As Good as it Gets at Les Deux Alpes
11 Nov 2012.
Date of Visit:
2 Jul 2011
Home of the largest skiable glacier in Europe, Les Deux Alpes is France’s second oldest ski resort after Chamonix, and sits at 1,650 m (5,413 ft) in the mountains about 45 miles south-east of Grenoble. Named after the 2 villages - Vénosc and Mont de Lans - at either end of the plateau, Les 2 Alpes Bike Park has seen significant development over recent years. Now with sponsor support from GT bicycles it is well on the way to establishing itself as one of the best bike parks in the world. Our visit coincided with the annual Mondial du VTT Festival, a 5-day MTB event with various races and general industry goings-on. And of course this year they hosted the first ever Crankworx festival outside of Whistler, BC. That should tell you all you need to know! This is an incredible setting to go bike riding, with jagged alpine peaks rising up in pretty much every direction you look. There is endless potential for 2-wheeled fun...
There are a lot of trails! The highest point reachable by gondola uplift is at 3,200m on the glacier at the top of the Jandri Express. From here, it is possible to descend in one long unbroken run all the way down to Vénosc at 960m – a 2,240m vertical descent! Impressive numbers like this explain the popularity of the “Mountain of Hell” event in mid-July, where 500 riders descend 2,500m in 25km. But the size of the vertical descent is not the only feature... this is complimented by the sheer number of trail options available to achieve this prodigious loss of potential energy. With almost 30 defined runs spread over 107km on either side of the valley utilising 10 uplifts, even in a busy period like the Mondial Festival weekend we were never cramped or rushed on either the lifts or the trails. There is plenty of space. It was encouraging to see 3 green and 7 blue graded downhill trails aimed at beginner and intermediate riders looking to improve and gain confidence before cutting loose on the harder trails in the resort. We found there to be an appropriate and achievable step-up between the blue trails and the 7 red DH trails – the most significant difference being an increase in average gradient. And for more experienced riders there are 5 black-graded trail options which includes the “elite” Fury DH.
So it’s the Jandri Express gondola that takes you all the way up to the glacier. It’s not much of an ‘express’, but I suppose when you are going from 1650m in the town directly up to 3200m it’s going to take a bit of time to do it, so if you’re meeting mates at the top then make sure you factor in an extra half-hour for this ascent. The trails immediately off the top (Canyons, Jandri, Ayton) are all loose shale, fast with plenty of tight berms, and the dust that gets kicked up is significant – gets in your mouth and dries you out. The altitude is also immediately noticeable as even a short pedal section gets you out of breath quickly. You can take a short detour from the main way down, to climb up about 100m and ride a black trail called Super Intégrale. This is a much more natural section of trail without the built berms in the corners, tight and then also very steep near the bottom - check out the rider-cam below. It also features a couple of north-shore style wooden ramps that on their own are fine but have very technical entry and exit sections. After this a fire-road traverse brings you out at the top of the Oeufs Blanc gondola and the start of the Sapins trail. This is a super fun trail, with some fast but tight berms that have you bouncing from one side to the other, left to right, before you really know whats going on!
In the evening we discovered one of the really great features of Les 2 Alpes. How often do lifts close at bike parks before you have had enough (just one more run…!)? With the summer evenings staying light well past 9pm, if the lifts close at 4 (which so many do) then that’s another 5 hours of descending that we miss out on! Les 2 Alpes keeps the Diable gondola open until 18:00 and the Vénosc gondola open until 20:00. And from the top of Diable you can still get to just under half the named trails on that side of the mountain, and have 1440m of height to play with down to Vénosc. The result is that if you can handle it, you can ride lift accessed trails from 9am until 8pm. But expect to be battered at the end of it!
Impressively, there are three dedicated slopestyle/freeride bike parks. The main one, open since 2005, is centrally located close to town at the bottom of the Jandri Express and should have enough options to satisfy even the most skilled park riders with a 4X course, wall-rides, fun-box, 4 slopestyle bridges/drops (0.5m to 5.5m) and huge tables on offer. Recently, a new park at the top of the Diable lift has been built with the beginner to intermediate rider in mind. Great for encouraging all abilities whilst avoiding issues that could arise by throwing advanced and inexperienced riders alike into one confined area.
There are 4 dedicated bike-wash facilities at the bottom of the four main lifts (Jandri, Vallée Blanche, Diable and Vénosc). The trails are regularly maintained, and riders are supported and protected by a 6-member Bike Patrol Team. At the end of every day the Bike Patrol sweep down the trails on their motocross bikes to ensure that everyone gets off the hill safely and no one is left lying in a tangled mess of limbs, bike and tree.
There is a wide variety of options available for lift passes. An adult day pass for unlimited uplift access costs €21.50, whilst a 6-day pass is €107.10. There are also plenty of other attractive offers, including a stay in a 4-person self-catering apartment PLUS a 6-day lift pass for just €195 per person. To make this option even more attractive, lots of other deals are thrown in for free, such as unlimited use of the swimming pool, ice rink and golf driving range. To find out more on these offers just visit their website.
There is a stack of good accommodation options available. The town’s permanent population of 2,200 swells massively for both the winter and summer seasons; this influx is catered for by 29 hotels and many self-catering apartment blocks. There are also camping options lower down in the valley in Vénosc, which are linked directly to Les Deux Alpes via the Vénosc lift.
For our stay we were based at Hotel Les Flocons at the end of town near the Diable lift station. Les Flocons proved to be a great little hotel, with free wi-fi, a lounge area, pool table and a huge veranda with a cracking view out over the valley. Breakfast is available from 6.45am (or earlier by arrangement), but lunch and evening meals are not served during the summer season, so be prepared to go out to eat (not a problem - more on that later). Our hosts Anais and Alex were bike friendly and dog friendly in equal measures, so if your best friend is making the trip with you, as ours was, then you can rest assured that they will be welcomed here. And, as a huge bonus, Anais bakes some awesome cakes for breakfast, which justify a stay at Les Flocons all on their own!
There are plenty of well-stocked bike shops in town, with many of the 35 sport shops renting quality bikes for all shapes, sizes and budgets. If you bring your own bike, a trip along the main drag will sort you out with most of the spares you may need. A good place to start would be Sport Emotion, conveniently located near the Vallée Blanche base station. Pascal hires out a range of bikes including top-of-the-range downhill rigs and these great DH scooters that seem to be rapidly growing in popularity!
When it comes to food, great-value sandwiches and baguettes can be found all along the main street. We can recommend the pizzas at the friendly Le Chalet à Pizza near the Diable uplift, and the humungous roast chicken baguettes at the popular Crépery Bar in the middle of town. It’s a great place to hang out at lunchtime, meet other riders and refuel for the afternoon session. With over 70 restaurants, 30 bars and even a couple of night clubs, all budgets and tastes are catered for throughout the day.
IN AND AROUND
Les 2 Alpes is a super busy resort in the summer, and not just with mountain bikers. If you need a break from the bike (unlikely I know) then there are over 40 different outdoor pursuits on offer. By far the most appealing of these is the summer skiing and snowboarding up on the glacier. Seriously, how many places in the world can you hit a snow park in the morning and a bike park in the afternoon!? Expect to see various pro’s in off-season training. In addition to the snow sports there’s hiking, climbing and Via Ferrata, rafting, golf, paragliding, summer luge, tennis, swimming; in short, more than enough to fill a holiday for anyone and everyone.
If you want a change of scene for a day, then it’s only a short drive over to Alpe D’Huez and another ridiculously huge network of lift accessed trails to explore. Home of the famous Megavalanche you have as much altitude to play with there as you do at Les 2 Alpes. Or maybe you just fancy a change of bike; if you’ve got the legs (and can stomach the lycra) you could take on the roadies at their own game and ride some of the most infamous cols in the Tour de France: Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer are all within (ahem) “easy” riding distance of Les 2 Alpes, which in itself provides a challenging climb up the road from the valley below.
Finally, one feature of Les 2 Alpes that was evident throughout was just how family friendly the resort is. With crèche and day-care facilities and activity courses for children, the whole family can come and have a good time – and on the evidence of what we saw, many do just that.
It’s should be pretty clear to you that Les 2 Alpes is a serious mountain bike destination. There are very few bike parks that can offer the amount and variation of what’s on offer here, both on and off the bike. They are not standing still either, with regular trail development. And 2013 will see a new 6-seater detachable chairlift installed where the Diable lift stands, making for faster more comfortable laps. The scenery is nuts - big mountains in every direction. A good tip - don’t ignore the Cretes trail from the top of Diables. This takes you down the ridge and after a short wooded section you emerge at the end of the ridge-line almost hanging off the Les 2 Alpes valley with cliffs plunging 100′s of meters down even further! It might be a gentle green but it’s green that you just have to ride.
A trail network with huge vertical and lifts running until dark!
The only downside of the high alpine - burning lungs so get fit in advance!