Mountain Biking in Samoëns: A break from the bike parks
We had heard that Samoëns, France was a great destination for mountain biking, so decided to chuck the bikes in the car and do some exploring. Here is what it is like mountain biking in Samoëns for a day.
We live in Morzine, which is a pretty amazing place, especially if you are a mountain biker. It is in the Portes du Soleil, which is a huge area that straddles the French/Swiss border in the alps. We have access to lots of fantastic trails that cater for all kinds of rider, and many of them are linked by the ski lift system.
However, we had heard that mountain biking in Samoëns offered a different experience. This summer we have spoken to quite a few visitors to Morzine, who have started their two week holiday with a week in Samoëns before arriving.
Samoëns (pronounced samwon) is just a forty minute drive from Morzine. There are a few routes to get there, but I recommend the drive up and over the Col de Joux Plane. This way takes in fantastic views of Mont Blanc, if the sky is clear.
Once we arrived in Samoëns, we parked in the free carpark at the foot of the Grand Massif Express têlecabine. We joined the queue with the handfull of mountain bikers and hiking families. For a bike pass, it is only €20 for the day each, which I was quite impressed with (a summer season pass is only €90).
The “system” the lift company uses to get you up the mountain is a bit confusing at first. Especially when you are used to riding in the Portes du Soliel. Some cabins take bikes, some take people and some don’t take anyone at all. Also, they have “clean cabins”, so if you have any mud on your shorts, you have to wait for a “dirty cabin”.
The first time you go up, you do get a bit concerned for you bike, as you have to leave it at the bottom and hope the lifty will load it up for you. However, you soon get over it, while looking at the stunning view of Mont Blanc.
There is a similar system on the Chariande Express chairlift, however it doesn’t seem that organised. We spoke to one couple who had to wait 45 minutes for their bikes at the top. This is because, only some chairs have bike carriers and you have to wait for them to come round again.
Note: When riding to the chairlift, we had to lift our bikes over an electric fence, so be aware, as it is hard to see.
When mountain biking somewhere new, I like to take it easy on the first run. This is because, trail grading varies everywhere. If you have ridden a blue run in Morgins and a blue run in Les Gets, you will understand. So to ease ourselves in, we headed for a blue run from the top of the mountain. We aimed for piste 12, also called Le Dahu.
Unless you are riding with kids, I really wouldn’t bother with this one. It has amazing views of the valley, but it is pretty much fire road along ski slopes all the way back to the top of the têlecabine. It is ideal for hikers, but not that interesting for mountain biking.
Rather than heading back up to the top, we decided to try Le Dian Dian. This is a blue run that takes you all the way back to Samoëns. It is broken up in to sections by the snaking mountain road, cutting in and out of various parts of the forest. This is a fantastic trail!
Mountain biking in Samoëns offers quite a contrast to riding the majority of marked trails in the Portes du Soleil. Rather than smooth (ish) berms and jumps, Samoëns is very natural, with lots of roots and rocks. It is super fun!
Le Dian Dian, is quite technical, with a couple of steep sections to keep you entertained. You can test the water by dipping in and out of the red run, La Char, that runs parallel for most of the way. These parts offer up a few fun sections with optional jumps, extra rocks and roots to navigate or jump over.
There was quite a bit of rain a couple of days previous to our day out. According to someone we spoke to, a lot of the trails were unridable the day before due to the amount of mud.
Unfortunately, this weather had meant that some runs were closed, but La Char was riding brilliantly. There were a few muddy sections to clog up the tyres, but this added to the fun.
These two trails take you though little hamlets and farms all the way down the mountain. Therefore, if you find yourself riding through someone’s back garden, don’t worry, you are not lost.
How to ride the trails
When riding these trails, speed and momentum in the right places is your friend. It is best to tackle the technical sections with a bit of speed and off the brakes. This way, the difficult bits are done and dusted, and you are less likely to get in to difficulty. Letting the bike run a bit is actually easier than fighting to slow it down, and you will use less energy.
Going in with some speed is fine in most cases, this is because the trails are so quiet. We saw a maximum of five groups of riders all day, so the likelihood of you catching up to someone is quite low. Additionally, it would be quite rare for you to feel pressure from someone coming up behind you.
However, be on the look out for hikers, especially towards the bottom. You really don’t want to plough in to one that has just popped out from behind a tree.
It is worth noting, that the lifts close from 1pm to 2pm for lunch. So, you need to plan to eat your lunch at the top with views of Mont Blanc, or in one of the cafés and bars in Samoëns.
After lunch, we headed back to the top so we could ride in to neighboring Morillon. To do this you need to take the Perce-Neige blue run, (piste 10 on the map). The top is a wide ski slope, with impressive views overlooking the valley. It is easy to see why the Grand Massif area is popular with paragliders. Along this part, just watch out for the numerous drainage ditches that run along the trail as you descend. They are just big enough to catch your front wheel and send you over the bars if you get it wrong.
The sign posts at the top aren’t the best, so they are easy to miss. But if you just carry on riding you will come to the top of the Les Esserts chairlift. This services a great blue run called Monchu (piste 19), it is quite steep in places, with some techy bits that are great fun to pick your way through.
We headed back up the Les Esserts lift, to take the La Marvel blue (piste 11) trail to Morillon. To be honest, this is a green run in my book. There was a sort of slalom course set up for Fat Scooters, although it was quite fun, I would probably choose a different route next time.
Morillon 1000 to Samoëns
The route from Morillon 1000 is brilliant fun! It is a flowy single track that snakes its way through the forests. There is nothing difficult on this trail. The surface is made up of smooth packed dirt and pine needles, giving you loads of grip allowing you to push yourself. Which is quite nice after absorbing all those lumps and bumps on the other trails.
This trail follows the main mountain road, but taking a more direct route than the cars. I had a nice little race with a BMW, as we kept meeting at all the hairpin bends.
Once you get to the bottom of Morillon, you need to pedal up the road for about 5km. There isn’t much of a climb, so it isn’t too arduous.
Back in Samoëns
At the bottom of the Grand Massif Express, there is a free bike wash. This is ideal as you don’t need to get your car dirty. It is used a lot when it is muddy, this is because the lifty won’t let you back on the lift with a dirty bike. I can’t imagine how that would go down in Morzine!
Should you go Mountain Biking in Samoëns?
Samoëns has very different atmosphere than the resorts in the Portes du Soleil. Considering how great and technical the trails are, it is not a mountain bike town like Morzine. Which adds to its charm. Once you get used to the slower pace of the lift system, and the fact you are not doing “quick fire” downhill runs in quick succession, mountain biking in Samoëns is great.
If you are a regular visitor to the Portes du Soleil and you fancy something different, I would recommend a day trip during your stay. It is a very different style of riding, and the terrain will definitely make you a better rider.
From what I understand, it is also a great holiday destination. Samoëns itself is a pretty old world village. With lots of things to do. White water rafting, paragliding, hiking, swimming and adventure parks are just some activities you can do during your stay.
I was speaking to a guy from Shropshire on the chairlift, and asked him why he chose Samoëns over a resort in the Portes du Soleil. He said that it is a good place to bring his family, with all the things to do. He added that the town isn’t too in your face when it comes to mountain biking, which is good for his wife and daughter. This became apparent when we stopped for a drink in town after our ride. We were the only ones covered in mud in the square.