Is the end nigh for resort–based Alpine mountain biking? Snow took skiing to the mountains of the Alps, but are we as mountain bikers better off elsewhere?
DIRT ISSUE 143 – JANUARY 2014
Words by James McKnight. Photos by Andy LloydIn the beginning…
The day that a small, sweaty man turned up on my doorstep 13 years ago to deliver the message that I had found myself a job in the mountains of France (this is without having looked for one) was the day that the future (as I then saw it) changed shape dramatically.
Somewhere else in the country five other individuals were unaware that the paths of their lives, at that time mostly pre–GCSE, were to take them onto journeys through places and events that would ultimately deem them experts of the highest order on all things bicycle. The common factor among us being that of one particular Alpine village and its small but developing community and personality, elements of a place that would see us all converge on a regular basis from that point on.
Those people I will introduce to you throughout this two–part expedition into the sport that in the last decade has morphed into something greater and more intricate than I could ever have imagined when entering into the world of the ‘bike bum’ when I first arrived into a reasonably quiet French village, which was as–yet undeveloped as a summer resort by the name of Morzine.
My subjects were and still are fully immersed in the world of mountain biking and that will likely never change, so the way in which their sport has developed and continues to do so is of utmost importance for their futures. In one way or another Morzine is also ‘home’ to each of them. I’ll leave them to describe the way the world around them has changed in the time since they started travelling, as well as where it is heading. In doing so, we as a group will also introduce several alternative locations within the Alps – places without lifts or at least lesser–known for their bike riding than the standard ski resort. Perhaps mountain biking does belong in the Alps, but should it be restricted to resorts?
The age of mountain biking for the masses is upon us and it will surely be interesting to speculate as to where we are heading with this. I’ll introduce the idea in this feature and then in Dirt 144 we’ll get stuck right in, plus we’ll get out on one very special Alpine adventure to demonstrate just where the modern mountain bike can take us.Modern Day Morzine
Over the years Morzine has developed as a town and a location and has taken over from Les Gets (host to numerous World Cup races, and just a few miles up the road) as the number one destination for the Alpine–holidaying mountain biker, as well as the MTB ‘lifer’. Particularly in the last few years the resort has become very much more fashionable among Brits looking to live abroad – so much so that over half the permanent population is now from outside of France (and that’s without including the ‘unaccounted for’ who live in the supermarket car park…).
The mountain has changed as much as the town. It is fair to say that the Pleney (the main mountain/lift) and its numerous hand–built tracks, which have increased in number year–on–year, reached a peak in popularity in recent times. This resulted in even the most ‘secret’ of trails being blown–out and rough as hell, and that perhaps the closing of the old and ever–so–slightly decrepit lift for summer 2013 came as a blessing in disguise. Out with the old, in with the new.
Although the tearing down of the old Pleney lift and the slightly suspicious ‘accidental’ burning down of its top station (which coincidentally contained a large amount of tricky to remove asbestos) came as a shock and a marginally emotional moment for those who have bonded with its rickety gondolas, the new lift for 2014 will no doubt improve access and of course decrease the risk of death… Aside from that though, the closure for 2013 forced riders (local and tourists) into rides further afield.
The whole process was perhaps a metaphor for the future of mountain biking in the French Alps and elsewhere, which is what got us all wondering where the sport was headed in the first place.
Paul Aston and Pete ‘Pedro’ Ballin are two riders who have frequented Morzine since the early days and who have seen the changes in the town, the mountain and the sport in general. Will they continue to ride in Morzine, will any of us for that matter? Both spent a considerable portion of summer 2013 based there, yet their ‘modern–day all–mountain’ bikes took both to locations outside of the resort and indeed away from lifts in general. I’m going to introduce you to each of the riders and let them tell you how they have seen a shape–shift in MTB and Morzine. The photos will hopefully serve as inspiration to take advantage of the adventure possible in the Alps.>>