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Travel report: Les Arcs, France - Part 1

[Part 2]

We booked our mountain biking holiday in Les Arcs, France, already in early-December 2012 after contacting Chris at Trail Addiction. The company is well established, having organised guided lift assisted alpine singletrack descents in Les Arcs since 2003. Since 2011, Trail Addiction has offered packages also in the Areches-Beaufort area. We spent the last week of August 2013 riding in Les Arcs.

Les Arcs in Tarentaise Valley
Les Arcs is located in Tarantaise Valley in Savoie, France. Together with Peisey-Vallandry and La Plagne it combines to create a major mountain biking area in summer and a ski-area (known as Paradiski) in winter.

Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandy constitute an uninterrupted riding area on one side of the valley. La Plagne is located on the opposite side of the valley and has been since 2003 connected to the Les Arcs / Peisey-Vallandry area by the Vanoise Express, a cable car stretching a distance of 1800m almost 400 meters above the valley. Les Arcs / Peisey-Vallandry area is usually referred simply to as Les Arcs.

The biggest village in Les Arcs is Bourg-Saint-Maurice, or simply Bourg, with population of around 8000 people. It is located at an altitude of 800m. The highest mountain peak at the area, Mount Pourri, reaches reaches 3779m. The lift system starts from Bourg at 800m with the highest lift running to 3226m in winter. In summer, the highest altitude reachable by the lift system is 2700m, translating a maximum lift assisted vertical descent of 1900m in summer. In La Plagne side of the valley, the lifts run from 1250m upwards.

Bike Park Les Arcs
Les Arcs / Peisey-Vallandry Bike Park brochure list 8 DH runs, 5 enduro and 5 XC trails, and 10 lifts in operation during the summer. On the other side of the valley, in La Plagne, there are a few more marked trails. During our stay, there were at least one or two lifts running in La Plagne (we used only one). The lifts ran from 8.30 am 7.30 pm. While some lifts opened later and ceased operation earlier, most lifts were running between 9 am and 4.30 pm. We paid a very reasonable EUR 80 for a 7-day lift pass.

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Saturday, August 24
Our flight landed at Geneva airport according to the schedule at 10:10 am. After having picked up our bikes and other gear we liaised with Chris from Trail Addiction. We took our gear to Trail Addiction's minibus / trailer, and thereafter had just enough time to grab some fresh coffee and sandwiches while waiting for a few riders from the UK to arrive.

Chris told as that the ride to Les Arcs would take some two hours, depending on the traffic and weather. The sky was dark and brought to us distant memories from mid-June when we spent a few days in Åre, Sweden, in a pouring, non-stop rain. We had been driving towards Les Arcs only some 5 minutes when a heavy shower brought the traffic to a complete standstill. After some 10 minutes of waiting we could again continue towards our destination, a small village of Peisey at an altitude of around 1500m.

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Photo: With the storm behind us, we continued towards Les Arcs.

We arrived at our destination, a smalla village of Peisey, in early afternoon. While the weather was clear in Les-Arcs upon our arrival, clouds started to gather soon again. In fact, the weather forecast for the coming days was less than perfect, relatively cold with high likelihood of rain.

Trail Addiction runs two chalets in Les Arcs. We had booked the Eagle's Nest, a chalet with seven bedrooms sleeping up to 16 guests. Our room was large and had a sizeable private balcony with nice panoramic views to the valley. In the chalet, there was a large dining and sofa are in upstairs with some snacks and drinks available for a small cost throughout the day. The chalet had also a garage with a workshop area and bike storage racks.

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Photo: View from one of many balconies of the Eagle's Nest.

We used the afternoon and early evening to put together our bikes and to socialise with our fellow riders, most of whom were from the UK. While some of them had taken a flight to Geneva, several had spend some 12 hours riding a car from Chalais after cross in the Channel Tunnel.

In the evening, all riders, most of them from the UK, gathered for the dinner to enjoy some tasty soup, meat and mud cake for dessert. During the dinner, several people (a guide, a mechanic, cooks) briefed us about the coming days, both about practical issues and what to expect from the riding. Riding groups for the first day of riding were also announced.

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Photo: Putting together our bikes in the garage of Eagle's Nest upon arrival to Peisey.

Sunday, August 25
After a thunderstorm at night, we were happy to note that the rain has ceased when we woke up at 7 am, just in time to sort out the riding gear before the breakfast. Looking at the weather forecast we were quite uncertain on what would be a proper clothing and what to pack in your 14L Osprey pack. The morning was quite chilly and according to the forecast, there were a fair chance of a rain during the morning hours. Our riding group was set to ride trails with minimum pedalling. While we wanted to have both knee and elbow pads, we were quite uncertain whether to wear a POC VPD 2.0 protection jacket with an integrated protection for chest, back, shoulders and elbows or just separate elbow protectors. We were also guessing whether to wear a TLD D3 or A1 helmet. We decided to go for the VPD 2.0 and D3 combo for a maximum protection, and also wear a warm jacket.

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Photo: Ready to ride in the first morning after the breakfast.

During our first uplift from Peisey at 1300m to Vallandry at 1600m, it was clear that warm clothes were spot on in this weather. After leaving the first lift, which is free for everybody, we bought lift passes. We felt that EUR 80 for a 7-day pass was relatively cheap. From there, we rolled along an asphalt road a minor descent for a few hundred meters to the next lift where the actual trails system starts. The second lift took us to around 2100m. From there, it was about the time for the the first descent of the day. The scenery was fantastically nice despite the still cloudy weather that covered most of the snowy mountain tops with the highest peak in this area, Mont Pourri, reaching 3779m.

The first descent was an intermediate (according to Les Arcs' own classification) line called Woodstock that started in open ski slopes before soon entering forest trails. It was very enjoyable riding for the first descent here in Les Arcs. The trail took as back to Vallandry at 1600m. By lunchtime, we did two more descents using the same lift but each time descending along different trails.

Lifts at Les Arcs close during the lunchtime, between around the noon and 1 pm. During the lunch, our guide, Garreth, asked if we would like to join another group guided by Dave. One member of our group had a pure DH rig, which was clearly less than perfect in twisty single tracks we had ridden so far, not to mention some rare parts of pedaling that was involved. Altogether, we were very happy to see that our guides were proactive and made their best effort to change the groups to maximize enjoyment for all riders.

After the lunch we ascended back to 1600m but this time to the other side of the mountain to Bourg-Saint-Maurice at an altitude of around 800m. The very last part of the descending to 800m involved a few minutes of asphalt riding. Our new guide, Dave, was a very nice and talkative person. He told that he had just moved back to Europe after having spent four years riding and guiding in New Zealand.

At Bourgh, we waited for some 20min for Funiculaire, a cable car that runs to an altitude of 1600m. There we changed to a chair lift Cachette that rises to 2160m, the highest point of today's riding. From there we rode the DH track, descending back to 1600m. While the DH track was marked black, it was easily rideable for our whole group. Now it was time for the last uplift of the day back to 2160m. Then we descended the first part along the DH track before departing to a single track that finally took us back to our chalet at 1300m where we arrived at around 4:45pm.

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Photo: Funiculaire cable car from 800m to 1600m was followed by a chairlift took us to the highest point of today's riding at 2160m, the inception of the DH track.

Before our usual 7:30pm dinner, we made some fine tuning to our bikes, as did many other fellow riders. While we had adjusted our suspension back home some two weeks ago, we felt that the suspension was less than perfect. Tomorrow will show whether it will be better.

All in all, the first day of riding met or even exceeded our high expectations. Our guides were professional and nice with equally nice fellow riders. It is so pleasing to see how the mountain biking brings together people from different parts of the world, from different ages and from different backgrounds. All sharing the same enthusiasm for our beloved sport. Discussions on breaks and during uplifts tended to focus on bikes and trails. Really pleasing indeed. Also nice to note was the diversity of trails and the nice scenery. It almost felt that the scenery itself would have warranted longer stops just to enjoy great views to the valley and the opposite mountains.

Today stats:

Highest point: 2165m
Vertical descent: 4520m
Number of descents: 6
Time on the bike: 6h

Monday, August 26
We waited for the second day of riding at least as enthusiastically as the first one. Already from our 7am wake-up the weather looked much more premising that yesterday. The day started again with two uplifts that took us to 2100m. Unlike yesterday, we were able now see the top of Mont Blank.

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Photo: The sky was much clearer than yesterday towards Mont Blanc.

Our riding group today consisted only of three guys and our guide Dave. After a few minutes of descending we stopped and Dave pointed a new trail that a local farmer had just finished building. Dave told us that the farmer loves to build trails for mountain bikers at his free time even though he doesn’t ride by himself. What a nice guy! From the very beginning of the new trail we could feel yesterday’s riding in our muscles. In fact, yesterday was our our second enduro / DH riding day since late-June with our riding plans since then having been largely ruined by ankle problems. This first descent on this new trail rewarded us not only by some great single track but also great views to the valley, probably the most beautiful views so far.

After an uplift to 2100m, we descended towards the cable car station in Bourg at 800m but this time using a different route than yesterday. Today’s route was favoured especially by those of us who were riding pure DH rigs because it didn't involve even any minor climbing unlike yesterday.

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Photo: In Funiculaire cable car on a way from 800m to 1600m.

At 2160m we started the third descent of the day but this time not along the DH track we had ridden yesterday. Instead, we headed to a twisty forest trail with numerous switchbacks. After the extremely rewarding descent it was time for the lunch with lifts closing for an hour or so, as they do every day.

After a lunch and a cup of coffee it was again time to take the cable car to 1600m. The fourth descent was again in the same area as the previous one but again along a different trail.

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Photo: Our guide Dave with two younger fellow riders. Great descent ended with an asphalt road that took as back to the cable car station in Bourg.

The fifth descent of the day started again at 2160m with first few minutes on the DH track before departing to another trail that led us to 1600m. It was time for the last uplift of the day. From 2100m the first part of the descent was on the same trail we had ridden in the morning. Somewhere in the middle we departed once again to a new trail. At this time, the days' riding started we feel and we had some harmless tumbles with laughs. Dave told us that a part of this last descent was known as a "derailleur killer" due to its numerous nasty rocks, strategically positioned and ready to rip off the derailleur of a careless rider. Luckily we arrived at our home village without any technical cliches.

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Phote: Ready to negotiate the "derailleur killer" in the last descent of the day.

Overall, today's riding was equally or even more satisfying that that of yesterday. Great variety of trails with only small parts of some trails being repetition from yesterday. Also, none in our small group suffered any flats either yesterday or today despite quite rocky trails with many razor sharp rocks in some parts. Back in the village it was time for a cold beer in the only pub still had its doors open in our village for this last week of the riding season.

Today’s stats:

Highest point: 2165m
Vertical descent: 5545m
Number of descents: 6
Time on the bike: 7h