Mountain Biking Guide - Chamonix Valley
This is the heart of the Chamonix experience. The valley itself provides a great gravity playground, and the rides below take advantage of the steep-sided, flat-bottomed topography to provide some immensely satisfying climbing...and hair-raising downhilling!
The 'official' Chamonix trail map provides routes that leave from the cross-country skiing centre at the far side of town. This is easily reachable by following signs to Les Praz from the main Place du Mont Blanc roundabout. The cross-country skiing centre is opposite a popular barcalled Micro-Brewery Chamonix, or MBC. If you get lost, you can bet your bottom dollar that a local will know where this place is! Tracks go from behind the cross-country skiing centre, through the parapente landing field.
1. The Chamonix Classic
A good introduction to the XC riding in Chamonix and a great 'first day' ride. Look forward to steep and rewarding XC climbs and some singletrack descents. A hardtail bike and beginner to intermediate bike handling skills are adequate for this ride, which meanders up to Argentière via the Petit Balcon Nord and back via the Petit Balcon Sud. It's do-able on a downhill rig, but as it's 50% up and 50% down, a lighter bike would be much more suitable.
Head out of town through the parapente field following the red VTT signs. As you go under the road, pass the Arveyron hotel on your left and fork left down the gravelly track with the three big rocks in the road. It's to the left of the red circle sign. Go over the bridge and turn right. With the river on your right, follow the main drag, passing some dirt jumps on your right and the helipad on your left.
Twenty minutes into your ride, you'll see two bridges next to each other on your right. Turn left into the woods on the 4x4 track, then at the wooden 'Montee des Sources'sign, turn right up the hill.After a few minutes climbing, veer right, following the red VTT signs. Go up another rise and stay on the main drag ignoring the right fork signposted 'Sources de l'Arveyron'.
Keep following the red VTT signs to the right and enjoy a steady uphill climb to a crossroads surrounded by massive boulders. Stay on the 4x4 track and cross straight over. After some steep and fairly technical climbing – no pushing! - arrive at the tarmac which is the top of the village of Le Lavancher. There are some great views straight ahead over Le Tour and to the right over the Dru. Freewheel down the road and after 100m, next to the electric wires, stop and look over your left shoulder for a great view towards Chamonix. Keep going down the road, pass a tennis court on your left and get ready to brake. There's a right turn next to a STOP sign, opposite a yellow post box, before Chalet Les Silenes, that you have to take. Make the right and follow the tarmac until it turns into a footpath with a couple of well-dressed scarecrows on the left. Go through the cow pasture until you get to the wooden bench; this is steady climbing on a grassy and gravelly 4x4 track. At the bench, ignore the left to Les Iles and keep following the singletrack up the Petit Balcon Nord over the roots.
After several minutes climbing, drop your saddle for some fast and flowing freewheeling. Beware blind corners and watch out for walkers headed both directions and bikers headed the other way. The track can get fairly narrow in places and a fall to the left down the bank would be unpleasant. At the signpost, keep following the Petit Balcon Nord to Les Chosalets and Argentière. Go over a stream, pass a bench on your left and then over another stream. 40 metres later, turn left at the T-junction and follow the sign down the singletrack for Les Chosalets. Watch out for rocks! At the water trough follow the tarmac round to the left. Now you're back at valley level; turn right at the T-junction to go over the bridge.
Congratulations, you're halfway! If you're peckish, follow the main road uphill into Argentière where there are lots of cafés and restaurants which are great for lunch, as well as some small shops to buy picnic provisions.
When you're ready, head back down to the bridge and look for the Hotel des Randonneurs – it's a red building with blue shutters over the river from where you originally hit the main road. Head to the left of the hotel, passing between the hotel and a white house with a wooden roof. Veer to the left of the green-doored garage and go up the stairs, following the Sentier Pietons signpost. Follow the path under the railway and climb (push!) up to the Petit Balcon Sud. On arrival at the Petit Balcon Sud signpost, turn left in the direction of La Joux, Les Tines and Chamonix. After some technical climbing and downhilling, pass a bench on your right. There are some beautiful views over the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc to your left. Go over two footbridges, the first bigger than the second, and when you get to the crossroads follow signs for Chamonix. There are a few good picnic spots here under the trees.
Pass a turnoff to La Joux on the left and La Flegère on the right, and go over a pair of wooden footbridges. The natural rock kickers, small wallride and steep downhill switchbacks in this section of singletrack are an accomplished bikers dream and a good challenge for the intermediate rider. As you near the river, pick up the red VTT signs which bring you back into Chamonix.