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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pass'Portes to MTB heaven

Looking back down to Les Gets
Pass’Portes du Soleil is an amazing XC festival based in Les Gets/Morzine in the French Alps and this year a group of Summit riders entered, many for the first time. For me, it was possibly one of the best days I have ever spent on my bike writes Simon North.
In one day a Pass’Portes rider can experience the widest possible terrain, from gorgeous natural single-track through pine covered slopes, long fast fire road descents and full-on downhill switchbacks, with table tops and kickers. All against a backdrop of Europe’s most beautiful mountain range close to the French/Swiss boarder.
The event’s seventh year attracted 4,500 riders from all over Europe aboard a very wide range of machinery from racing downhill rigs to slender-tubed hard-tails, but the majority were probably riding full sus long travel XC bikes.

It's a long way from the top when you want to rock 'n roll

The concept is simply pure genus. Go up the mountains on ski lifts, ride along the trails and down breathtaking descents, then on to the next lift. In all I counted 13 lifts on our 80km route, which open from 08.00am to 18.00pm. There are shorter routes but having made the journey most would go for the full loop which took us the thick end of 10 hours to complete.
Nick, Judith and I started around 08.15am and kept a steady pace going, making sure we didn’t linger too long at the well stocked feed stations and just finished before the final lift closed. We started and finished in Morzine where we were staying, although officially the event departs from nearby Les Gets.
Signing-on was all done inside 15 minutes and although the first run was busy with keen riders I would never have called it crowded. After that we were never held up on the trails nor had faster riders on our wheels and getting served in the feed stations was never a problem. Hard to believe we shared the event with over 4,000 others.
The man-made trails have been developed for more than a decade and are clearly aimed at downhill riders with either big travel MTBs or downhill bikes. They are just amazing offering multiple bermed swicthbacks, fast swoopy chutes, steep rooty or bumpy sections, double jumps and table tops. Make sure your brakes are in top condition as you will be using them a lot as some of the descents drop 1,000 metres!
There is also loads of natural trail in between the bike park stuff. Miles of woodland single-track, some rocky sections, fire roads and tracks much of it being the old byways local people used to travel between the valleys and through mountain passes. At times I was reminded of UK trail centres or places like the Lakes and Peaks, but all the trails are just longer and more satisfying.
Although quite few folks ride downhill bikes there were others on hardtails, so something in between the two extremes is probably a good bet. Again next year I will ride a full sus XC bike, shod with proper downhill tyres (I used Maxxis Minion front and High Roller on the back, both 60a compound) as we saw a lot of folks with regular XC tyres fixing punctures.
The Eighth Pass’Portes is being extended from two to three days next year and will be held on 24/25/26th June, so watch out on the club forum for news of registration opening in early February.
Thanks to Andy TS for the kind loan of his Iron Horse Expert Mk3, Alan Wakeman for sound advice on tyres etc and especially Nick and Judith for their good company and accommodation.

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