O.T.A. (Out The Arse) Morzine #2 | Lakeside Views
Last issue I introduced some of Morzine's 'far–out' bike rides - and now we move beyond the holiday resorts and into uncharted territory...
It isn't always blindingly clear just where you can and cannot ride bikes, so most of us stick to the spots that welcome us, the places that lure us in with their comfortable uplifts, easy to find trails and modern day facilities...
From Dirt Issue 120 - February 2012
Words by James McKnight. Photos by Victor Lucas.
Last issue I introduced some of Morzine's 'far–out' bike rides and with any luck planted a seed of adventure in your mind. Now I will take the opportunity to further that idea, to reach out and take Morzine's bike riding beyond the confines of the area, away from the holiday resorts and into uncharted territory. This time we'll evade the reaches of Morzine by way of an escape through the hills that sit between the town and the lake at Geneva. Once lakeside, we will open up the potential of one hill that is more familiar than you'd expect, and one that is perhaps not. OTA round 2 then – some Out The Arse locations that in fact are not so far away as you'd imagine.
Locals (both nationals and immigrants) will tell you they have been riding these spots forever and a day, and they have. These places, then, are far from hidden – blindingly obvious they are not, but there for the taking they are. If you travel to Morzine by car for your summer holidays, then next year consider branching out, as the following are only a small number in an infinite list of locations open to bikes across the Alps.>>
Click through to keep reading...
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Grade: Medium – Difficult
Before we voyage out of Morzine and the Portes du Soleil I shall let you in on one final secret that lies within the hills between town and Lake Geneva. It's time to get the map out:
Trace your finger along the page from Morzine, through Montriond and on to St Jean d'Aulps then move from the latter in a virtual ascent and you should come across La Grande Terche – a small ski area in winter set in a bowl of peaks. You may note the gondola that climbs steeply to one peak high above the valley. What you probably won’t realise is that in summer the gondola takes bikes and riders to the summit, albeit only on two days per week (Wednesday and Sunday). You can get here on your bike along the river from Morzine or from the back of Mont Chéry in Les Gets – which opens up many possibilities for almighty rides. Your standard Portes du Soleil pass covers this lift, as it has done for many years, yet the hillside has managed to be almost entirely overlooked by all visitors, in fact I don’t even know many locals that use it. Although admittedly not the best access for those with downhill bikes – perhaps the reason that the hill has lay dormant for so long – this lift opens up a number of possibilities for modern day enduro bikes.
I had the pleasure of exploring the area several years ago when I had a (very broken) wrist in a cast and only a borrowed cross country bike to ride. Foolish as I am, I figured that heading off into unknown territory would be better for my injury that to ‘risk’ the braking bumps of the Pléney in Morzine. Who knows where my thinking lay, but what I did learn was that there are some epic and also ferocious mountains nestled in–between Mont Chéry and St Jean d’Aulps. At least I was correct about the braking bumps though – not one to be seen for miles and miles and miles…
I won’t go into a huge amount of detail about the riding, it’s there waiting for those keen to get the map out and to go on a trail hunt. No trail is primed, groomed or even particularly accessible. Be prepared as these peaks can be dangerous – when the map tells you there is scree or rock slides, believe the map. This riding is about discovery, it’s for those who like a challenge, an adventure and an alternative view, so if that’s you then plan a route and gather some worthy secrets of your own.
Parking: Parking available at the foot of La Grande Terche lift if you’d rather not ride.
Lift Cost: Covered by Portes du Soleil pass.
Opening Hours: 10 am – 4.30 pm
Opening Dates: Wednesdays and Sundays in July and August.
Lift Altitude: 1800 metres.
Time from Morzine: 10 minutes driving. Riding time from Morzine is roughly 1hr.
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Once you are sure that you have exploited Morzine and its bike riding, you’ll be ready to move on, out of the resorts and into an area far more populated, yet far less associated, with bikes:
Lac Léman, or Lake Geneva as it is in English, is one of the largest lakes in western Europe, spanning 95 kilometres on the northern shore. Close to a million people live around the perimeter of the lake, those on the northern shore enjoy gently sloping hillsides abundant with vines and castles and those on the southern shore benefit from the close proximity of the Alps. Life around the lake couldn’t be better; in fact Geneva itself is rated as having one of the highest qualities of life of any city in the world. It’s a pleasant place and the towns and villages that hug the shoreline play host to many visitors throughout the year, with summertime attracting people to the water and the beaches that look out over it.
The surrounds of the lake also offer numerous attractions for travelling bike bums: you have the skateparks, various sets of dirt jumps and a top level BMX track in Geneva; you can take boat rides, wakeboard or canoe around on the water (or, more to the point, wash in it); you can visit Freddy Mercury (statue of) in Montreux or you can simply get blind drunk in any of the friendly and vibrant towns. For resort based downhilling, a short drive from the northern shore of the lake you have the Jura mountains, which have several small lift systems operating, namely Métabief (open May until mid September) and Les Crozets (open July and August). But you needn’t go that far if you’re looking for a ride with a difference.
Two of the most used and popular lakeside locations you will find detailed below, their numerous trails I will have to leave mostly to your imagination and initiative. Don't be afraid to ask the locals – they won't bite and most will be more than keen to point you in the right direction. Remember that these two areas are not in a resort though – you won't necessarily be finding trail markers, bike shops or restaurants in the vicinity so prepare accordingly.
Grade: Medium - Difficult
Rising up sharply from the southern outskirts of Geneva is the Téléphérique du Salève, an old access lift that was originally installed in the 1930’s to carry folk up to the ridgeline some 650 metres above the city (to an altitude of just over 1100metres) and onto an easy–going plateau with 360º panoramic views across the lake, the Jura and into the Alpine valleys behind.
If you’ve travelled from Britain to the Alps then you have most likely passed under the cables of the gondola – they cross the motorway just outside Geneva and any connecting transfer from the airport passes under them. If you have noticed the lift then you have probably also pondered the thought of potential bike riding but no doubt passed the thought off as the hill looks too steep to ride. Well, steep it sure is, a cliff in fact, but what you don’t see from the road is a more gently sloping hillside off to the left of the summit. The forest that envelopes this slope is riddled with trails – some natural, some hand built by local riders.
Until fairly recently riding on the Salève hill was more than limited, it was restricted. The first times that I rode this hillside I fortunately had some trail information passed quietly to me by one of the staff operating the lift – his boss was under the impression that all bike riders using the lift were coming down the road! Thankfully the ever–growing number of Swiss downhill riders visiting during the off–season has increased profit massively for the lift company and lead to a loosening of the ruling on bikes. A map detailing some of the available rides is also now available in the ticket office, although it is admittedly not particularly user friendly. Follow your nose and ask the other riders on the hill.
A run here is nothing short of physical punishment; you'll be exhausted after a handful of runs and probably feeling ready to retire. It’s a good challenge though and there are plenty more reasons to visit if the tech riding isn’t enough, one being that every time I visited in summer 2011 it was pouring with rain in Morzine and yet miraculously dry and sunny down by the lake. If you’re in Morzine and it is raining check the weather at Le Salève – you’d be surprised how much less it rains outside of the mountains. The other beauty of the place is that access isn’t limited to the summer season; opening dates only depend on the weather and any maintenance works taking place on the lift, so off–season road trips start here...
Parking: There is direct access from the motorway (A40) – park in the ‘Aire du Salève’. Alternatively arrive via Annemasse.
Lift Cost: Tickets come either in single or packs of ten at a cost of €6.50 (€4.80 with concessions) or €42 – which isn’t expensive for the length of the runs (a typical lap takes 45+ minutes).
Opening Hours: 9 until late (the lift provides access to a restaurant so opens in the evening).
Opening Dates: Year round, dependant on weather and maintenance schedules.
Lift Altitude: 1100 metres.
Time from Morzine: 1hr.
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At the far end of Lac Léman stands a statue of Freddie Mercury, a memorial to the late star who loved Montreux and advised friends to visit if they wanted ‘peace of soul’ – testament to the town’s laidback vibe and relaxing water–side location. Montreux is certainly more famed for its music than its mountain biking, with the annual jazz festival attracting up to 200,000 visitors and previous events having become the stuff of legend. (Deep Purple’s song, ‘Smoke on the Water’, was inspired by a fire that broke out during one festival, incidentally). However, there is a funicular railway that runs from the water’s edge up to the ‘Rochers de Naye’ – a viewpoint high above the lake which is accessed mainly by sightseers. This was news to me until last summer, when Scott’s Ben Walker and his wife Corinne, took me and Victor on a mystery tour up, down and around the mountains above Montreux.
I’ll tell you the story, and from my vague description and a map (or Google) you should be able to plan your own great day out:
‘Smoke on The Water’ was of course blaring out of the van speakers as we pulled into the car park opposite one of Montreux’s many music shops, much to the amusement of Ben and Corinne (but we still felt pretty cool). Our guides told us to get our act together and we quickly scrambled to get kitted up, get the bikes out and to fix the odd puncture etc... After a short but hurried ride through the streets, we took an escalator up, bikes and all; this I found quite a novelty in itself. Although we were following the Walker’s, the funicular railway wouldn’t be a problem to find for the uninitiated as it leaves from the train station, which is signposted all around town.
Ascending the mountain in a spiral at reasonable speed brings with it another novelty, of which Ben and Corinne made a point – a second Lake Geneva on the far side of the mountains behind Montreux. A complete splitting image of Lake Geneva and its many towns, in fact…I was fooled at least. We had to alight just below the summit of the Rochers de Naye due to an ‘accident on the track’ and were therefore left to push to the plateau, but it was definitely worth the effort. Astounding panoramic views of Lac Léman, the high Alps and into the Vallais wine region of Switzerland took my breath away and gave me a desire to search deeper into the country.
Parking: Lake–side parking is available within 5 minutes of the funicular station.
Lift Cost: 16 Swiss Francs.
Opening Hours: One train per hour.
Opening Dates: Year round, dependant on weather and scheduled maintenance.
Lift Altitude: 2045 metres
Time from Morzine: 1.5 hrs
With any luck you will by now be beginning to understand mine and Victor's sentiment. Morzine is certainly the UK's number one mountain bike destination abroad and things are unlikely to change any time soon, and why should they? If you want an easy–going holiday, you'd like to ride bikes and have some beers with like–minded folk then you are going to continue visiting that town. But don't for one second think that you've ridden everything and that you know the ins and outs of the mountains, because you don't and neither do we.
We were gob–smacked by the never–ending views from the summit of the Rochers de Naye and so Victor and I scheduled some more time with our friendly guides Ben and Corinne, deeper into Switzerland and on some surprising hillsides. Exploring the mountains around Morzine was, and is, a great experience, but next time, for our final instalment, we shall be going further still…Right Out The Arse.