The 3 Valleys Mountain Biking Review
Pam Williamson | Meribel Editor | published: 25th August 2014
It seemed like the perfect time to head to the 3 Valleys to test out the mountain biking there - with the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup on in Meribel over the weekend there were bound to be lots of bikes, great trails and a fantastic atmosphere...
Well most of that was true! The atmosphere was electric as some of the biggest names in mountain biking were riding around as we queued for the gondolas and chairlifts. And there were a LOT of bikes, plenty of biking gear and bike chat happening in every bar, cafe and shop. The trails however I have to say were a mixed bag...some were fantastic, some were hard to find, some didn't appear to exist and some were so spread out that your day was almost taken over by slogging it out on 4x4 tracks.
However, the 3 Valleys does have some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in the Alps and if you are looking to get out on your cross country bike and explore the region on 2 wheels then there are certainly plenty of trails and roads to choose from if you are willing to take on the uphills as well as the down. The biking (VTT) maps for each resort are based more around what they call downhill itineraries which, as far as we could tell, are very much cross country and endurance bike rides, with a lot of the trails on 4x4 tracks and fire roads. The downhill specific trails that we did eventually manage to find were well made, well maintained and great fun!
Our first day began with an adventure from our base in Meribel over to the Belleville Valley and the hopes of getting to try out the downhill trails in Val Thorens. Thwarted from the start we spent the first part of our day cruising down fire roads on heavy downhill bikes trying to find a marked red downhill itinerary that was going to lead us into Les Menuires so that we could take the lift up to the head of the valley and Val Thorens...we never did find the trail! However once we arrived in Rebarty/Les Menuires we were told to our great disappointment that the gondola access to Val Thorens doesn't operate on a Thursday! We decided to take advantage at this point of the one Red DH trail we could find and enjoyed a few laps of the Roc n' Bike trail under the Roc des 3 Marches gondola. With spectacular views and some fun features on the trail we really started to enjoy our riding in this beautiful valley.
Our route home to Meribel however proved a little tricky again as we struggled again to find the trail that would take us back to the connecting St Martin lift. After another slog along some fire roads to traverse the valley we eventually happened upon a really sweet Blue DH trail, with some fun red level variations. It seems this is the run we should have been lapping all day! A long descent of 8.3km and 1034m made for some fun riding.
By this point we had worked out that the DH trails that we wanted to ride were very specifically marked with diamonds rather then triangles so despite the description on the VTT Trail map the 'downhill itineraries' were not what we were looking for. Luckily the Red DH trail down into Meribel did not disappoint - although again it was hard to know exactly which route it was on the map the trail went from the top of Tougnette lift and brought us all the way down into Meribel town. A great mixture of wide open burms, well made jumps and slick rooty sections in the forest. A great end to our first day biking in the 3 Valleys.
Armed with the previous days knowledge we headed off on the Friday to test out the trails in the Meribel valley, and we were not disappointed! We knew by this time what signs to look out for and what not to follow so we made our way on a fast and fun green run that lead us from the Tougnete mid-station into the village of Mottaret. We then went all the way to the top of the Saulire which connects the Courchevel and Meribel Valleys, for some fantastic views over the whole area. A short descent on the fire road to the Saulire mid-station - marked as a black downhill itinerary! - brought us to the head of one of the best descents of the weekend. a 6.3km long blue DH trail that was fast, flowy and full of features and beautiful views. We arrived back in town with grins on our faces and just in time to catch the qualifying rounds for the Downhill World Cup...a great day all round!
So mountain biking in the 3 Valleys - a beautiful area with a lot of options, be prepared to cycle up as well as down hill and give yourself the freedom to explore (possibly with a good OS map in your pocket!). But if you are looking to do pure lift access DH trails then make sure you ask the locals where to go and get straight to the good stuff!
- Check the chairlift and gondola time table before planning your day out as they don't all run every day!
- If there is a map of trails at the top of the gondola or chairlift then this will be a better description of what is to come than the rather inaccurate paper trail maps. And in addition you can ask the lifties!
- Carry an OS map with you if you are planning to explore the area and don't rely on the VTT map that is on offer.
- Have a note of bus time tables in case you get stranded in one of the valleys.
More info on summer lift opening dates and prices can be found here.