The Passportes du Soleil event takes place every June. It is a mountain bike tour of the whole Portes du Soleil in the Haute Savoie region. This area is huge and incorporates 12 “ski” resorts across the French – Swiss border.
What is the Passportes du Soleil
The Passportes du Soleil is an off-road ride that takes you to all the resorts in the Portes du Soleil. It is a really good way to experience all the terrain that the area has to offer. Because the area is so big, the terrain varies a great deal. This event also takes you to some of the best views in the alps.
The route normally varies each year. This is due to how much snow has fallen over the winter, which affects access to the trails. It is an 80km ride, but that does include chairlift rides that link the sections of the route. But don’t expect to not need to pedal. You will climb 1000m on this ride.
If you fancy it, you can add in extra loops to take on each area’s downhill trails for the full experience.
Your wristband gives you access to refreshment stops all the way round. At each stop, they serve some kind of Savoyard specialty. Think rosti, tartiflette and fondue! If you don’t consider melted cheese to be what your body needs, there are lots of sugary options to keep you going. You can even have a beer at each stop.
The great thing about your wristband, is that you can use it when you get back to the resort you are staying in. This means free beer and food, until it runs out after your ride!
The Bike Show
Every year the Passportes du Soleil has a bike show. This is where lots of top brands show off their mountain bikes, new tech, clothes and accessories. There are also some really nice start up brands, showing off their products. It moves each year to different resorts, but if you complete the whole ride, you will pass through it at some point, and get to have a look at all the goodies.
- There are a few thousand people that ride the Passportes du Soleil, so it is a good idea to get up early. You will need to get your wristband and number plate before you leave. Going early means that you will miss the queues.
- If you want to try a new bike at the bike show, you will need a credit card with a €3000 limit as a deposit. Just don’t break it.
- Even though there are refreshment stops, make sure you take plenty of water. You travel a long way and it has been known to be 30oC.
- As I write this, I can see the air ambulance landing near to the medical centre. This is happening every 30 minutes or so. Which reminds me to warn you about the drainage ditches that you will encounter all over the PDS. They are nothing to worry about, but you do need to be aware of them. They usually appear on fire roads every 100m or so, and cut across the trail. If you hit them wrong, they can easily send you over the bars, as they are roughly the same size as your front wheel. They catch many people out and cause lots of broken collar bones etc. When it is dusty, it is hard to see the ground, so keep a good distance from the rider in front of you.
What to Wear
If the weather is a bit wet, it can get very muddy and cold. So check the weather forecast before leaving, and go prepared. Don’t forget to check the forecast for the other resorts, because you can experience all four seasons in one day as you go round.
I wear the Bell Super 3 R helmet. It is ideal for riding the Passportes du Soleil, as it has a removable chin guard and is well ventilated. As I said before, it can get very hot and some extra air around your head will help on the long climbs. A lot of people wear open face helmets, but I prefer the versatility of being able to remove the chin bar for hot climbs.
What bike should I ride?
The bike you choose to do this ride on will make a difference to your day. Ideally you should have a bike with 140mm to 160mm travel, to ride in the Portes du Soleil.
If you can help it, don’t ride the Passportes du Soleil on a downhill bike. It is possible, but there is some climbing to be done. The weight and gearing of a downhill bike makes it extra difficult.
If you only have a hard tail, you will feel the benefit on the climbs as they are more efficient. However, the terrain is very bumpy and all that shock will go through your frame and in to you. The first time I rode the Passportes du Soleil, I did it on a hard tail because it was all I had. My bike survived without so much as a puncture, but I felt pretty broken. So a good full suspension bike is ideal.
Where to Stay
I live in Morzine and I believe it to be the best place to stay. This is because it is between Les Gets and Avoriaz, so it gives you easy access to the whole area. There are lots of great chalet companies that have catered and self catered accommodation.
Check out www.moremountain.com. These guys have excellent customer service, and their centrally located properties are super nice. They offer both catered and self catered options.
If a small independent chalet company is more your thing. Have a look at www.45degreesnorth.co.uk. These guys provide cycling holidays during the summer. They will really look after you and make sure you have a great time.
www.elevationalps.com have some great centrally located self catered properties in Morzine too. They provide a great service and are well worth contacting when booking your trip.
Should I do it?
You do need a certain level of fitness to ride the Passportes du Soleil, but it isn’t very technical. Therefore, you don’t need to be a mountain bike hero. The views are stunning, if the weather is good and there are some really fun parts. However, if you ride this kind of distance you need to expect the odd boring part. There are quite a lot of fire roads to pedal along that are not that inspiring. But you just need to look around and remember where you are.
I recommend that you should do this ride if you can. It is a great event, with a great atmosphere. Riding with friends is the best part, and you can have a great time chatting about the day’s shenanigans over a few beers afterwards. And who doesn’t like to do that?
You can incorporate the Passportes du Soleil in to part of your summer holiday. The alps are a fantastic playground, even if you are not in to mountain biking.
If you have any questions or comments on the Passportes du Soleil or the area, please leave them in the comments section below.