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Woots does Haute Alps
by John Wootton on 23rd March 2008
It's that time of year where day-dreaming of fast dusty alpine berms is a lot easier than dragging yourself out in the mud. So here's another option to think about - the Haute Alps.
Last summer we went out to see Phil in Guillestre in the Haute Alps who has setup out there with the promise of epic braking bump free trails. I started out writing a proper story, trying to be funny, including useful tips and links to maps etc. But it was rubbish so here's some pics...
The trip was pretty much the same as it always is, hot and long, bit more exciting when you get in the hills. A schoolboy error of starting out on the first day of the French national holidays added a couple of hours sitting in traffic to the trip. My (free, cheers scares/Jonny "ex wc" Matthews) 405 estate got me, Tom S and six bikes down in style if not comfort, well not really the style bit either but it did get there. The other four in Tom H's Beemer 330d had a quicker/more comfortable run down.
The epic xc stuff
This was the big difference for me, my faithful old M1 was sold and I was taking a bike out to chairlift country that I could pedal uphill. Unfortunately my Cotic Hemlock turned up after we left so big thanks to Ben for lending me his Commencal Supreme. There was a bit of a mix of bikes and riders, two Trances, two Enduros, a Superlight as well as the Commencal, bit of a mix of backgrounds, two wanabee downhillers, two xc/enduro guys and two lads who hadn't ridden outside the UK before.
First day and we take Phil's van out, a long way up a big road climb, some interesting local driving and then a few hundred more vertical meters up some dusty steep rocky switchbacks. We leave the Beemer at the bottom, Tom spends the rest of the day stressing about having to take the Beemer to go get the van. 405 is used for retrieval duties for the rest of the week!
A few hundred meters of climbing, later we were at the top of the col. It was really refreshing having the feeling of properly being out in the mountains and a bit of a shock for Tom S and Ali who had only really been to Cannock and the Peak before! This descent started out on twisty loose gravel, ideal for skids...
This picture is about forty minutes down the hill from the first, check out the semi slick, ropey 90s Univega, ruined sids, v brakes, flat bars and long stem. Our guide Phil was rapid, being someone who likes my kit it was disappointing to get completely thrashed by someone on a bike I wouldn't ride off a kerb.
Next big ride started up in the clouds with plenty of bunny hop practice over the drainage ditches. There is an unbelievable amount of riding to be had in this region. Unfortunately the camera wasn't out for the good bits as nobody could bring themselves to stop, some unbelievable flowing singletrack in the trees, on loose pine needles skidding and sliding from one corner to the next.
Although some of the climbs were pretty epic this was the riding I enjoyed most on the holiday, out in the hills, stunning scenery and great singletrack. Sometimes it got annoying when you've been around the hundredth hairpin and still not got it right, but then there were the bits when the gradient got less severe and you could try a bit harder, brake that bit later than the guy in front, try doubling up those rocks anything to get those lost yards back.
On the way back to Guillestre from Vars was this awesome bit of singletrack if you could persuade the driver to drop you off. Some bits were technical in the trees, some drifty pine needle corners and then some easy bits with big drops to the side to keep you awake.
Local resorts - Vars
We parked down the road from Vars at Sainte-Marie-de-Vars, and got the lift up. There are two seat type lifts from here to get to the top and two enduro style dh courses back down, both are barely ridden in, just marked in-between the tapes.
Bit of maintenance
Or from the top there is a fireroad traverse to the top of the Vars DH course.
Although even the boring traverse can entertain
The DH track at Vars is fun and very quick, open fast berms at the top, into the trees with a few jumps.
Tom skidding for the camera as usual
Nobody knows how Jimmy landed this with his feet on the pedals. All going wrong off the drop at the bottom of vars. There was a small freeride park at the bottom, then a roll down the road (in a tuck outbraking cars) back to the van.
Local resorts - Les Orres
Les Orres is a great resort, two open lifts to the top, where you properly feel in the mountains. Looking at us on our XC rigs the lift guy seemed amused as we set off towards the black run, and turned his chair round to watch us.
We soon found out why, steep off camber and fast the top section was made even more sketchy by the early morning damp. Once into the trees I don't think anyone got down without an off, it was like ice. Later in the day once dried out it was a really fun track, steep and fast, some tight singletrack, some wide open grass turns.
I crashed just trying to stop here to take the pic, was okay when you weren't braking but then it was so steep if you stopped braking it just made the inevitable crash worse.
Did I mention it was steep? One Tom getting back on after a trip over the bars, other Tom wondering when he can next pull a skid.
There was a bit of a park with some wall rides near the bottom.
The red run had some fun bits, here's one of the loose off camber turns.
What Sam Hill would look like if he wore football shin pads
Jimmy catalogue posing near the top of the dh course
The Superlight still not broken, must try harder
Some bits of this course were really fun, technical, roots and rocks, line choices to be had. It was long and I would have happily spent more time here.
Towards the end of the day we went to the North Shore bit expecting to be disappointed but thought we should have a look.
In the end we were gutted we left it so late, there was loads there nicely linked with some flow to it. Tom went off the river drop and me and Jimmy saved it for later in the week...
Guillestre has a few restaurants and bars but isn't party central, plus to be honest while I could live with a full days riding then Bar Bush and boissons qu'il s'ont on fume in the Igloo when I first went out in 99 it seems a lot harder getting on for a decade later. Still we had a go;
Jimmy one of the morning afters
Would I go again, yeah definitely there is huge potential in the area. I'd go just to use it as a base for all the local resorts but the best bit by far is to take something you can pedal with 5"ish of travel, not too heavy, sort out some uplift and go ride some epic trails.
Most photos taken on a Nikon D40 with the kit lens by Tom S or John. Others taken by various compacts, hope you can tell the difference! Useful web sites;
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