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Pila, Tignes and Les Arcs 08
by John Wootton on 30th March 2009
Inspired by Trig and Rowan Sorrell, John Wootton and crew took off to the Alpes for a summer road trip. As the clocks change and the bike lights go back in the drawer for another summer, hopefully their story will inspire you to ride!
Well, I got on the bus to East Midlands Airport at just after noon, just a rucksack on my back, no bulky bike box, no threat of excess charges or broken parts. I turned up in Morzine at 7pm, pretty stress free, wondering how I could arrange to meet my bike out there next year. Tom, Matt, Jim and Steve had been out for half a week, they seemed pretty chilled too, apparently braking bumps don't matter if you don't ride! After all the holidays I'd spent there, it was a bit odd to be leaving Morzine after quarter of an hour but we hit the road for Pila.
We stayed down the valley in Aosta, a beautiful town, full of Roman history, great pizza places and a few nice bars. The single guys on the trip were left to wonder where the pretty girls from the daytime went at night and the rest of us were left with an unbelievable amount of rum in our Mojitos, at 500 odd meters above sea level I couldn’t even blame the slurring on the altitude. Chris and Tim turned up straight from a few days in Finale Ligure after a week at the Mega. They gave Finale amazing reviews and we’re definitely going to check it out in 09. The cable car from Aosta was having work done over the summer and one early morning bus with space for 5 bikes was laid on instead. So we shuttled up to Pila using Steve’s van.
The world cup track, bermy goodness
Rooty fast singletrack to the side of the world cup track
Jump built for the nationals, think I saw Corrado Herrin hooning
Pila is a small resort, not much more than a couple of car parks, hut for lift passes, hotel and a restaurant. It was warm and dusty, one main chair lift to the top and a load of runs to the bottom, they all intersected and crossed over to give loads of choice, there was the flat out fast main run, some tight twisty and rooty stuff in the trees, loads to keep you entertained. I guess a week would be too long there but I was gutted to leave after two days. Once you were done at Pila then there's a very long fast, technical run down the valley to Aosta. It started to get a bit crowded on day two and we found ourselves in the middle of an Italian national round. There were some rapid boys there including the Pila sponsored UFO squad with Brayton and Rankin storming down the course. Chris and Tim packed up the Scooby and headed home.
Tignes, the track comes pretty much straight down from the station at the top
With the lift queues building up for the race we decided to take Tignes in on the way to Les Arcs. First impression is the stunning visitor centre and super blue lake, there's a local supermarket and a decently priced burger place for lunch. There are two main lifts here, a chair and a bubble. Off the chair there were two DH runs, both pretty easy but fun with some little kickers and flat turns, ideal for skids. All open at this altitude with no trees. There were a few enduro courses but we didn't have time.
As you go up in the bubble you see the main run underneath you. It looks steep in the photo so in real life it's ridiculous. The main run drops into a little park with some hucks. Individually there were some nicely built drops and wall rides but there was no real flow between them. After the park the main course split into red (bit steep) and black (very steep). Off the top of the bubble there were another two runs, these were great fun, loads of big berms. I enjoyed Tignes and its definitely worth a visit, the trails just didn't have the flow or sweetness of Pila, it should improve as the trails are older and get tweaked as there's so much potential in the area. I reckon it'd be best to do two days there, I think you’d get a bit bored with a week.
First run off the firetrack
Then the main bit, a week in Les Arcs. As you can see from the riding kit 3 of the guys had stayed there with Trail Addiction before. I'd hadn't and had never done a paid for all inclusive holiday so wasn’t sure what to expect.
We stayed in the Goat Shed where the chalet owners looked after us, made breakfast and some amazing evening meals. You got lunch too. There was a garage for all the bikes, a bike wash and a handy bike stand for my imploding boxxers (both rockshox forks on the trip blew the cheapskate o-ring seal under the compression damping adjuster, leaving oil drenched goggles and no damping).
I guess in a strange way I missed early morning walks in the sunshine to pick up a bucket load of pain au chocolat but it was really nice being looked after, the food was great and it was really nice to come back from riding and not have to do anything more taxing than choosing between rouge or blanc.
The piste map showed a lot of lifts and a huge area covered. However there are only a few marked bike trails, one permanent man made dh course and one permanent natural trail. On the first day we went up pretty high using several lifts then hit a fireroad, after a minute of skids and outbraking each other into corners the guides sent us off through a random gap at the side of the trail and set the standard for the rest of the holiday, twisty footpath based singletrack, roots, rocks and so many hairpins.
It's hard really to sum up the riding in Les Arcs, the main thing is we were out there every day for a week and apart from two runs on the dh track I never crossed the same bit of dirt twice.
An easy hairpin, most were too steep to stand on for pics!
Usually I think this place sees the 5-6" crowd and several of my mates had brought two bikes out. I was happy with one, the few bits of pedaling along flatish trails to the lift we had to do, were fine if you have a minimal amount of fitness. Although a seatpost I could put up higher would've been nice.
Some people might get upset by the idea of a having to pedal at all in the Alps but they are missing out on so much. I wouldn't want to ride tracks that technical without armour and a full face, but some people were happy in a piss pot and knee pads. I struggled a bit with the dh bike on the many hairpins, unable to do the Alpine guide standard job requirement of rolling endos. Plus my favourite, skidding, is frowned on when most of the tracks are shared with walkers. We had no real conflict as its such a big area, you just have to keep your eye open a touch more than in Les Gets.
Some of the trails really gave you the feeling of being out in the mountains, with epic backdrops to some technical riding with some sections being tricky enough that you’re happy to clear them let alone try and get any speed up.
The riding available is Les Arcs is endless, we didn't see everything in our week. There is a huge mix, fast and slow, flowing or tech. Open hills and rocks, tight and rooty in the trees. The dh track is distinctly average by Alpine standards but these are small criticisms of a great area for riding. It's a bit different from the typical resort, I did miss sessioning the same track, hitting the same jump and the same corner a touch faster each time, but you can’t deny the appeal of fresh trails every day, no braking bumps, stunning views and uncrowded trails.
I don't know how many of the trails we'd have found without a guide, you can tell that months of wrong turns and dead ends have gone into building the network of trails out here. I reckon I'd definitely do another guided holiday again, while its amazing coming across new trails yourself when you're trying to cram it into a week then its nice not to stress about wasting days or who’s getting the dinner. Maybe I'm just getting old.
I wrote this article and last years Haute Alps one after reading Trig's Alpine road trip, I loved the idea of going to a few different resorts and seeing what else is available in the Alps. Hopefully with things like Rowan Sorrell's guide it'll be easier for everyone to get out and try somewhere new.
Brits abroad, half hour walk from the chalet.
Carpark mechanicals, there is a decent bike shop at the bottom of the dh course which and the chalet had basics such as tubes but as always you’re best taking things like spare mech hangers out yourself.
We used www.trailaddiction.com for the Les Arcs side of things.
We stayed in Hotel Turin in Aosta, it’s fairly bike friendly, let us keep the bikes in the cellar and was pretty cheap.
The rest of it was pretty easy, follow the map and look for the chairlifts. Next year we’re definitely checking out the race calendars first, Pila was pretty busy when we left.
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