A few years ago I worked a winter season in Val ‘D Isere, France with the aim of doing as much snowboarding as possible. The fact that I gave up so much in the UK meant I couldn’t do just one season. I heard that there was a good summer scene in Morzine and it looked like a good place to wait for the snow to come back. So we packed our hard tail bikes and all our worldly goods in to the car and off we went to spend a summer mountain biking in Morzine!
Mountain biking is getting more popular. UK trail centers are packed every weekend with people wanting to experience the countryside with an added adrenaline rush. You get the same experience in the french alps, but on a whole different level.
If you are unfamiliar with the area, Morzine is located in the Portes du Soleil. This mountain bike heaven straddles the French – Swiss border, and has thousands of miles of trails, some are serviced by the lift system. This means you don’t have to do too much peddling if you don’t want to.
Morzine is a great base for mountain biking. There is easy access to the other villages in the Portes du Soleil, such as Les Gets, Avoriaz, Chatel and Morgins. Morzine has lots of great bars and restaurants to keep you entertained and fed. Traditional Savoyard food is available all over Morzine, but if you fancy a break from the cheese, there are lots of other options such as the hipster Bec Jaune and The Hideout.
You can stay in some pretty swanky accommodation too. Catered chalets and self catered apartments are everywhere and suit most budgets. MTB Beds (nothing to do with MTB-Threads) are a great company and the staff are great riders too. If you fancy something a bit more upmarket, try More Mountain. Their properties are VERY nice and are really well located. Morzine has lots of small independent chalet companies too, such as 45 Degrees North. These guys run a cool chalet and are great fun to hang around with.
Your First Time Mountain Biking in Morzine
If you have never been mountain biking in Morzine before, you need to be prepared. The sheer amount of trails is staggering throughout the Portes du Soleil. If you are pretty handy on a bike, you will love Morzine, but beginners can have an awesome time too. You need to know a few things before you come to the French alps.
Just like ski runs, downhill mountain bike trails are ranked in order of difficulty with four colors:
- Green – These are the easiest, expect a shallow gradient with small rollers and berms. There won’t be much in the way of obstacles, but you can sometimes expect a small rooty or rocky section.
- Blue – These are a bit harder, as they are steeper with larger berms. Expect to find large rollers to jump (if it takes your fancy). These can be really fast and flowy and great fun
- Red – These can be quite a step up from the blues, depending on which area you are riding. Expect rough, rooty, rocky, bumpy and steep. There are usually large jumps/gaps to send off on the way down.
- Black – These are like the red runs, but can have lots of man made and natural jumps and obstacles. Black runs are generally steep and technical. Some have chicken runs, for when you have forgotten to take your brave pill that morning.
These categories do vary, depending on what area you are riding in. For example a blue in Morgins is quite technical, with lots of obstacles. A blue in Chatel can be muddy and smooth with large berms and one in Avoriaz could be a mix of gravel and clay. The weather conditions can also make a huge difference to how a trail rides.
If the green runs sound like your cup of tea, head to up the Super Morzine lift. There are a couple of great ones to try out. These are pretty mellow and easy, so they are ideal for you to get acquainted with the style of riding you get in the alps. Once you have done these a couple of times, head for the blue and red runs as soon as you can!
It is not just smashing downhill in the Portes du Soleil. It is fantastic if you want to go for a pedal too. There are routes ranging from a short morning jaunt to multiple day bike packing adventures. Have a look at this book, it details lots of different enduro rides in the area.
What you need
Lots of people that come to mountain bike in Morzine arrive unprepared. Bringing a cheap bike and poor clothing will result in a bad day.
Helmet and goggles – You won’t be allowed on the lifts with a bike if you don’t have a helmet. I recommend a full face helmet. Some enduro riders seem to think that these are uncool, but imagine how uncool you will look after applying your “face brake” on a nice gravel section.
Leg and Arm Protection – I like to wear knee and shin guards when I’m riding here. These have paid for themselves a number of times, after sliding down rocky sections of trail on my knees. They have become my favorite item of clothing.
When I fall off my bike, my hands and elbows are usually the first thing to hit the ground, therefore a good pair of gloves and pads are essential. Gloves also help me grip the handle bars properly during those times my bike is actually between me and the floor.
Backpack – Spare gear cables, inner tubes, a multi tool and a mini pump are all things worth considering taking on a ride. These simple things may be the difference of getting home or not. On a long ride over to Switzerland, you will be thankful for these “get me home” fixes.
The other great thing about backpacks is that you can carry food for that scenic lunch spot. You can also carry hydration packs and extra clothing with you.
Clothing – Wearing the correct clothing is essential while mountain biking in the French Alps. The weather changes very quickly. So choosing the correct mountain bike clothing will make a huge difference to your day, it could even keep you alive if everything goes wrong. The weather is usually pretty good during the summer months in Morzine, but when it rains it really pours down. So you may want to consider what clothing you bring with you. Have a look at my guides to buying mountain bike clothing below.
Mountain Bike Shoes – I wouldn’t say these are essential, but they make a massive difference to your riding. If you are riding flat pedals, your grip is hugely improved. This grip is very useful when riding over those braking bumps in Les Gets.
Like I said at the start of this blog, my first experience of mountain biking in Morzine was on a hard tail. This bike was great for the trails I was riding in the UK, such as Llandegla and Coed y Brenin. But as soon as I got off the first chairlift, it was very apparent that I was completely under prepared for the trails in Morzine.
To really enjoy yourself, you will need a proper full suspension mountain bike. You will be able to ride faster and for longer, as the bike will take a lot of the punishment rather than you. Morzine is not the place to bring a cheap bike.
It is possible to hire a mountain bike in Morzine. The standard of bikes is very high, Santa Cruz, NukeProof and Scott are all available from the local bike shops. My favorite bike shop in Morzine is Torico. They have an excellent fleet of bikes and great mechanics.
Do you fancy it?
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mountain biking in Morzine. It is just a fantastic place to be, whether you are mountain biking or not. I hope this has been of help to you…..see you on the mountain!