The Passportes du Soleil Mountain Bike Race

Passportes du Soleil
Passportes du Soleil

The Passportes du Soleil is an epic mountain bike race in the huge Portes du Soleil region of France & Switzerland which heralds the start of summer and the opening of the lift system. It takes place over the last weekend in June, and has evolved from an earlier event known as the “Freeraid”.

Most riders don’t really treat the Passportes as a race (although you do get a number for the front of your bike) but simply a great day’s mountain bike riding. The event is massive – 2 days, 3 courses (30, 45 & 75 km) and 3700 riders. The classic trek of 75 km includes 12 ski lifts, 6500 m of total downhill, 500 m of total uphill climb.

What makes this event unique is the fact that it attracts a wide range of participants – from lycra clad cross country riders to armour clad downhill riders, and from beginners to experts. Everyone gets involved and rides the same course. True, the cross country riders tend to beat the downhill riders on the climbs, and for the real keen peddlers, there is also optional climbing sections. And true the downhillers tend to overtake the cross country riders when it comes to descending, and there are a couple of optional “free ride” sections. But overall, the race is a fantastic melting pot of all mountain bike styles and standards.

As for the course itself – it has to be one of the best in the world! It takes in some amazing panoramas on the Morgins and Champoussin sections with views of the Dents du Midi, the Dents Blanch and even Mont Blanc. There is some excellent steep and twisty single track down through the woods in Torgon. There are dedicated downhill courses used at Chatel and Les Gets. There is an epic descent from the top of Linderets down to Morzine and there are some great meandering cross-country sections on relatively easy 4×4 tracks.

Another excellent feature of this event are the fantastic refreshment stands located at regular intervals throughout the course. Large tables offer up a wide range of snacks and drinks, from energy/nut bars to cheese and ham, from energy drinks to beer and wine. It is always interesting to see who feels fit to tuck into the alcoholic drinks at ten in the morning, and then avoid them if you see them on the course!

The Passporte du Soleil is really an event for everyone. It has become so massive that it now sells out months in advance. However, if you visit the Portes du Soleil later on in the summer, it is possible to get a map from the local tourist office and cycle pretty much the whole route.

Race stats:

Classic trek – 75 Km
The classic circuit is for purists: a long tour of the Portes du Soleil about 75km
    * approximatively 75km – 12 lifts
    * 6500m of total downhill/ 500m of total uphill
    * 7 resorts to start from : Avoriaz, Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine, Champéry, Morgins et Torgon
    * 8 refreshments points

Intermediate trek – 45 km
45km with one aim in mind; having fun
    * approximatively 45km – 7 lifts
    * 4000m of total downhill /300m of total uphill.
    * 4 resorts to start from: Châtel, Champéry, Morgins et Torgon.
    * 4 refreshments points

Discovery trek – 30km
For those who are quite good at mountain biking, but out on The Portes du Soleil’s tracks for the first ime…an ideal “breaking in route”
    * approximatively 30km- 5 lifts
    * 2200m of total downhill/ 200m of total uphill
    * 3 resorts to start from: Avoriaz, Morzine et Les Gets
    * 3 refreshments points

For more information, visit the Passportes du Soleil website.

Skiing in a recession – how to keep costs down

Ways to save money when booking a ski holiday.

With the recession tightening its stranglehold on the UK economy, here are some useful tips to save money on a ski holiday.

First of all, why not consider a self catered holiday? In this day and age, self catering doesn’t automatically mean tiny studio apartment s with fold down beds and people sleeping in the lounge. There is now a wide selection of excellent large self catered chalets available online, often with hot tubs and saunas. Self catered holidays tend to work out very reasonable on a per head basis, as long as all the beds in a property are filled.

Driving to your ski holiday is another excellent way of saving money. Cross channel ferries keep their prices low in order to compete with the budget airlines, and if you have four people in a car it will cost a lot less to drive than to fly – especially over the main holiday weeks.

Another advantage to driving is that you can stock the car up with food and drink for the week in the UK. This will stop you from losing money in resort because of a poor exchange rate. If the exchange rate recovers, having a car will still save you money because it will allow you to shop at the larger (and cheaper) out of town supermarkets rather than the smaller more expensive ones in the centre of the resort.

Once in resort, you should consider buying a local area lift pass rather than the full wider area one. Most people tend to buy the most expensive lift pass which covers the greatest area. In reality, for 6 days skiing, the local area is often enough. It is also good to get to know the local area really well, rather than just skiing every piste once in the wider area.

Another mistake that many people make is that of pre-booking their ski hire online. Nine times out of ten, the prices are no cheaper than if you walk into a shop off the street, and the quality of the equipment is often dubious. Furthermore, once you have handed over your credit card details online you are also tied to that one particular shop. A better option is to talk to your tour operator and see what sort of deals they have for you in resort. Chances are they work with a particular shop because of the good service, good equipment and excellent pricing on offer.

In order to carry out the aforementioned tips, it is vital that you get your destination right. There is no point in planning to economise and then booking a holiday in Courchevel! Resorts such as Chatel, in the Portes du Soleil will help you save money for the following reasons;

1) The resort, although a major ski resort in the world’s biggest ski area, is actually very reasonably priced since it is still predominantly visited by the French – it is a bit of an undiscovered gem.

2) The resort is located in the Northern French Alps so is one of the first ones you can get to when driving from Calais.

3) Because all the accommodation is chalet style, there is a huge selection of well priced high quality self catered accommodation.

4) Although part of the massive Portes du Soleil ski area, the local Chatel pass covers some of the best skiing in the domain (namely Linga & Pre La Joux).

5) If you do decide to ski the whole area, the lift pass for the whole Portes du Soleil is a lot cheaper than some of the other big domains, namely the Trois Vallees or Verbier.

However, all of this doesn’t mean that Chatel is some kind of second class resort. It is a beautiful alpine resort with a highly sophisticated skiing infrastructure in place.

In summary, just because money is tight doesn’t mean that you have to put your annual ski pilgrimage on hold. You just have to choose your ski resort well.