Sainte Foy Mountain Biking
The forest surrounding the village and ski resort of Sainte Foy is riddled with singletrack heading off in all directions. The trails follow the routes of ancient transhumance paths, used to move cattle up and down the steep sides of the valley to and from the high summer pastures. This gives them a great gradient which is perfect for fast, flowy mountain biking. Sainte Foy is undoubtedly the best place in the valley for this kind of fast, off the brakes singletrack riding, with a healthy dose of technical challenges added in just the right places. It makes our local trails a great counter-balance to some of the steeper riding at Les Arcs or the purpose-built riding at Tignes.
This summer , the uplift service will once again be running all the way to the Arpettaz. For winter guests, that's all the way to the base of the 3rd chairlift (the Aiguille) at around 2070m, giving over 500m of vertical drop back to the chalet or a massive 1300m all the to the valley floor.
Virtually all of the local riding is in thick forest, with the tree-line here rising to over 2,000m altitude. From the top of the uplift, we can ride the sweet Spanish Armada trail down to the top of The Thin Red Line, gaving a total singletrack descent of a little over 500m vertical offering tight rooty singletrack, then becoming more rocky and technical as it starts to cross over the switchbacks in the forest road. A great descent feeling like the best of the Scottish or Welsh trail centres. From the bottom of Thin Red Line, a couple of minutes climbing leads to the top of Pott's Run. This trail is used by local mountain bikers as a bit of an unofficial downhill course. It starts off with tight, steep, technical riding including some rooty switchbacks before gradually opening out to a fast, steep finish. There are a few trail "modifications" of the wooden variety around too...
After riding Pott's, we would load our bikes back on the van and head back up to the Arpettaz. A quick blast down the Armada again, then take a different option to ride Crystal Dark, a more technical trail running parallel to The Thin Red Line and conveniently finshing right at the top of Whisky and Rye. This is one of my favourite trails anywhere and, for me, sums up everything that is great about Mountain Biking in Sainte Foy. The descent is over 500m vertical down to the main road in the valley bottom. Along the way there are sweet switchbacks, just tight enough to be testing without spoiling the flow. There are roots all over the place to pop and jump off, but it never becomes a soul-destroying off-camber rootfest. There are enough rocks to make it technical and interesting without it becoming a wrist-numbing bash down. Reminds me a lot of the classic finish to the Marin Trail at Betws y Coed, but with the dial turned up to 11. From the bottom of Whisky and Rye, we'd cruise down for lunch on the terrace at Le Monal bar down in Sainte Foy village. So in the morning we've done around 1,500m of vertical descending for a total of about 20mins climbing.
After lunch, the uplift van grabs us from right outside Le Monal and we're swiftly carried back up to the Arpettaz. This time we head off in the other direction and ride down through the ski area to the base of the new Marquise chairlift. From here, we drop the saddles and head into the trees on Chute to Kill. A wide singletrack trail littered with rocks and hanging onto the side of the mountain a little desperately at times takes us down to a clearing in the forest with trails heading off in all directions. We're spoiled for choice, but we hang a left and drop into The Beer Run. Tight, steep forest singletrack leads us over roots and down steep chutes and eventually drops us onto a remote road. From here, an unlikely combination of trails heads through tiny villages and back gardens yet always remains technical and interesting before a long final descent through technical rock gardens drops us back to Sainte Foy village and time for a beer at Le Monal before catching the last uplift of the day back to the chalet for cake.
That's a typical first day for us. Over 2,500m of vertical descending, virtually no climbing at all. Technical, rocky, rooty forest singletrack. Classic mountain biking, none of it man-made.
Other local mountain biking trails include:
The Anthill Mob
A short, steep climb from the bottom of the Marquise chair gives an alternate route down to the forest clearing. This is some of the most flowing, sweet forest singletrack I've been lucky enough to put the tyres of my Mountain Bike on.
Oh No! More Lemmings!
Named in tribute to a trail we once rode on holiday in Spain (and after a quirky computer game for those older/geekier than they'd care to admit), More Lemmings heads down from the forest clearing on a series of fun singletrack trails, before suddenly going through a section exposed to a vertigo-inducing drop. Fortunately the trail is wide at this point but there's no shame in walking this section (we do, we're scaredy-cats). Following the drop of doom, the trail heads left to make a superb, flowing traverse around the mountain. Fast singletrack is broken up by some technical rocky sections and, of course, one more butt-clenching piece of exposure. The trail eventually tags The Beer Run and the chance to head quickly down for a cold one to calm the shaky nerves, but we most often head the other way to the village of La Masure and the chance to ride The Ace of Spades.
The Ace of Spades
A short road climb up from the village leads to some fast woodland singletrack and a trail heading down. Some technical switchbacks lead to a junction. The right-hand fork immediately turns rocky and technical. This is The Ace of Spades. Rocky steps and slabs are everywhere, but it's all rideable if you keep your head. The gnarliest section saw some construction work by the Shred boys earlier this summer and is now surprisingly straight forward, although a stop to check the line on foot is still a wise plan. Things ease off after this, with some more steps eventually leading to smoother trails and a blast down to the road, conveniently opposite the Perce Neige bar/restaurant.
The Ace of Hearts
The left-hand fork on Ace of Spades leads to a slightly easier alternative - The Ace of Hearts. This trail features great flowing switchbacks and fast singletrack mixed up some technical roots/rocks and stream crossings. A local mountain biker & ski instructor (who shall remain nameless) is responsible for the extremely sketchy North Shore style bridges over some of the streams... This trail was blocked by some massive fallen trees for the first part of this season, but unknown helpful trail fairies have recently cleared it, allowing an unbroken blast from top to bottom. Combining Ace of Spades or Ace of Hearts with The Anthill Mob and Oh No! More Lemmings! gives a vertical drop of around 1,300m.
A Murder of One
This is another trail heading off from the famed clearing in the forest below La Marquise. A technical, up-and-down start on narrow singletrack sneaking along a steep hillside eventually leads to some of the best technical switch-backs around. Hanging a right on the final switchback leads to a tight, over-grown trail down to the village of Le Crôt.
There's Been Another Murder!
Staying on the switchbacks on A Murder of One leads left back across the mountain, on a long, long gently descending trail which eventually hooks up with the traverse below the cliff section on Oh No! More Lemmings. Riding the whole traverse in one big hit gives a flowing singletrack section over 3km long.