La Clusaz, a French ski resort known for its famous resident, Candide Thovex, its regular appearances in the Tour de France and, most importantly (if you ask a local) its Reblochon cheese, is now embracing mountain biking in a big way.
Three summertime lifts (Beauregard, Crêt du Merle and Crêt du Loup) on two mountains are open late from June to early September, and take riders to a maximum elevation of nearly 2,000m, from where 18 marked, mapped and maintained trails can be accessed.
The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly as families take part in the many activities on offer (donutting off a giant ramp into an airbag, anyone?), and riders relax between runs or cruise to the next lift.
We rode the Beauregard side first, a gondola that whisks riders from town at 1,100m up to 1,690m and the start point of several rides. This could be seen as the ‘classic’ mountain according to the locals, with its red-graded downhill track (La Ferriaz) having been in place for a number of years. The exposed roots and rocks, hard-packed dirt and occasionally blown-out turns certainly allude to this.
Watch footage from La Ferriaz below.
For something a little fresher, the all-mountain tour, Le Tour de Beauregard, swoops through the forest on an up-and-down earthy rollercoaster ride (pedalling required).
When you head over to the other hill, you soon realise why the majority of visitors ride there. The trails are ridiculously good
Crêt du Merle
The lower of two linked lifts, Crêt du Merle is a fast three-man chair that delivers riders to a central plateau and the start point of several cross-country, all-mountain and downhill trails. We opted to stick to the latter, with direct access to the long, mellow blue-graded La Grenèche downhill track, and access (with a small uphill) to the twisty-turny Bois du Plan red and freshly-cut La Trace.
La Grenèche is another staple of La Clusaz – it's been in place pretty much as long as the resort has been open to bikes – and it's a fun blast for all levels of rider, with jumps, berms and technical sections linked through its forested entirety.
For intermediate riders and upward, La Trace and Bois du Plan are the place to be. The former is a short blast – barely a minute – but its earthy, flowing route with loam-a-plenty and natural booters is not to be missed.
Get a taste of La Trace below.
Linking it into the lower Bois du Plan, a seemingly-endless singletrack run of perfect turns, drops over tree stumps and tricky technical challenges, makes for one great run home.
Crêt du Loup
The upper chairlift, Crêt du Loup, is where it's at though. From here, riders of any level can blast nearly 800m of descent back to town on a range of trails, from fire roads on Family Run, to the technical bliss of Les Encarnes.
The machine-built, blue-graded Descente du Loup winds its way down the mountain, taking in massive berms, optional jumps and wallrides, and plenty of flow along its course. At its end, riders can link straight into any of the lower Crêt du Merle trails mentioned above.
Les Encarnes is the jewel in La Clusaz's crown, plummeting from a high point above the top lift station (a push/ride up is required) through the pines to the valley floor.
This trail has been hand-cut from start to finish, and it shows. The trail ducks and dives up high before giving way to a series of perfect turns, crests and natural rollers in luscious forest, then dropping into its relentlessly steep lower reaches. It really is one of the Alps' best kept secrets – perhaps it's that five-minute push keeping the majority of riders away? Highly recommended.
Last but not least, the resort's most recent enduro trail, Les Juments. Like its neighbour Les Encarnes, this one is slightly hidden to those new to the resort, as it takes a few minutes of fire-road descending on Family Run to access its start. But that elevation loss is more than worth it.
Watch footage from the Les Juments enduro trail here.
Dream-like flowing turns link together in a natural snake down a gulley before entering into technical, but flowing singletrack through the dense forest, later popping out into classic Alpine meadows that lead to the famous Col des Aravis, where if you're lucky you'll spot one of the plentiful, but well-hidden chamois (wild goat-antelope).
The town's annual festival of mountain biking, Roc des Alpes, has brought public attention to the range of trails and facilities, and resort ambassador Killian Bron – a pro rider sponsored by Sunn bikes – is taking a proactive approach in not only promoting, but also developing, the trail network.
Just one hour from Geneva airport, and with a full-time trail team, friendly locals and several rental shops and bike schools, La Clusaz already has a fantastic summer offering that is only going to get better.
Price of lift ticket: €17.50 full-day adult or €13 half-day (from 1pm)
Opening dates: June 20 – September 4
How to get there: Fly to Geneva, transfer time 1 hour
Detailed trail descriptions: en.LaClusaz.com/summer/mtb-tracks.html
Easy eat: Le Belier (coffee and crepes)
Accommodation: For a range of options, contact La Clusaz tourist office or visit laclusaz.com/ete
What else to do: Visit Annecy for a tour of the medieval town and a dip in its warm lake