Alpine Mountain Biking: Past, Present and Future Part 2- Dirt Magazine

Mountain Biking Magazine



Alpine Mountain Biking: Past, Present and Future Part 2

The bikes we ride and the trails that we ride them on are changing rapidly as technology and materials allow for lighter, more robust bikes made for Alpine mountain biking.

In the last issue of Dirt I gave an introduction to the idea that the emphasis is shifting away from the core riders in adrenaline–fed downhill to adrenaline–fed (but with a little more adventure thrown in) enduro. I am of course going to win no awards for this discovery, it is patently obvious. The bikes we ride and the trails that we ride them on are changing rapidly as technology and materials allow for lighter, more robust bikes.

Taken from Dirt issue 144, February 2014

The age of the ‘enduro–ist’ is upon us, and aside from full factory gimps giving peacock–like demonstrations of the shininess of their latest piece of essential enduro kit down the local trail centre (there’s always one), our sport appears to be changing for the better. Mountain bikers are rediscovering themselves as exploratory, thrill–seeking, easy–going lovers of all things natural and the fundamental ethos our sport was born from is permeating from every grin as riders of all origins begin to push further out into the ‘back country’ (whether this is defined by simply heading to some Welsh mountains or deep into Alaska’s wilds is not important, it’s the ‘spirit’ of it that has everyone so gripped).

I have an affliction, a deep–rooted love, of Morzine in the Alps. The town was one of the founders of the Alpine mountain bike holiday and has thrived on throngs of downhillers coming to do battle with its steep–sided valleys and extensive broader area, the Portes du Soleil, ever since British companies started offering packages there. Alas my fear is that with the sport reaching further and taking us (the punters) to destinations away from the grip of such purpose–developed ski resorts, that the Brit’s favourite may be about to embark on a tricky uphill struggle. There are endless downhill runs and technical, hand–built steep trails in the Morzine area, but enduro bike friendly trails are certainly few and far between, in the lift–accessed area at least, and the existing runs are completely hammered anyway.

Is it a case of adapt or die for the existing, downhill–centric resorts such as Morzine, or should they continue to do what they do well? I’ve asked another three riders (a craftsman, a long term holidaymaker and a trail builder, all know the area as well as any) their opinions on this to help me come to terms with the reality. They’ve also given a little background info so you can get to know them and their histories.

Nick Maher, looking his best.

Nick Maher has lived and breathed mountains ever since he quit his London based job and upped sticks almost a decade ago. He’s ridden the downhill trails of the Portes du Soleil more than you have, and has seen the sport’s progression from ‘do everything’ to ‘choose XC or DH’ and now back to ‘do everything’. His passion lies in exploring: until recently he would drive his van and downhill sled to locations across the Alps on the hunt for the next DH track, but more recently his interests have turned to the ever–so–frequently–mentioned ‘enduro bikes’ and the remote valleys he can access with their help.

“I’ve always loved riding my bike from when I was a little kid but I guess it was around 12 or 13 when I became conscious of what I was doing and began treating it as a sport. I grew up in Gloucestershire for the most part and had pretty much free reign to ride where I wanted. I started off on all kinds of beaters that my old man would repaint and restore, then a BMX and finally a 26” MTB when I was big enough.

I’ve always loved riding trails for the first time, blind, when you really improvise your riding. I guess you can always go faster or smoother when you get to know something but it’s never the same. So I started driving further afield looking for more stuff to ride, then as racing became important it was getting to the racetracks and finally when we saw that you could ride chairlifts in ski resorts it was off into Europe around 1998/99.

Contemplation at this start of a long and little-ridden ridge run0 one of the best rides near Morzine (Geneva’s in the distance somewhere there). This one is beyond the fringes of the lift- access area and couldn’t have been reached without the right bikes.

Morzine was my holiday location of choice, of course… There was nowhere else as far we (my group of friends) were concerned. Like most people we were loud, drunken idiots who smashed their bikes up during the day and their livers during the night! Bike–wise you’d see all kinds of stuff. I’ll never forget seeing the lad on an engineless MX bike on Morzine’s Pleney hill, you wouldn’t have wanted to get in his way! I also seem to remember lots of Giant ATX 1s and Oranges from the race crowd.

Nick Maher has replaved the early 1990’s rigid Specialized Stumohumper with a Nukeproof Mega, which has effectively put a stop t his resort riding and has taken his adventures to the next level. Hike-a-bikes, train rides, gondolas and pedalling all contribute to his exploration of the Alps.

I eventually moved to the Alps to a small town called Samoens, just over the mountain from Morzine, but a whole lot different. It’s way more chilled here, there are no egos or heroes, in fact there are only a few people who ride regularly and everyone knows each other. The riding itself is quite different too: the trails are very natural and technical. As far as I know there aren’t any ma -made berms in Samoens at all. The opportunity for big back–country loops is there too and that’s the ticket for me, I love getting away from it all and onto the sheep tracks and old walking paths. The place rewards a bit of knowledge and exploration, you can’t really make the most of it without spending some time here or getting someone to show you around.

I was on a Nukeproof Mega AM for 2013. It’s the first time I’ve had a more enduro style bike for any length of time in the Alps and, to be honest, if you’re out of the bike parks it’s all you need. I’ve no interest in smashing myself through braking bumps anymore so it’s perfect for me. By having a more versatile bike I’ve taken on a lot more in the way of big tours and multi–day trips which is probably the way my riding’s going to go over the next few years, so I can’t see myself buying another full DH bike for a while.

I think MTB’s shape shift is comparable to the recent revolution in ski and snowboard touring. The gear makes the trip up easier without compromising the descents as much as it used to and I think it’s just the same in MTB. We now have gear that lets us ride up in relative comfort without losing any of the fun coming down. It’s made a lot of the riding I’ve been trying to do over the last few years much more attainable. A few years ago it would be unimaginable to ride a 170/160mm travel bike around the Tour du Mont Blanc for four days, climbing and descending thousands of metres per day.

DH is never boring but the bikes are so specialised that for the same money most people outside of racing, who can only afford to run one bike, would prefer something more versatile. I don’t miss hammering DH runs around the Portes du Soleil at all. Although I still ride there at the start of the season while it’s all fresh and now and again at Les Gets when I feel like it. I think Morzine will always be popular though. It’s pretty much a rite of passage for a UK rider who wants to ride in Europe.

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I guess the Enduro World Series represents the kind of riding most people actually do these days, and maybe have always done. For the end user its influence has to be a good thing as the gear we will all be using the most will be developed in this arena. I hope DH still stays as the F1 of MTB but the enduro side of it is much more accessible for most and I really like the way the EWS has taken the Superenduro format that makes the race part of the host town for weekend rather than having mountain biking hiding away in a lay–by somewhere like most races!”


Toby Pantling has probably been coming to the Alps for longer than anyone else you’ll see on these pages. A favourite destination with his family, he’s been visiting for ski and summer holidays for most of his life, and has certainly seen the rise of the MTB holiday from his vantage point at the family holiday home near Les Gets. He too has a strong history in downhill riding and racing, similar to most Dirt readers’ stories, although he has taken himself around the globe to work and ride in such locations as Whistler and deep down in New Zealand. He sure knows the scene and, funnily enough, he too has been bitten by the enduro bug.

“I first started riding mountain bikes and got hooked when I was at school in Somerset, we had some mini downhill tracks and bombholes to ride. My love and excitement for bikes has not changed since the beginning. Instead of taking me up to the local hills it now takes me all over the world on amazing adventures.

When I first started riding bikes more seriously all I wanted was to race downhill; it seemed the cool thing to do and it was what all my friends where into.

Tobias Pantling. This guy has travelled the world with his bike and has seen the trends across mountain biking’s major resorts change as technology has. Here Toby rides a slightly precarious turn halfway down a trial that makes its way through a set of rugged mountains only a handful of miles as the cros files from Morzine.


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