There is something absolutely magical about the Alps. The air is crisp and clean, the views are straight out of a postcard and the quaint mountain towns are a pleasure to spend time in. But above all else, the Alps are the ultimate place to shred. I had a chance this summer to rip some of the best spots in France and Switzerland and on the top of my list were Rochers de Naye and Grand Massif.Rocher de Naye
When choosing a riding itinerary in Switzerland, I always defer to my main man in the country - Alban Aubert. Alban is a Swiss pro-rider and all around rad guy who knows the Alps like the back of his hand. See where in the world Alban is at his website
When I mentioned that I was flying into Geneva, Alban told me to hop a train to Montreux and he'd meet me there. Little did I know what was waiting for me at the other side of an hour long train ride.
Without hyperbole, Montreux is probably the most beautiful city I've ever been to. Nestled between the Alps and Lake Geneva, Montreux is one of those places you have to see to believe. Right down to the medieval castle built on the water, this place oozes classic Swiss style. The crown jewel of Montreux is Rochers de Naye, the 6,500 foot mountain that towers over the city by the lake.
Alban greeted me heartily and explained how we'd be getting to the top. Rochers de Naye is accessed via a mountain cog train that climbs steep inclines that normal trains can not. As usual, the Swiss public transportation was extremely bike friendly and the train had a special cart to carry bikes, paragliders or any other kind of sports equipment you might want to take to the top of a mountain. Switzerland is paradise I tell you!
The views of the Alps, Lake Geneva and Montreux on the hour long trip to the top were worth the trip alone, but I knew that the best was yet to come. As we passed different stops on the way up, Alban pointed out the trail access points. Alban also explained that if we hopped out at different points we could shorten or lengthen the ride, as well as add or subtract technical bits depending on how we were feeling later in the day. "It's best to go from the top on your first couple of runs because you have the most energy," Alban advised.
There was no argument from me on going all the way from the top. It was crazy just to be at the top of this awesome mountain with the most beautiful views of Lake Geneva and the endless Alps across the water. "Over there is the Porte du Soleil," Alban pointed out. It was really neat to see other mountains I've ridden pointed out from new vantage points. But sight-seeing time was over- it was time to roll!
The ride down was pretty much the perfect grade to flow without much braking, unlike most of the Alps where riding your brakes is a way of life. I had my trusty Ibis HD and X-Fusion Vengeance 170mm fork, which work absolutely brilliantly together. There were a few pedally sections and Alban used a downhill bike for some of the runs and his enduro for others. The trails were pretty rocky and rough, but another friend mentioned to me once that he loved taking a hardtail there. Bring any bike you want to the Rochers and you will have a blast.
Alban and I did two runs from the top and then checked out some of the lower trails that can only be accessed from the lower train stops. We rode one that had tons of sweet tables and hits on it, no A-Line, but definitely a "more please" type of trail. It was a bit wet from the night before, so the steeper lines were a bit sketchy, but still do-able. If possible I definitely would recommend visiting Rochers de Naye when it's dry!
After a full day of shredding it was sweet to cruise through the beautiful streets of Montreux. The waterfront has an awesome promenade to chill out on and watch the sun set over serene Lake Geneva. If you have a sweet tooth there is plenty to enjoy in Montreux - the Swiss commitment to desert is unparalleled!Le Tour du Grand Massif
After a couple awesome days shredding with Alban, I hooked up with another great friend in Switzerland, Kris Dassi. Kris lives in Martigny, which is just a stone's throw from Chamonix and the majesty that is Mount Blanc. I stayed with Kris for a week, so we had plenty of time to check out some of the bike parks in Valais and Chamonix. Valorcine definitely stood out as a rad track, but anywhere around Mount Blanc is going to be fun.
On the last day I was in town, Kris got his crew together for an epic enduro called the Tour du Grand Massif. Basically the tour is a mega-day of lift assisted love around Mount Blanc. Kris had me sold me on the ride when he mentioned the endless backcountry enduro we'd be hitting between the five resorts of the Grand Massif.
To make the tour happen, Kris explained, it was essential that we catch first chair at Samoens and basically keep it pinned all day long. Aside from a baguette with brie, the only stopping we did was when we popped out of the backcountry and had to wait for a lift to take us to the next valley. Several of our crew were on full-on DH rigs, which were smoother in the choppy bikeparks, but when it came to the bits of climbing and traverses the enduro bikes shined. Again my HD was super sick on this type of adventure because I was able to hang with the boys in the bike park and the bike is light enough to hammer the climbs.
From Samoens we did some climbing and hit some of the enduro race course that was held at Samoens earlier in the summer. The track had some sweet whoop sections that looked like a crew of Oompa Loompa's built head high rollers on their off time from the Chocolate Factory. The steep sections on the track had me wishing for 8" rotors front and back, but it was one hands down some of the rowdiest riding I've done in a long time.
From Samoens we made good time to les Carroz, Sixt and Morillon. It was sweet seeing so many different views of Mount Blanc in one day. No matter how many times I've seen it, the vista of the massive glacier and the jagged peaks of the tallest mountain in Europe never gets old.
The backcountry trails that connected the resorts were some of the all-time best trails I've ever ridden. The rain from the night before turned the usually hard packed trails into hero dirt. We had a blast making our way over to Sixt, then headed to our final lift in Flaine.
The views of Mount Blanc from Flaine were the finest I've ever seen. At Flaine you can check out some crazy glacier cut rock with deep crevices. They are sketchy to ride on because these cracks go hundreds of feet undergound, so use your best judgement.
The ride back to Samoens from Flaine was the longest jump of the trip and had some really epic wide open descents. We passed herds of sheep and cattle and I gave them a nod of approval for the awesome trails they cut with their daily migrations. It's funny to think that we may have eaten some of the best trailbuilders on the planet for dinner that night!
All in all the tour du Grand Massif was a truly epic one day adventure. The resort riding was definitely decent, but for me the best moments were in the backcountry. I don't mind having to pedal a bit to get a healthy dose of buff alpine singletrack. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast at Flaine, les Carroz, Morillon and Sixt, but the unspoiled tracks in the wilderness of the Alps are truly something special. Do yourself a favor this summer and go and explore outside of the bike park. It definitely expanded my horizons and took me to some sweet spots that I'd never dreamed existed.
I had a lot of help getting this trip going and I'd like to give a big thank you to Alban and Kris for showing me an awesome time while in Switzerland as always. Check out Exoride
for more information on Kris' wicked guided trips around the Alps and the world. I also want to thank Hans Heim at Ibis Cycles, John Hauer at X-Fusion, Scott Boyd at the Hayes Group, Dustin Brady at Shimano, David Parrett at Thomson, Colby Young at ODI, Suzzette Ayotte at Fizik, Yarrow Dougherty at Lake Shoes, Erik Hauge at Dakine and Dave Watson at Sombrio for material support for my trip. My bikes would be just a pile of sweet parts without Jeremiah, Colin and all of the guys at Bert’s Bikes & Fitness in Tonawanda, NY dialing them in to perfection.