Frequently Asked Questions
Foy? Never heard of it!
So what's the riding like?
How far are you from the nearest lifts?
So what is there to ride in the rest of the valley?
Sounds good, how do I get there?
OK, I'm sold, what kind of bike should I bring?
Should I make any changes to my bike for riding in the Alps?
Do I have to bring my own bike or can I hire one?
What's a typical day like?
Can I come on my own?
How should I pack my bike for travelling?
Do I need a full-face helmet/pads/body armour?
What's the weather like out there in summer?
What guiding qualifications do you have?
Why is it important for my guide to be fully-qualified?
What gear do you recommend?
Sainte Foy is a small resort which has developed something of a cult following among skiers and snowboarders looking for untracked off-piste terrain or just fed-up with the lift queues and crowds of the more famous resorts in the Tarentaise valley. On a bike, it's the same. Endless singletrack and you'll be unlikely to see another rider all week. The resort is just off the road between Bourg Saint Maurice and Val d'Isere. The village of Sainte Foy has a couple of excellent restaurants and bars while the resort itself, a few kilometers up the mountain, has been built in the traditional style and is home to 4 chairlifts, a few bars and restaurants and enough chalets to welcome about 2500 visitors.
In short, superb. The resort has developed the mountain bike scene over the last few years and we've been lucky enough to have been involved with this from the start. There is now a network of marked trails, which we were heavily involved in mapping in collaboration with the local Tourist Office. Fortunately, our involvement in this process let us make sure we kept a few secrets! There are dozens of trails, many of which run from resort height or just above back down to the main village, meaning you can step out the chalet door and ride downhill right away on great trails.
During July & August, the resort operates a 4x4 shuttle service climbing as high as the top of the second chairlift at 2,100m. Better yet, this service also runs pick-ups from way down in the valley at Viclaire, giving us a massive 1300m vertical drop to play with (that's like riding from the summit of Ben Nevis back to Fort William - or in Alps terms, bigger than anything in Morzine!). All of the riding in Sainte Foy is on great singletrack, most of it fast and flowing but with a good sprinkling of technical rocky sections to keep you honest. Beyond Sainte Foy, we use our own van and trailer to explore the rest of the Tarentaise Valley. Click here for more info on the mountain bike trails in Sainte Foy, Les Arcs and the rest of the valley.
To the local (vehicle) uplift, it's about a 10-second roll downhill. When we're using the uplift systems elsewhere in the valley, it's about 20 mins in either direction to either the funicular at Les Arcs (see here) or the chairlifts at Tignes (see here).
From Sainte Foy, it's less than 30 minutes drive to Les Arcs, La Rosiere, Tignes or Val d'Isere. We can use the lift systems at any of these resorts to explore the terrain on offer at each of them. Tignes has several purpose-built downhill trails, which range from challenging to downright gnarly. Les Arcs also has DH trails, but also contains some of the best natural singletrack anywhere, most of it way beyond the marked bike trails. We also use the van to climb to high altitudes on the road passes and ride wild singletrack deep in the backcountry, far from any resort. Val d'Isere is developing it's mountain bike scene, having played host to the French national championships in 2010 and we also frequently pop across the Italian border to ride at La Thuile. Taken as a whole, the Tarentaise must surely represent one of the best mountain biking areas in the world.
There are several ways to get here. By plane, the easiest airport to fly to in the summer is Geneva, about a 2.5hr transfer away. We run our own transfer mini-bus from Geneva every Saturday, this is included in your holiday price. See here for more details. To drive takes around 10hrs from Calais and it's a pretty easy cruise on the motorway most of the way down. Click here for directions. The alternative way of getting here is by train. If you live in or near London, this can be a great way to get to the Tarentaise valley. For example, you could get on the Eurostar on a Friday evening, change to a sleeper train in Paris and arrive in Bourg St Maurice at 7:30 on Saturday morning. This way, you get an extra day's riding in. Repeat the process on the way back and all of a sudden you've changed a weeks trip from 6 days riding when travelling by plane to 8 days riding when taking the train! Pricing this up for a weekend in June costs around £190 return (£99 for the Eurostar and €112 for the trains between Paris and Bourg Saint Maurice), almost certainly cheaper than a flight + bike bag charges + airport transfer.
We recommend an all-round full-sus bike with around 125mm of travel. Stevo now rides an Orange Alpine 160 and Iona rides a LaPierre Spicy, both of which are right at home here. That said, we'll get you to the trails that you want to ride and therefore suit the bike you want to ride. There's loads of trails which are a lot of fun on a decent hardtail. Equally, there's plenty of stuff to get crazy on with a full-on DH bike.
I make any changes to my bike for riding in the Alps?
Yes! It's possible to make some minor changes to your bike which will really make a difference without breaking the bank. The single biggest one is tyres. You will almost certainly be riding trails which are rockier, steeper and a lot longer than the trails you ride at home. Bigger tyres will give you extra grip, extra cushioning and, most importantly, extra protection against pinch flats. Get the biggest tyres which will sensibly fit in your frame. We recommend Maxxis High-Rollers and Minions. If you can, consider going tubeless. Stevo ran Maxxis 2.5" DH tyres on a UST tubeless setup throughout the summers of 2009 and 2010 (High-Roller front, Minion rear) and didn't suffer a single puncture for the whole of those 2 seasons (except when forced to run inferior tyres when his own rear wheel was knackered!). If you can't go tubeless, get some DH tubes. Aside from tyres, take a look at your brakes. If you're running tiny 160mm rotors and you're not a 9-stone whippet, consider getting some bigger rotors (you'll need new mount adapters as well). The extra stopping power is a bonus, but the main advantage is the reduced risk of your brake fluid boiling! In our experience, Avid Juicies are particularly prone to this, but we've seen it happy to most brands of brakes with the wrong rotor/rider combination. You'll also want to be able to drop your saddle all the way down. If you have a frame with an interrupted seat-tube, or one of those bendy Thomson posts, you might want to think about buying a cheap seat-post and chopping it down so that you can drop the saddle all the way to the top-tube!
The cheapest source of rotors and mounts to upgrade your brakes is probably SuperStar Components .
We strongly recommend that you bring your own bike. You'll be doing some challenging riding and it's always best to be used to the bike you're on and be confident in its abilities (and its limits!). Having had issues with the local hire shops, we've invested in our own small fleet of hire bikes. See our extras page for details. All the same, we'd always encourage you to bring your own bike. If it isn't up to the job, maybe this is just the excuse you needed for an upgrade? ;-)
There's no such thing as a typical day here! ;-) Seriously, there's 3 types of riding day which you're likely to encounter here. The simplest is a day spent riding the local trails at Sainte Foy. When the uplift is running, you'll use the vans to gain a bit of height, then do a couple of quick laps before making the descent of over 1,000m vertical down to Sainte Foy village or beyond. Grab some lunch at a restaurant down there, then pile into the van to shuttle back up to the resort and do it all again. Other days, we'll load up the van first thing and head out to Tignes, Les Arcs or La Rosiere to use the lift systems there to hit up sweet singletrack or gnarly DH courses, depending on what you're in the mood for. Finally, we might take the van and head out on one of the roads leading out of the valley to pick up a trail head. With or without further help from the van, we'll clock up miles and miles of empty singletrack before arriving back at the valley floor, knackered, where the van will do its stuff again to get us back to the chalet for a cool beer. And cake. Lots of cake.
Yes! Lots of our guests come on their own. There are no single supplements to pay unless you want to guarantee a room to yourself.
Here's a quick guide:
- Get yourself a bike bag or blag a box from your local bike shop. We reckon the bags from Chain Reaction Cycles are pretty good.
- Remove your wheels. Put something between the drop-outs to stop the frame/forks getting bent in during transit. There are plastic spacers made for this purpose that you should be able to blag from any bike shop (take donuts with you...).
- Remove the brake rotors from your wheels and pack them somewhere well padded (e.g. in with your clothes). Don't forget to pack the rotor bolts!
- Put something in between your brake pads so that the pistons don't get pumped out if the levers get pressed in transit. Ice-lolly sticks, coins, even the wee plastic things made for the job have all been used successfully!
- Remove your rear derailleur and cable-tie it to the inside of the chainstay so that it's out of the way.
- Remove the pedals.
- If you're feeling lazy, stop now, put the bike in the bag and head for the airport!
- Get some polystyrene pipe lagging and cable tie it round the frame tubes to protect them from damage.
- Remove the handlebars and cable tie them to the top tube.
- Pad the bottom of your chainring so that it doesn't eat through your bike bag.
- Put the whole lot in your bag/box!
Generally, we reckon all these things are personal choices and that you know yourself if you're going to be pushing hard enough to need the extra protection. We wear leg/arm pads all the time. They strap easily onto our packs for the rare occasions when we do any climbing and it only takes a few seconds to put them on for the descents. We wear body armour and full-facers if we're going for a non-stop charlift-assisted DH day in Tignes or Les Arcs. A few things that are worth bearing in mind as you make your own decision:
- On a normal ride at home, you probably spend 80% of your time climbing and 20% descending (if you're lucky). Out here it'll be more like 90% descending, so carrying pads won't make for any weight penalty and you'll be travelling fast for a much bigger portion of your time.
- Alpine trails are often steeper and with nastier consequences than UK trails
- You don't want to miss any riding time because you've had a minor spill and cut your shin or arm.
In short, a normal helmet and some decent (preferably full-finger) gloves are the absolute minimum for riding with us. We strongly recommend knee/shin and forearm/elbow pads. Full-face helmets offer a significant extra level of protection and there really isn't any penalty to using them on most of our rides. Full armour is good for DH days, overkill otherwise.
Generally, the weather out here is great in summer. It's pretty normal for temperatures to reach 30°C in Bourg Saint Maurice, making for a very pleasant 20-25°C in Sainte Foy. We're a good bit further south than some of the other famous biking resorts in the Alps (such as Morzine or Les Gets) and it makes a difference to the weather as we lie in the rain-shadow of the Belledonne range around Grenoble and the pre-Alps of the Bauges & Beaufortain. Rain is pretty rare and we generally expect to spend most of our days riding dusty trails under blue skies. Early in the summer, the heat build-up and snow-melt will often combine to give a short-lived (but violent!) early-evening thunderstorm so we plan our days to start and finish early so we don't get caught out. When a big storm rolls through, it can bring slightly longer spells of rain and a drop in temperatures which can put snow on the highest peaks but this is pretty rare. We've never missed a riding day due to bad weather, and I can only recall cutting short one or two.
Stevo and Iona hold
the following qualifications:
- Scottish Mountain Bike Leader Award - the UK's highest and best-recognised mountain-bike leader qualification
- International Mountain Leader (IML) - An awesome qualification, allowing the holder to lead groups in the mountains anywhere in the world, summer or winter, up until the point where ropes/climbing/glaciers are involved. Requires 3 weeks of training & assessment in the Alps plus one week in the UK.
- Mountain Leader (Summer) - UK National Governing Body award for hill walking & mountain travel in anything other than full winter conditions. A pre-requisite for the IML.
- Outdoor Emergency First Aid - speaks for itself!
This combination of qualifications (IML + SMBLA) makes us 100% fully-qualified to guide in France. More importantly, we have registered with the French authorities and hold a "Carte Professionel". Yvan, our French guide, holds the French "Moniteur de Cyclisme" (Cycling Instructor) award - specialising, of course, in Mountain Biking!
France, unlike the UK, has strict laws on sports instruction of all kinds. Anyone wishing to work as an instructor (and this includes bike guides) must register with the French authorities. They will then assess your qualifications and, if they accept them, issue you with a "Carte Professionel". The UK has several different organisations offering Mountain Bike guiding certification, a situation which is not ideal and doesn't help in getting qualifications recognised elsewhere. To our knowledge, the French authorities will only issue a Carte Pro to UK Mountain Bike guides if they're able to back-up their bike-guiding qualification with a Mountain Leadership qualification such as the IML as this represents an equivalent amount of training to the French system. Without a Carte Pro, the letter of the law says it's illegal for you to work in France.
So what does this mean for you? Realistically, we don't think an insurance company would pay out on a professional indemnity claim if the policy-holder could be demonstrated to have been working illegaly. This means that if you were to get seriously injured as a result of your guide's mistake, you wouldn't get any compensation (more accurately, you'd get whatever compensation a bike guide could afford, which isn't much!). Sticking with insurance, it's an increasing trend for some holiday insurance companies to only offer cover to people who are riding with a guide. Again, if your guide is illegal, your cover may be invalidated. Most decent policies don't have this limitation for mountain biking, but some do.
This may sound like a lot of boring legal-talk, but the French authorities have clamped-down on illegal guides in some areas, with guides being arrested in front of their clients and dragged off the trails (see here). We believe in the very highest standards of guiding and customer care so we've worked very hard to satisfy all the requirements of the French state so that you can forget about all this and relax and enjoy your holiday!
We're lucky enough to ride a lot of shiny bike gear, and we've recently started doing reviews of the kit we ride regularly. See the mountain bike equipment review page.