Centrally located in the Portes du Soleil
Words by James Mcknight & Photography by Ben Winder
Châtel, which sits centrally in the Portes du Soleil area (the network of interlinked resorts including Morzine, Les Gets, Morgins and Champéry), has a rich network of 20 purpose-built trails (about 45km total) ranging from gentle rollercoasters to enormous hucks and steep tech. While there is relatively little for beginners to ride, intermediate to pro riders will have a field day here. Châtel has one of the most progressive bike parks out there.
Two chairlifts access Châtel’s trails. The lower lift, Pierre Longue, takes riders up to a mid-point plateau at 1600m. This lift has been replaced for the 2019 season, offering a brand-new six-seat chair with space for two bikes per chair. The upper lift, Rochassons, takes riders further up the mountain to 1900m. Both lifts access a multitude of trails, and rides on the upper mountain easily link into lower trails. Views stretch far and wide from the high point atop Rochassons. Indeed, from here it is possible to drop off the other ride of the hill and quickly access the area’s other resorts. But we’re here for Châtel, and there’s certainly plenty to keep riders occupied.
Chatel Bike Park
Let’s take it from the top: The Panoramic trail skirts around the top of the mountain, a super mellow track with berms and small jumps, perfect for first runs and realistically the only beginner-friendly ride in the bike park. Also departing directly from the top of Rochassons is Haute Tension – an exposed, steeper track with endless massive berms and the odd rocky tech fest along its route – as well as several other trail options.
But it is the Vink Line, shaped by Nico Vink himself, that is bringing a lot of attention and riders to Châtel at the moment. Drop in from the top of the mountain and take on probably some of the best-crafted berms (huge and almost vertical sides) and hit-after-hit of doubles, tables, hips and transfers. It’s a super-fun track built so well that every feature links easily into the next. Another sign of its solid build is that it’s still fun to roll everything – so take a few laps to learn the turns and speed for each jump. The track is split into upper and lower sections, with a break halfway to either access the lower reaches or jump back on the Rochassons lift for another lap of its upper senders.
We'll let Nico show you what the Vink Line is all about...
Jump tracks and interesting features is certainly something Châtel is good at. Delve into the woods of the lower mountain and the likes of Air Voltage, Komatrautrail, Zougoulakata, and Black Shore – all graded ‘very difficult’ – harbour sizeable booters, drops and north shore sections. It’s a lot of fun riding around the park and discovering the hidden gaps and creative lines that have been built in as options to most of the tracks. Everything is very well crafted and signposted, but make sure to look before sending – trail team aren’t scared to include real gaps!
There's some pretty happy animals living around the bike park.
It’s not only the black-graded tracks that promise airtime. Pretty much every trail in the bike park (actually, every trail) is littered with optional or rollable tables, doubles, wooden kickers and drops. People, Fluid Line and Serpentine, all graded blue, are fun to ride for anyone but offer plenty of boosts for those who air, including a sizeable river gap under the lower chairlift (which is likely to be adjusted for 2019 due to the new lift installation).
In the woods on rider’s left of the lower slopes, several fantastic trails disappear steeply off the side of blue-graded Serpentine. These black-graded trails – Gueps, Dré dans l’Pentu, Coup d’Fouet, Bike Patrol, and Cha-Nada – comprise plentiful tree roots, tight turns, natural jumps and super steep sections. They are superb tracks that had been freshly reworked when we rode the park, the soft earth in their hand-sculpted berms testament to the quality Châtel’s Bike Patrol (the trail team) expect of their creations.
Talking of Bike Patrol, it’s worth noting that Châtel has a dedicated team of eight shapers who work full-time during the summer and in the run-up and wind-down to the season. The team is fronted by Gary Guyard, who has been head of Bike Patrol here for two years. Gary comes with a pedigree – he was head shaper at Schladming (Austria) before moving back to his native France to boss it at Châtel. The team take care of more than shaping: they also take turns to spend the day riding around the park making sure everything is running smoothly, helping with casualties, and checking spots that might need some work. It is clearly a well-run operation – the trails are in great condition, especially considering the amount of traffic they receive.
If you’re into progressing your riding, Châtel’s open-to-all slopestyle course, complete with two massive ramps to woodchip landing, is the perfect place to session those half-back flips (we witnessed quite a few – woodchips seemed to do their job). There’s also a pumptrack in the trees just below the main car park that makes for a great evening hangout. Where to stay
With Châtel town center located 6km from its bike park, there's not a great deal of accommodation within walking distance, but a regular bus service connects the town to the bike park. The bike park also houses a large free car park which makes driving straight to the lift easy. So, what are the lodging options?
Just a couple of kilometers down the road is the 1861 Hostel, which was where we stayed. There’s a great vibe, bar, good food and affordable prices for private rooms or beds in shared dorms.
Otherwise, there are abundant chalets and hotels in Châtel, and staying in town means you can make the most of its charming center and range of bars and eateries. You’ll need to drive or catch one of the regular free shuttle buses to ride the park, but there is abundant parking space at the lift and buses run early till late.Events
July 25th - 28th will see the fourth edition of the popular Reboul Jam take place at Châtel’s bike park. This event is focused around the park’s slopestyle course, although in 2018 there was a downhill race. Despite that, the vibe is more a hangout and ride the entire park (thus ‘Jam’) than anything overly competitive. Gary Guyard told us of plans for further races and fun additions to the Jam in future.
The Passportes du Soleil – a huge non-competitive event and festival – will be based in Châtel for 2019. This means exhibitor stands, food, drink, and loads of likeminded riders hanging out in town. It’s a great opportunity to trial bikes, and Guyard also mentioned some test tracks being shaped in the town center for it – perhaps the start of trail expansion back into Châtel’s itself, where the valley’s original downhill tracks were situated some time ago.Other info
Ticket price (Full Portes du Soleil area): 1 day = €28; 7 days = €126. Children’s, Junior and Senior discounts available
Season: mid-late June to early September
Airport: Geneva (Switzerland)
Activities: Try the Deval Karts (wear a decent helmet!)
Bike shops: Several shops in Châtel, or for spares there is a small setup at the lift
Mountain food: Fantaski, situated at the top of the lower chairlift, is a popular rider hangout
Evening eats: Le Hors Piste serves a range of food from pizzas to falafels to deep-fried macaroni cheese
Watering hole: Nazca Bar, a lively hangout for locals and visiting riders alikeChatel Bike Park mountain biking trails
Pinkbike would like to thank:Chatel Bike Park
To learn more about biking at Chatel Bike Park or to book a trip visit, Chatel Bike Park