Travel Guide: PYRENEES BIKEPARKS-VALLNORD
Mountainbiking in the Pyrenees has been the poorer cousin to mountainbiking in the Alps for some time. This could be set to change now with the World Cup races in Andorra raising the profile and firmly placing the Vallnord Bikepark on the map. With two other bike parks, La Molina and Grand Valira both within close proximity, there’s a great holiday destination for UK riders in the making starting just a couple of hours drive from Barcelona airport. All three parks have had high profile involvement of varying levels from the likes of the Misser Bros, Gracia and Oscar Saiz, so we went to check them out and see what the Pyrenees could throw up to the casual rider.
Vallnord has been brought to a lot of people’s attention over the last couple of years since they have hosted the World Cup. To be honest if the WC track was my only experience here, I wouldn’t have left the place that impressed, and certainly wouldn’t have been rushing back to come and ride. You see although the World Cup track is pretty good and fun to ride it really doesn’t utilise the big mountains that you are surrounded by, instead it is a short trail ‘on’ a big mountain.
Fortunately I had visited the town and resort a few years ago whilst racing and had a great time here and I knew that Vallnord had plenty of riding, we rode a few of the trails that time, but I was keen to return and see what else was on offer.
It’s really refreshing to see that the people involved in the park and those who work around the town in the bikeshops and bars seem to have a real belief in the new biking season here. They see it as a very real summer alternative to snowboarding and are all keen to make this park work and their energy and enthusiasm is rubbing off, they have some good trails and it looks like it will continue to develop each year.
So while many people felt a little disappointed to see such a short World Cup track, I went about hitting some of the other runs around the mountain, from the Woodpark to the two main fun downhills under the gondola. These had changed massively from when I rode them a few years ago, at the time they were gullied out natural descents, down steep paths with tough turns and big holes. Now they had taken a large digger down there and levelled and smoothed them out with the odd jump and plenty of berms thrown in for good measure. As a racer I was a little disappointed when I first rolled down to see these trails, which I had really enjoyed racing a few years earlier had been completely changed and made pretty easy. Though a couple of runs later my mind was changed, the wide corners and the shaly surface mean that when you start pushing yourself down there you can hit some pretty rare lines through the turns and are drifting most of the time. What they have done is the right thing; they have built Bikepark trails that will appeal to all riders rather than just the racer heads amongst us who want it steep and rough. There’s no way you’ll be riding these without a grin on your face – though one Aussie did moan that they were too muddy…I told him he should come and stay in Wales!
For the more skilled rider or those wanting to push themselves there are some steep and technical trails on the hill just away from the
main marked runs. We hooked up with David Vasquez and he led us down one of the trails which was mint, really tight singletrack with some steep switchbacks and some high speed straightaways. Later that day I stumbled onto a hiking trail that drops out in the campsite in Erts right by Commencal HQ. This was a testing bit of trail with one particular off–camber slickrock steep section that would be great in the dry…I hit it blind in the wet and after some serious scrabbling and paddling was pretty thankful to keep it upright and on the path at the other end. I’m sure many of the Commencal bikes have had a few runs down there.
Up in the higher slopes you have the wood trail, which as wooden trails go (usually suck!) is up there as one of the best. It flows and is fun from top to bottom, it’s well built and has some decent size drops, jumps and wallrides. Check it out.
The World Cup trail is known as the ‘Cedric Gracia’ and is a good downhill run with a whole lot of holes, exposed rock and roots. Just don’t do a Sam Hill off the blind crest – insane!
It’s best to stay where there’s a bit of life, so La Massana is the ideal Location and the Gondola runs from the centre of the town. Hotel Palanques and Hotel Font are just about the cheapest of the bunch. Erst (where the Commencal HQ is) is also a good location and easy to reach the lift, try the Hotel Palarine.
Nearly all the hotels in town have restaurants that can be enjoyed by all, outside of these I’d try out La Bona Taula or Border D’Lavi, both near the town centre.
Well it would be rude not to give Cedric’s Bar a plug, it’s bang in the centre of Town and they usually have something on at least once a week, and if not they’ll tell you where to head. It’s called the Podium bar.
There is a large gondola linking the town of La Massana to Vallnord, many of the longer and steeper trails run below this long and quick lift. Up in the ski area there are another three chairlifts that work in a triangle layout to access a few trails on the higher slopes including the World Cup trail.
One Day Pass: 21.00 euros
Three Day Pass: 49.50 Euros
The Climate in Andorra is generally hot, sunny and dry through the summer season, but being a big mountain range the Pyrenees can catch rainfall at any time. Fortunately even if it does rain the geology of the area is great and the trails ride really well in the wet.
To hit all three parks as we did in a trip, I would recommend flying to Barcelona, easyJet have plenty flights. You will need a hire car or people carrier to move from place to place, La Molina is two hours from the airport, Grand Valira is one hour from La Molina and Vallnord is 30 minutes from Grand Valira. The return drive direct from Vallnord to Barcelona airport is three hours.