Travel Guide: LES DEUX ALPES
While Alp d’Huez and the Megavalanche have enjoyed unprecedented exposure over recent years, its neighbour on the other side of the valley slips under the radar here in the UK, with little recognition of the extensive bike park there. It is perhaps better known for its year round skiing up on the glacier; I must admit that I had written this place off myself, after the DH World Cup back in 2004. It was a ghost town, everything was boarded up, there was no one to be seen and the lift was only open for the race. In hindsight it was between winter and summer seasons and not a great move from the organisers. With the continued development of trails it has grown to become France’s biggest standalone bike resort and certainly the most popular amongst its riders. So with an invite to race there, we had the perfect excuse to spend some days on the slopes of Les Deux Alpes Bikepark.
This is a large purpose built resort in the Oisans region of the Southern French Alps. The ‘two Alps’ in the name does not refer to the two mountains that the resort encompasses, but rather the two villages of Venosc and Mont De Lans that sit at either end of the north–south plateau on which the resort was built. Access to the resort is by road from the north via a mean stack of switchbacks from the lower valley floor, 19 in total if I remember correctly. The town lacks the rustic alpine charm of many resorts in the Alps, though what it lacks in architectural interest it makes up for with its magnificent setting. On a clear day the views out over either end of the plateau and to the valleys below are superb, and when you take the Jandri Express right up to 3200m the views are stunning, with 360 degree mountain panoramas stretching to the horizon in every direction.
Deux Alpes provides summer skiing and boarding up on the glacier, so down in the town it is often 30 degrees, hot and sunny and you’ll be sat watching people walking past in their pyjama outfits with snowboards in hand. It’s funny to see, but pretty cool as in comparison to the usual summer biking ghost towns, Deux Alpes is positively buzzing, both in the cafes during the day and the bars in the evening. This means you can make so much more of your holiday, get up early and catch the first lift at 7.30am up to the glacier with your board to get the best snow conditions, then at lunch time when it starts to get slushy, head back down the mountain and grab your bike and ride till 8pm! The resorts relative close proximity to Alp d’Huez also opens up the options to combine your holiday between these two big mountain resorts.
The draw to this resort was the Enduro des Nations event hosted by the resort, they run these races in a number of resorts around France, but with the promise of one of the final races starting up on the glacier this had to be the one. We rocked up into town in the heaviest rain I’d seen for a while, so sacked the bikes off for the day and set about sampling the local cuisine, all in the name of research I assure you. The next morning brought much better weather and the remainder of our time here was pretty hot with blue skies, so feeling motivated by the warm sun we set about hitting the trails.
The riding in Deux Alpes is big, open and fast. There are no trees whatsoever up on the main hills, the only trails where you will come across some trees are when you drop down below the resort to Mont De Lans. This gives all of the trails here a very similar feel, they are not particularly technical, all machine built, sweeping and very fast. If you think of a
bobsleigh run you are along the right lines.
They have pretty much covered the full spectrum of abilities with trails graded from green to black. To be honest some of the green trails are almost more fun than the reds and blacks, as they aren’t so steep so you can stay off the brakes and just carve the turns, the Les Cretes trail is a great example of this.
This is the No. 1 resort amongst the French and also very popular amongst the Italians, we bumped into a large group of Italian pinners in the resort for the weekend and they loved the new blue Le Diable run, a super fast trail of whoops, crests and berms. We hit a few runs on this with them before trying out what is perhaps Deux Alpes best known trail, the Venosc red run which starts in Les 2 Alpes at 1650m and finishes down in the village of Venosc below at 960m. This particular gondola runs till 8pm so you can hit this run till late in the day if you have the energy. I could see why people talk about it, as it is a long sweeping trail with endless bermed switchbacks, but I was on a shorter travel bike and after the rain damage this was rough!
Which brings me nicely onto my next point, the lack of trail maintenance. Early season the trails are smooth, frighteningly fast with tons of fun crests, rises and berms, near the end of the season the runs have suffered from the washboard effect as the amount of traffic and any bad weather takes its toll and the trails bake hard with high frequency ripple bumps. A good downhill bike takes the sting out of all but the biggest of these bumps, but grading the trails every few weeks would ensure they’re perfect throughout the season. In fairness it had been quite wet the week before we arrived and the trails had baked hard after they were cut up in the wet, and it was certainly nowhere near as bad as I have seen the Pleney run in Morzine.
Taking the lift right up to 3,200m enables you to pick up the very bottom slope of the glacier on your bikes; we did this every run we had up there as it was so much fun! A lot mellower than the start of the Mega and a lot firmer too early in the day, you could put the bike into huge drifts and hold them, cutting in and out of the skiers and boarders. Just below this you are in the baron moonscape of the upper mountain, with loads of exposed slabs and scree slopes; there are some good freeride opportunities up here with such open terrain you can scope out your lines from the lift before trying them out on the way down.
With 19 downhill trails or sections to try there is plenty to take in here, from the rock and scree at the top, to the earthy bobsleigh runs from 2400 metres down. I enjoyed the easy berms and jumps on the Ayton trail and the more racy feel of L’Integrale black trail, but the best trail for me was the newly hand cut singletrack they opened while we were there, just loads and loads of perfect corners. On the other side of the valley on the Pied Moutet hill the World Cup trail is no longer marked, though the blue trail does pick up a few sections of it, they have re–cut the run to be easier and mellower for everyone.
There are loads of permanent pistes in Deux Alpes, which is great that they have built so much bike specific trail, but unfortunately
the flip side of this is that all footpaths are out of bounds to bikes and there are a couple of beauties in the area which I was itching to ride, but the penalties are harsh here so don’t think about it. To get your fill of more technical singletrack then catch the free bus to Alp d’Huez where there is plenty. These two resorts have been working together and they really complement each other with the flat out, man made trails here and the more technical singletracks in Alp d’Huez.
Depending on the size of your group you may consider hiring a chalet, as there are some good deals through the summer. It is worth contacting the resort’s booking office with your requirements as they can offer some good deals for accommodation and lift passes together.
The pasta dishes and set menus at La Spaghetteria (+33 476 790 577) are excellent value, and it has a great buffet salad bar. Also try Thai Alloi (+33 618 583 924), Smokey Joe’s (+33 476 792 897) does good value pub food (till 11pm) and a cracking English breakfast. Ditto The Red Frog (+33 476 792 897).
Smokey Joe’s is the main hangout right next to the main lift area, also check out The Red Frog at the Venosc end of town, and Smithy’s in Venosc. For late nights it’s the Avalanche and Bresilien all the way.
Really well equipped bike shops are still a little thin on the ground when you consider the size of the resort and the number of trails. Almost all of the ski shops now hire bikes and carry basic spares and run workshops for repairs though. Probably the best of the bunch is the Intersport on the way to the red eggs lift in the resort; the guys are helpful there and have a good workshop.
You can pick up trail maps at the ticket office, the lift stations or the main tourist office. This is one area where it is well worth keeping the map on you, as although the routes are all marked it is such a vast area it helps to keep your bearings and find trails you haven’t yet ridden. There is no need for a guide here.
In total there are now eight lifts open to bikes through the summer. The Jandri express 1 and 2 are the main lifts taking you right up to 3,200m. The red eggs or the Diable lift which takes you to 2,400m, the Venosc gondola, the remaining lifts are all chairlifts and some of them are painfully slow, but do allow you some time to recover and enjoy your surroundings. Amazingly you can ride here for up to 13 hours a day! The Jandri express opens at 7am and the Venosc gondola closes at 8pm.
1 day lift Pass: 19 Euros
1 week lift Pass: 95 Euros
Season pass: 265 Euros
You are high up here so if the temperature drops it is normal for there to be some snow up top, the trails are quite slick when wet, similar to around the Portes de Soleil. The average temperature through the summer season is 21 degrees.
The nearest airport to the resort is Grenoble, which you can fly to from Stanstead and Bristol with Ryanair or easyJet. Slightly
further away, but with a much greater choice, is Geneva.