Mountain biking in Alpe d’Huez after the lifts have closed
Within the mountain biking world, Alpe d’Huez is of course best known for the MegaAvalanche. This three day event attracts thousands of amateurs keen to race against some of the best professional riders. Competitors start at the Pic Blanc at 3300m, beginning the race on the glacier before descending over 30km of gruelling trail to Allemont at 720m.
However Alpe d’Huez is also a world-class location thanks to the explosion in popularity of ‘Enduro’ riding. This combination of cross country, all mountain and even down hill skills lends itself to the huge sprawling resort with miles and miles of single track to explore. During the season, over 250km of well-maintained trails are serviced by a network of chair lifts, gondolas and cable cars.
Unfortunately the summer season is only limited to about 10 weeks, so once schools go back at the end of August the resort starts closing down. However this does not mean the end of the mountain biking season at all. Autumn see some of the best conditions for riding with warm stable conditions and deserted trails. Many business owners, time restricted during the busy summer season, now find time to get a little more time on their bikes.
My ridding buddy Dan from Ribot Lodge and I finally find ourselves with a little more time on our hands to go and hit our favorite trails. Granted, the high altitude trails off the Pic Blanc are no longer accessible, unless you fancy an epic slog up the service roads. However the majority of the best trails are found just above resort level and all the way into the valley.
One of our favorite inter-seasons rides has us meeting in Bourg for a pre ride coffee. Now some chose to ride the road up to Alpe d’Huez, but we prefer to catch the bus, which costs around €3 and is adapted for mountain bikes. There’s plenty of technical climbing to be done later in the day so good to keep something in the tank for then. Plus these days with both having kids, we have to have to keep our rides times down a little.
The bus drops you close to the top of the resort, where the majority of other riders chose to take one the of the down hill trails back to the valley such as the one from Villard Reculas via the Forêt de l’Ors. However here we chose to jump on the bikes and climb higher by paved then unpaved road to just past the mid station of the DMC gondola, where we hit the XC 11 MTB trail. This is a reasonably new and very fun piece of undulating single track, passing a number of picturesque lakes, ending with a fast decent to the mid station of the Grande Rouse cable car. Here you have a number of options. Continue on past the cable car on the EN7 down towards Vaujany and where there are further options to continue on down to Allemont. Alternatively change to the EN9 trail underneath l’Alpette gondola down to Oz Station (resort). However we chose to take a path that is located between these trails, which lead to just below the resort of Oz, but by a much more naturel and fun forest single track. This path is technically for hikers only and off limits to mountain bikers, but during the inter-season is totally deserted, so we never have any problems.
It starts as a high speed decent through grassy pastures, before dropping into technical
rock gardens, then moves into the forest and fast flowing, natural switch backs. Once in Oz station there is a short climb to bring you up to the lower part and arguably the most enjoyable section of the mega avalanche course (EN1). This is a fast section of forest trails with some high speed and technical berm corners. This trail can lead all the way to the mega finish line in Allemont, but we are usually short of time by this stage, so peel off close to the bottom in the direction of Bourg and the cars. There are trails on either side of the valley leading to Bourg along this 9km section. Both are undulating, but with little actual altitude gain. This section is a race to the cars and generally recognized as the time to drain the last of the energy in the legs.
The time it takes to complete the circuit varies hugely with your skill and fitness level, but you should leave yourself a good half-day. The bus from Bourg to Alpe d’Huez is number 3020 and 2013/14 timetable can be viewed here
Located in and close to Le Bourg d’Oisans are a number of cycling and mountain bike friendly hotels and chalets. One such hotel, Hotel Rondpoint is ideally placed close to the bottom of the road to Alpe d’Huez and offer the possibility of an uplift service to the resort for mountain bikers.