Friday, 9 September 2011

What is the Morzine Experience?

What is the Morzine experience? Morzine is adrenaline and concentration; Morzine is peace and relaxation; Morzine is chilling on the lift; Morzine is breaking bumps and berms; Morzine is cooked brakes, and tired legs; Morzine is croissant and coffee for breakfast; Morzine is a remote lunch on a summit; Morzine is f**k I can't ride that; Morzine is f**k I rode that :-); Morzine is go big or go home, Morzine is stepping up. Oh and Morzine is steep!

About ten years ago someone had a brainwave; the bright idea that ski lifts need not chocolate teapots throughout the summer months; a short welding job later and uplifted mountain biking was born. It's simple really, put bike on lift... lift goes up.... cycle down.... repeat. Biking made easy roadies will say; biking for the lazy thrill-seeker; they are wrong I was there four days and was shattered every evening.

Spot the riders
Morzine was the first place to buy into this in a big way converting pretty much the entire Portes du Soiel ski area into a huge summer bike park. One waymarked route an 80 km tour of the entire area, is comprised of 80% downhill, 10% level and 5% uphill. That’s 65km of downhill in a day, EPIC!

The first thing you notice when you rock up at the bottom of the lift on day one all full of excitement to get involved with the trails is quite how meaty everyone else's bikes look. Some of them have suspension that would not look out of place on a car; massive amounts of travel front and rear; the kind of think that looks like you could probably cycle over rocks, animals, badly place hikers, cars and not really notice.

Now I don't own one of these behemoths, and had arrived armed with my new hardtail, brilliant in the UK; here??? The awful feeling of being under prepared multiplied when I noticed what everyone else is wearing. Did I have a full face helmet? No. Did I have body armor? No; knee pads? No; elbow pads? I think you get the picture.

Berm, baby, berm

Feeling slightly under prepared, rather like a man who has turned up to play Rugby in a pair of speedos I decide to spend the first day getting used to the riding on some easy runs. Helpfully the trails (shown on a free map) are graded green = easy; blue = intermediate; red = difficult; black = very difficult. In my experience what this actually translates to is:

Green = Need a sit down at the bottom;
Blue = Need a stiff drink at the bottom;
Red = Need clean pants at the bottom;
Black = Need miracle to get to the bottom (whilst still attached to bike);

The trails can be rutted with breaking bumps and littered with kickers and doubles, tabletops and huge berms. Usually there are chicken runs round the really hard stuff but really all the lines are steep and they are committing. Confident and aggressive (not reckless) riding pays dividends smoothing out the bumps a bit and building confidence that you can do this. The longer runs down the ski access roads are less steep and very fast but they be loose and the corners unexpectedly tight. Basically there are no free lunches here.

Double: Avoided these!

I had a great time, it was a step up and a challenge to ride these trails. It’s also amazing value 65 euros for a four day lift pass for the entire area. So go to Morzine it’s brilliant. A recommendation: buy a proper full face helmet. In the end the feeling of nakedness got to me, the normal cycle helmet just felt so flimsy on my head. This coupled with the fact that I was only mid way down the queue when looks were being handed out meant I felt I really could not afford to land on my chin and make the whole situation worse. Shopping ensued.

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