Have you ever actually ridden your mountain bike down a mountain? If most of your riding takes place in the UK, then the answer to this is probably “no”. However, this sport is called “mountain biking” for a reason. If you sit at the top of a mountain peak in the French Alps, looking across towards jagged snow capped Dents du Midi mountains, with a long descent of twisty technical single track ahead of you; suddenly it all starts to make sense.
The Portes du Soleil region, in the northern French Alps, has become a Mecca for mountain biking and not without good reason. Over the winter months the area is famous for being the largest linked ski area in the world, but during the summer months it is fast becoming recognised as the largest lift served mountain bike trail area in the world.
The area offers something to suit all styles and levels of mountain biking. For cross country riders, there are plenty of demanding climbs to challenge your fitness. For downhill riders, there are a huge number of dedicated downhill tracks ranging from easy to insane. For freeriders, the area really comes into its own with mile after mile of varied terrain including technical forest single track, bike parks, exposed steep faces and north shore style zones.
In response to the growing demand from mountain bikers from all disciplines, many of the resorts in the area have invested heavily in mountain bike infrastructure.
In Switzerland, the resorts of Champéry, Val d’Illiez-Les Crosets-Champoussin & Morgins boast a four cross track, a north shore zone, a bike park, 3 downhill courses (including the infamous UCI world cup downhill course, and the UCI 15 km cross country loop.
In Les Gets over in the French side, there is a beginners’ downhill track at the Grand Cry Park and 2 beginners’ MTB parks; the Kid’Zone and Mini Jump Park. For the more experienced there is a dirt and freestyle jump park, a four cross track, a freeride zone in “Gibannaz Canyon”, 4 downhill courses, and 6 cross-country suitable for all riders.
Chatel, which is right at the centre of the area, has perhaps the biggest selection of purpose built MTB areas with 15 MTB tracks (14 of which are downhill profiled), 5 north shore zones, 1 four cross track, the infamous freeride “La Face” mountain style zone, 1 kid’s cross and a drop zone with jump pit, wall ride, quarter, step-ups and step-downs.
Despite having great trails for intermediate, advanced and crazy riders, the Portes du Soleil area is also a fantastic place to learn mountain biking, or to go riding with young families. There are plenty of places where you can get chairlifts up to the tops of the mountains, and then find your way around easy tracks which don’t tend to be too steep or challenging.
One of the reasons why the Portes du Soleil has become so popular for mountain biking is because the sheer vastness of the area results an incredible mix of varied terrain, and ensures that the trails never become too busy. Indeed, it is possible to ride all day and not see another person. Couple this with beautiful alpine resorts, great value accommodation and the glorious back drop of the Dents du Midi mountains and the Mont Blanc range, and it is clear to see why the Portes du Soleil is one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world.