alps. There isn’t much flat ground around here except in the bottom of the valleys and even then it’s not like the Canterbury Plains in New Zealand. These are real mountains and big ones. My ride started at around 800m and the highest point would have been above 2000m. The region first became known for its ski areas in winter so when they first opened the area for mountain biking there was little surprise that it quickly became an epicentre for European downhill holidays and a place for mountain bike racers to base themselves and train. The evolution of the 6 inch trail bike or enduro bike if you like has change the style of trails in the area somewhat. I was last here in 2006 and all you saw up on the hill were full 7-8 inch downhill rigs. Now days the enduro bike is almost the bike of choice, it’s light and versatile but can take the rocks, roots and bumps. However there are still a multitude of downhill tracks that you need the big bike for.
My Ride: My Pass Portes ride took in a variety of trail types and surfaces with most sections of the route having track options to choose from. These included shorter technical downhill tracks for riders with the required skill who wanted to get from point to point as quickly as possible, then there was the slightly less technical trail option which took longer or a cross-country option.
I started out my journey at 8.30am from Morzine. First stop was Montriond one valley over from Morzine with two lift rides up the mountain and nice flowing natural trail with rocks and good tacky dirt to start the day off and get the blood pumping. After my third lift ride there was confusion all round about how to get to the massive descent into Chatel—the yellow markers directing riders were sometimes spread thin over the large area—but after some directional sign language with some Frenchies who were also racing I finally got onto the right trail, starting high up with lots of small rocks and flowing into the woods with awesome berms and wet dirt. By this stage my excitement and passion for mountain biking had hit an all time high, this however was mellowed back out with a hot steep kick of a climb into Chatel where an almost bike festival vibe was going down. Vendors were showcasing new bikes, other companies offered technical support to participants and the event organisers offered free beverages both non alcoholic and alcoholic (for those game enough at 10am).
From Chatel there was a small descent off the Super Chatel lift and a long traverse took me to another Chatel Bubble lift and from there another small really fun descent with fast and rough singletrack with the same style continuing onto 4WD trail. After this I had more traversing and a small tar seal climb into Switzerland and Morgins village. I was greeted in Morgins by a friendly atmosphere and awesome Swiss vegetable soup and chocolate. Feeling revitalised I took a lift up and over deeper into Switzerland. It was more of the same towards Champery (where the infamous World Cup downhill track is located) with a long traverse of around 30 minutes. The Orange route (more technical) peeled off the traverse early, I took this option but was a bit nervous as the beginning of the trail looked like a World Cup downhill section, I proceeded down this route and the trail mellowed out but was still rocky and rooty and perfect for the 6 inch Rocky Mountain Slayer I was riding. Very fun trail! Then it was up in the massive cable car from Champery past the top of the World Cup downhill course. At this point I was on my way back towards home with a short, smooth and bermed descent of around 3 minutes. One very long chair ride up took me back into the French part of the Portes du Soleil. The terrain here was gnarly; very rocky and unforgiving which was great training for my upcoming Mega Avalanche race in Alp d’Huez, France. Then some awesome flowing cross-country-like singletrack with more good rocky sections and amazing views before the trail traversed a small amount then pitching me into a steep descent.
The last uplift for the day would take me up to Avoriaz (1800m and the top of one of the big Tour de France climbs) and the descent from here took me all the way to my French home in Morzine (800m). The trail had almost everything you could ask for to ride on a 4-7 inch bike: climbing, traversing and descending over roots, rocks, mud, bogs, streams, dust and tacky dirt. The trail also had a good mix of natural terrain; nothing was too overbuilt, with a good length of 20 minutes. At the bottom of the trail I had a much needed dip in the chilly Morzine stream which cooled me off nicely after 6 hours 10 minutes riding.
Summary: The Pass Portes event was an awesome way to see more of an amazing area and a great opportunity to be one of the first over the trail at the beginning of the summer season. I definitely had one of the sickest days riding a bike I have ever had. I would recommend it to everyone of all riding abilities whether completing it solo like I did or enjoying with a couple of mates. This kind of trail riding / racing is slowly taking over the mountain bike world and is 100% worth a trip from New Zealand. The trails, food and views are all amazing. You will see more participating in the Pass Portes event than you will see in a week at a typical tourist destination so why not start planning for 2011……..
Word and Images: Cameron Cole