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Exploring France's Secret Bike Parks - Intro

Sep 20, 2021 at 23:05
by Matt Wragg  



They do things a bit differently in France. With the skiing boom of the mid-Twentieth Century, it wasn’t just the big resorts who got in on the act. Lots of small towns and villages decided they wanted in on the goldrush.

Being France, more specifically the sparsely populated departments in the southern part of the Alps, ideas like profitability and business sense didn’t get much of a look in. Tiny mom and pop resorts sprang up in all kinds of weird and wonderful places. In much of the world, these lifts would have been torn down when they failed to turn a profit, maybe further north where competition for space is way fiercer they would have too, but that’s not how they do things here.

bigquotesYou’re not going for everything you had ever hoped for, ready for all the family to keep you entertained for the whole holiday. Rather you’re looking for a feeling or a moment, something that puts a grin on your face.

This has left a series of small, weird ski resorts dotted across the southern part of the Alps, and some of them open for bikes in the summer. It is a world where braking bumps don't exist, the lift crew have time to chat to you and you can't be quite sure what is waiting for you at the top of that first ride up. There were so many small, human moments that just wouldn't happen in a big bike park. Like the crew in Reallon letting us use their shower because after three weeks living in the woods, hot, running water was a real luxury or sheltering from a storm in the lift cabin at Chabanon.


Montclar France Photo by Matt Wragg

Montclar France Photo by Matt Wragg
Montclar France Photo by Matt Wragg

Montclar France Photo by Matt Wragg


While the bigger resorts try and turn themselves into pale imitations of Whistler, Morzine or Aspen, focused on trying to keep holidaymakers in the resort for their whole stay, these small spots tend to be shaped by whatever the people who work there happen to be into. It’s hardly fair to call some of these spots resorts, even.

I can’t help thinking about it like big wave surfing. You’re not going to the beach to look for everything you had ever hoped for, ready for all the family to keep you entertained for the whole holiday. Rather you’re looking for a feeling or a moment, something that puts a grin on your face. Then tomorrow it’s onto the next spot looking for the next moment.

Maybe this idea of big wave surfing wouldn’t work for a conventional trip. After all, if you have to book accommodation and so forth, there needs to be something good where you’re paying to stay. However, if you can forgo this idea and pack everything into a vehicle you can sleep in, you have a whole constellation of small bike parks to explore. If you find something good, great, if not, just pack everything up and head onto the next spot.

We chose our trusty Jeep Cherokee with a James Baroud roof tent and a Thule 2-bike rack for our road trip. It’s not the best vehicle for long-distance driving as it starts to feel more than a little sketchy when you get over 100km/h, but for cruising around the alps it is ideal. Having a 4x4 worked better for us as it opens up more possibilities for camping spots. Every night could get lost in the quiet of the forest with nothing but the deer, boar and birds for company.


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg

Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg
Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


It’s not always easy to find these bike parks. After all, if business sense is a rare commodity, it follows that marketing and communication would be even scarcer - you should definitely brush up on your French before trying this kind of trip. The French website, 26in.fr, had a great bike park map listing many of these oddities, although they haven’t updated it in a couple of years so maybe that site is not running anymore. Beyond that, it is often a case of studying the map to see where there are ski lifts then following it up with a visit to their website or Facebook page (if they have them). Failing that, you have to just show up and see.

We found everything from the fastest lift we’ve ridden any bike park to a near-deserted lift that the operator had to crank up each time we wanted to go for a lap. Some had found the money to have in professional trail crews to at least sketch out the design of the park, others seemed to make it up as they went.

In bigger resorts that can afford a trail crew the individual contributions of each builder tend to be consumed by the overall. One voice amongst many. In these small stations, it is usually a single person looking after the trails, so you get a feel for their vision of riding. You can get into some of the deeper philosophical questions of our sport, like: is it the person who shaped the initial trail that gives it its character, or is it the person there week-in, week-out, shaping the edges and the lips that defines it?


Reallon France Photo by Matt Wragg


For this series we featured three of our favourite stops: Vars, Abries and Reallon. If we had more time it would have been great to shoot stories at Montclar, Chabanon and Le Sauze. and there so many other bike parks to explore in the region - at a rough count, there are maybe 20 bikeparks of differing sizes and styles between Briançon and Nice, and that is before you cross the border into Italy...

Author Info:
mattwragg avatar

Member since Oct 29, 2006
754 articles

57 Comments
  • 20 0
 What a great idea !
Our country is full of secret (or not so secret anymore) spots and bikepark everywhere. Sometimes with no budget at all, sometimes with enougth comodities to host a Crankworx event. But always with their own way to see things, their "local people", and sometimes a view or in a place you won't ever knew a bikepark could be possible !
  • 4 0
 I spent a lot of time living out the back of a van back in 2015 in Europe and the volume of hidden bikeparks/trails is unreal, even outside France! The riding is stunning and sometimes you'd literally have a whole park to yourself! This sort of comms gets traffic out of the known regions which are getting busier each year (Morzine etc) and spreads the traffic elsewhere which is good news on a lot of fronts. I just hope the real gems stay partially hidden (as the research, exploration and finding them is all part of the adventure!).
  • 3 0
 St Pierre de chartreuse has / had a mint bike park, excellent flan in the local town also !
  • 1 0
 @commentsectiontroll: Yes this place! Such a great spot!

I remember riding there, as far as I could tell had the place to ourselves that day. Lifties were happy to see us and camped right at the lift. Great stars at night, so dark away from the street lights
  • 1 0
 @commentsectiontroll: it was the mention of flan wot did it.
  • 1 0
 @GrandMasterOrge: I can’t say anymore, if Liam finds out my true identity the rouse is up
  • 7 0
 This year I was in the Drome region and discovered a mini bikepark on Col de Rousset. Nothing fancy but for € 15 you had a whole day of fun with some blue, red and black trails. If the French say black, it is BLACK btw Smile
  • 5 0
 Hi Matt, Great idea for good stories! Lots of small bikeparks in the area!.No lines on the lifts, chat with the crew. Easy! I will follow this series! I was in Abries with the kids in august when you were there.
  • 7 0
 Hmm...I wonder why the French dominate WC downhill.
  • 2 0
 Hey Matt,
thank you for this series in advance. The Alps are such a wonderful place in general, we can count ourselves very lucky to live in a place like that. I don t know much about this part of the Alps, as i m located in the very north of the mountains, so I m very pleased to read about your experiences. Will do my trip down there sooner than later Wink
Ride on
  • 1 0
 I live round these parts, and they are fantastic parks, maybe not the scale of the Northern Alps, but still enough at each place for a day of play, and plenty to keep going back for. Shame you didn't make it to Montclar or Les Orres as they are the highlights of the area, Vars is high and rocky, mainly nice and natural, but not real DH. It's not far to Digne to pop to Evo for a day either, which is another level of awesome. Hit me up next time Smile
  • 1 0
 @locoola merci c'est sympa pour l'invit'. On est dans le 06 et on adore Montclar (on a un super spot pour camper au dessus de Seyne) mais à chaque fois que l'on voulait shooter, on avait un pépin.
Les Orres et l'Evo c'est pas notre truc. Par contre on a adoré Chabanon et Le Sauze que l'on refera l'an prochain
  • 2 0
 Been living in Italy for 2 years, my favourite secret bike park is somewhere in Tuscany... Even people on the lifts in Canazei agree :p
  • 2 0
 This is fantastic! Well done Matt & Mary. We as a family have been doing this since 2014 and love every minute! Get out there folks!!
  • 1 0
 Really enjoyed this series... I lived in Germany for a number of years and loved exploring the alps. These articles remind me of the quiet places, off the beaten path, still to visit...
  • 2 0
 am i the only person who thinks roof top tents are a bad idea? everything else looks like a lot of fun...
  • 2 0
 Go on...
  • 1 0
 @flipoffthemonkeys - We didn't like that our tent essentially achored our pickup once we set it up so I modified a 4' x 6' angle iron trailer so we could disconnect and then set up the tent.
  • 2 0
 Like when you wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee and step off the roof, plus I think they would be cold as hell up off the ground.
  • 2 0
 I've never undersood why people not just use a conventional tent. Why put it on the roof?
  • 1 0
 @jacks0n0: probably because on a conventional tent however you put it you always end up with a root or rock on your back.

Also folding/unfolding the tent and not having to fix it on the ground is faster I guess (never used a roof tent).

The real question is provided you own a car why would you not use a roof tent (except for the price difference)? I don't see the downside (but I don't have one either).
  • 3 0
 @jacks0n0: Can't cruise around town with a conventional tent on top of the Hilux all week mate.
  • 4 0
 Yes, you are. The mattress is pretty much as comfortable as my bed at home... It also makes setup and moving simpler. Camping the way we did you're not really supposed to set camp, it's bivouacking, so you're supposed to be gone the next morning with no trace. Sure, you could do it with a lightweight setup, but it's not going to be as comfortable, anything that is as nice is going to be a LOT more work each night and morning.
  • 2 0
 @lowejw: wee in a bottle.
  • 1 0
 Really cool article Matt. We have a van ready and have covered most of Scandinavia now so a big trip down to the Alps is on the cards, this could make a great summer!
  • 1 0
 Did you manage to ride Montclar? I live near Embrun, sort of in the middle of all the secret bike parks you covered, and Montclar is my No 1 go to spot.
  • 1 0
 Yeah, we did a few days there, but it never came together to shoot it for this series.
  • 4 3
 "Its like people only do things because they get paid. and that's just really sad"

#EVOC
  • 2 1
 This is perfect. I'm planning a trip to Europe next summer. Off the beaten path might by fun!
  • 2 0
 oh man, I used to have a 2 door Cherokee in that color. Miss that thing.
  • 1 0
 my hometown ! and i didn't even ride most of these bikeparks, what a shame !
  • 1 1
 @Philthy503: no one invited you anyway, your trails probably suuck in oregon!lolololololol.
  • 2 1
 Hello Outdside! Nice to see you think I have money to travel
  • 2 5
 When I'm driving through the alps, I want to be in a car that's fun (or at least not horrible) to drive through the alps! Last time I was in France, Avis at Geneva airport didn't have the C series Merc I had booked, and kindly offered to "upgrade" me to a Jeep Compass SUV...hard pass on that! Kept them hunting around for another vehicle for half an hour until they finally gave up and handed me the key to a VW Arteon 240 R-line. Much more fun driving that through the mountains from Chamonix to Alpe d'Huez via La Thuile/Bourg Saint Maurice/Saint Jean de Maurienne and over the Col de la Croix de Fer.
  • 1 0
 Thankyou for your story.
  • 5 0
 The car I would like to tour tha alps in is a mk 1 Fiat Panda 4x4.
  • 1 0
 @Braindrain: Piaggio Ape FTW - maximum style points, minimum handling points, and you could even fit a couple of bikes in the back.
  • 2 0
 @inside-plus: Thankyou for saying thankyou. Sleep tight.
  • 1 0
 Oh man I miss my old Cherokee, wouldn't mind finding another.
  • 4 3
 Not so secret now...
  • 7 1
 France sucks don't go there. I hear Saskatchewan has all the good riding
  • 3 0
 @shreddie-eddie: I knew I was missing out on the proper riding spot in Canada!
  • 7 0
 @shreddie-eddie: Yes you're absolutely right, don't come in France, everything sucks, mountains sucks, bikepark sucks, EVERYTHING SUCKS! Go to austria instead.
  • 7 0
 Most of these bike parks host french enduro series rounds and are somewhat well known by french riders, this exposure won't hurt.

Last year, the parks near Nice were free all summer. I went to Isola 2000 multiple times, despite being a great little park with a good mix of blue/red/black trails, there was never a queue at the lift. As in literaly walk up into the cabin alone every single run. These places could use more riders!
  • 2 0
 @fracasnoxteam: no dont go to austria, sucks too go to whistler
  • 5 0
 @fracasnoxteam: Or go to the UK, fantastic weather, cheap gas, tasty food and astonishing bike park. Plus you can speak English and you not gonna be offended by ppl speaking another language!
  • 5 0
 @Ba1rog: totally! Listen to him UK people, go support your local bike park next summer! Morzine sucks, you should sell you chalet
  • 2 0
 @fracasnoxteam: without the British Overseas Territory of Morzine we would have fewer pro riders...
  • 1 0
 @fracasnoxteam: TBH Morzine is probably is the worse bikepark in the PDS, I just go to Avoriaz off season to do the jumps that is it. Chatel, Morgins and the freerides in Les Gets are way better.
  • 1 0
 @Ba1rog: don't tell them!
  • 2 2
 dang shit succcks, come ride in illinois it dosen' suck here!
  • 2 0
 No thanks.
  • 1 0
 oh hell yes.
  • 1 2
 Not secret anymore... Smile







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