Epic XC and Ultimate DH
17 Sep 2014
And now for the UCI World Cup! This was the very first bike park that we scheduled on the ECRT because the annual World Cup circuit invariably visits Mont Sainte Anne. But, before we dive in to all the racing action, we’ll cover everything else that MSA has to offer. It’s a bit of a trek up from Bromont and then round the outside of Quebec City, but it’s well worth it.
The route from Bromont to Mont Sainte Anne.
Mont Sainte Anne (MSA from now on…) is one of the largest ski areas in Quebec, located about 40km northeast of Quebec City, and with awesome views out over the Saint Laurence Seaway (Whale watching trips available if you get bored on the bike). It’s a big mountain with a peak of 2,625 feet above sea level, and a 2,034-foot vertical between the top and bottom of the distinctive MSA red gondola - just one of the reasons that MSA is a World Cup regular. But, it has more of a reputation for the XC network than for classic gravity bike park trails that you can lap all day. Although, it certainly has some crackers that you’ll want to hit multiple times if you have the stamina for the longer arm-pumping descents!
Mathieu & David had no trouble the first time on the wall ride in tandem...
Then things went terribly wrong...
So to begin with, we parked the DH bikes and grabbed the all-mountain ones, and set on up the gondola to gain some altitude and access the XC network from the top. And, as we were one regular bike short, Jean Pourcelot who runs the MSA bike shop Sport Alpines, sorted us out with the extra ride – a 27.5 inch Scott Enduro – so a huge thanks to him. Our guide for the day was MSA local and winter ski patrol Vincent Fillion. There are 36 XC trails listed on the map, and whilst some are small trails that take no more than a minute or 2 to complete, there is still more riding here than you can achieve in a week. The network is huge, and as many of the trails can be ridden in either direction, there’s near infinite routes you can put together for a full day on the bike, with or without the help of the gondola.
Bird's eye view of the resort
We headed roughly northeast; about as far as the trails go in that direction, out past the MSA campsite. Every trail we rode was fun – it didn’t feel like an XC slog, although granted we often had the gradient on our side. But, even the flatter trails, or ones with a slight uphill, generally had great flow, and sucked you in to work hard as you just didn’t want to stop riding. La Chevy and La Boîte à Lunch (Lunch Box) were 2 of our favorites - twisting technical single-track challenges and aptly named due to interesting trail features – check out the pictures. And, once we’d started heading back to the base, the one-way-only La Cairn trail is one of the best options to get you there - fun flow with manmade berms making it more of a freeride trail than an XC one. You might be more of a DH rider, but there’s definitely some fun to be had on the other trails if you’re not afraid of a little pedaling.
World Cup racers lined up.
There are 2 Bike Park Managers at MSA - Pierre-Étienne Roberge, and Mathieu Roy, with 5 or 6 Trail Crew in support. As Pierre-Étienne was tied up with World Cup patrol duties, it was Mathieu that joined us the following day as we returned to our comfort zone and got back on the DH bikes to hit up the trails on the main mountain. Whilst the World Cup course was obviously off limits this weekend, there were still a number of other trails that we could check out – time, and weather permitting. And we were also joined for a bit of filming by local riders and bike park regulars David Tremblay and François Soucy.
David always in aw.
The most popular DH trail at Mont Sainte Anne is said to be La Vietnam – a red graded trail, but comfortable for most riders with the more difficult features having optional go-arounds. From the top it’s technical with roots and rocks, but not tight - so still pretty fast. It opens up in to more flowing berms, tabletops, and huge step-downs, if you can hit them with the required increase in speed. And towards the bottom, it returns to more technical stuff, tighter this time through denser trees, with more roots and rocks than near the top. As with most of the trails, it pops you out on an access road for a gentle roll back to the gondola – well over a kilometer away, but still no problem on a DH bike.
How The Lunch Box Trail got its name.
We did not have everything our own way with regards to the filming. The guys took one hell of a crash on the wall ride feature, when the chain-stay on Mathieu’s frame snapped under the pressure of the “pop”, sending him sliding down the wall and David unable to avoid smashing down right on top of him! Things could have been much worse, but the only real damage was the bike, leaving us a man down for the rest of the descent. And then, as if to compound matters, the skies opened, leaving us scrambling to protect our equipment and get off the hill as soon as we could. Be warned, in the wet, the last section of La Vietnam can be treacherous! Meanwhile back at the base – not a drop of rain! Turns out the frequent thunderstorms that can bubble up here without warning over the summer, can be so localized, that depending on where you are on the mountain, you might be completely unaffected. Whilst irritating for us, there was a bit of a flap in the pits as the DH teams debated over tire choice, but the rain gave up pretty quickly and the potential mud bath did not develop!
Natty getting rad in the Chevy.
There are only 10 DH trails at MSA; not that many, but given the vertical it’s actually a fair amount of overall trail length. We did get reports that the La 1837 trail was closed, and may not actually open again. Apparently it’s too gnarly and technical - even more demanding than the World Cup course! But having one of the greatest World Cup DH race tracks at your bike park is a pretty damn cool, so you can’t really complain!
One of many rock features on the XC network.