In his report for Dirt, Rowan Sorrell warned not to huck into the World Cup track, Sam Hill style (remember his massive crash into a well–placed pile of snow). But I would be more inclined to advise you not to bother with that track at all, and make the most of the dozens of others (upward of twenty) instead.
Just like Soldeu, this mountain is split into two sections, although it takes a series of lifts to reach the summit. Personally I could ride the steep, rough tracks under the gondola all day, but nearly everyone prefers to stick to the higher slopes and the two chairlifts that link up to give access to the entire upper hillside. From the middle–station, where families do their summer thing (walk slowly, eat, get the lift back down) and dozens of bike riders take ‘5’ to soak up some rays and make the most of the relaxed vibe, a short ride down either the old 4X track or one of several trails brings you to the main chairlift. With ‘lifties’ (lift attendants) on hand at every station, bike shops where you need them and numerous, ridiculously fun tracks to ride, you get the feeling that these Andorrans don’t half know how to do the whole tourism thing properly.
Taking the main chair up you start to spot the familiar sights – Sam Hill’s huck, Steve Peat’s corner (from a 2009 cover of Dirt) and the pine trees that cling to any slopes that haven’t been developed for the sake of skiing. You also get quite an astounding view over the country’s majestic range. It’s hard not to like Vallnord.
The second chairlift is less used and plonks those who do brave it right up high on a desolate peak at the top of Vallnord. From here, it’s hard not to imagine that you’re in Southern California – the air is clear, the sky is blue and the ground is bare and bright. Plumes of white dust kick up as you set off down the trail and warm, dry air feeds into your lungs. The trail from the Pic del Cubil meanders down the mountain and is Andorra’s answer to Whistler’s ‘A–Line’ with jump after jump, berm after berm, and not a great deal else. Not that that’s a bad thing of course! It then links in to any of the multiple dusty, rocky, techy and flowy main trails and you have yourself a lot of options.
Vallnord is an understated and misunderstood bike resort. It’s not a rainy place with only a small hill and a non–existent riding community as the early–season World Cup races have previously portrayed, but rather a bustling mountain full with riders of various nationalities all enjoying the typically great weather, the cheap eating and the huge array of tracks. There are tech–fests, jump trails and flat–out freight trains down the hill (Route 66 is ridiculously fast). But overall there’s just a nice feeling to the place. Locals are all out in force every lunchtime and it just feels like everyone is having a great time hammering out runs on a perfectly graded, well maintained and modern mountainside.THE OTHER BITS
It’s hardly a secret that bike brand Commencal is based in Andorra, they play on their geographical placing in every piece of marketing after all, but it’s interesting to see what they bring to the area and who else sits alongside them in Andorra’s mini mountain bike industry. I think it’s fair to say that Commencal have done a lot for the area’s bike scene, and now there is a small but devoted crew of resident riders who hit the trails on a daily basis and who mostly work, or have worked for the brand.
La Massana has one of the best pubs I have been to outside of the UK called Mon Bohemi, which is a central meeting point for all bike riders in the area and an after–work drinking hole for a large number of young locals and tourists alike. Martin seemed more than familiar with the place and Keev knew every person there. It’s good to see what beer and a smile can do for public relations. Here we met up with our friends from Andorra based Production Privee; a small products and frame manufacturer run by Damien Nosella and David George, two guys who certainly love the mountain lifestyle and undoubtedly have their own seats in the pub. They talked us through the process of design, the daily testing that takes place on the singletrack all around the country and eventually led us down a dangerous path of destruction that ended with a game of ‘beer pong’ against a leathered local man on crutches by the name of Gracia (Cedric).
I could happily live in the country, if it wasn’t so hard to do so (that is). You see, in order to live in Andorra you must have a reason to be there – a job – and seeing as it isn’t all that easy to land a job in such a glitteringly perfect playground then that is not going to happen. Furthermore, to apply to become resident you must have lived for twenty years in the place. Also not going to happen. Andorrans like to keep their great country as it is and the work local, which is great to see and reassuring to know that its quirky underbelly will probably never change.
Which brings me to the slightly bizarre side of Andorra. I think that the tobacco ‘industry’ illustrates the country’s oddities nicely. I was surprised to hear that the abundant fields of tall green vegetation were in fact the result of local families cultivating their ‘fair share’ of tobacco; harvested annually to be sold to the Andorran government and then…burnt or sent on to the Canary islands for cheap, low-grade fags. The government, by way of an ancient local law, are obliged to buy local tobacco in equal quantity to that which they import, which keeps the families happy, rich and ensures the lack of quality in the production of their crop.
It’s a funny old place, but everyone’s welcome and the bike riding is almost unbeatable, food and fuel is cheap and the beers are served in frosted glasses. It’s not all about bike parks either. Singletrack rides feature on every slope and under every forest canopy, tiny valleys reach away from towns and villages and hide within them tracks and trails to nurture every bike rider’s tastes. Martin knows them all and will gladly show you around his favourite corner of Europe.BOOKING YOUR STAY
Singletrack Safari is run by Martin Hills and the season is from early June till late September.
Insanely low prices are as follows:
Four nights B+B, including transfer, guiding and lift pass: £210.00
One week B+B, including transfer, guiding and lift pass: £299.00
One week half–board in a 4* hotel with transfer, guiding and lift pass: £440.00
Lifts are open weekends from early June and everyday from July until mid–September, then weekends only until the end of September. We recommend booking a stay with Singletrack Safari for their unrivalled knowledge of the area and to make use of their shiny VW Transporter for uplift to singletracks that the lifts won’t take you anywhere near.THAT BIKE
It would have been rude to visit Andorra and not ride a Commencal, so thank you to Max (Commencal) and his team for the loan of their bike park shredding machine: the Supreme Fr. It performed perfectly and unsurprisingly lapped up the bike park trails on which it is tested daily!