Ride Report: Pass’Portes du Soleil

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The base of operations and festival grounds in Morzine Photo: Manu Molle/Portes du Solei

[Editorial Note: Tim Bukoski won the Bike Magazine Pass’Portes du Soleil contest last fall by entering the winning video plea. His prize: lift tickets for a week, lodging and bike rental—the last of which he parlayed into passes for his buddies. Let this be a lesson to you lazy interweb viewers out there – when you see a Bikemag.com contest, enter it. Tim recently returned from a week in the Alps with five friends. Here’s his report.]

Ride Report: The 2009 Pass’Portes du Soleil
By Tim Bukoski

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Bukoski's Nomad, ready for a European vacation - photo courtesy Tim Bukoski

Pass’Portes du Soleil is an annual mountain bike weekend festival based in the Alps along the French and Swiss border. Riders can choose between three different “tours” of varying distance through each of seven towns, riding chair lifts then descending to the next town in a great big circuit until returning to the village they started from. There is the option to climb instead of riding the lifts, for those who crave a challenge or seek out unspeakable depravity.

This year 4,000 riders from around the world registered and converged on the Alps for a weekend of riding, product exhibitions and demos, scenery, food and beer. Among those 4,000 was our intrepid group of four Americans and two Germans. We stretched the weekend into six days of lift-access riding on trails best described as an unrelenting technical circus.

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Our contest winner, World 4x champ Mellissa Buhl, and contest winner's opportunistic friend Les - photo courtesy Tim Bukoski
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homebase chalet - photo courtesy Tim Bukoski

Our home base for the week would be the ski resort town of Morzine, France. We arrived about noon on Friday after 13-plus hours of flights from various locations in the U.S. We spent the day putting bikes together, walking around our new neighborhood trying to stave off jet lag. Right out of our front door was one of 25 lifts running throughout the summer. This, coupled with the amazing alpine scenery, left us in eager anticipation of what lay ahead for the next six days.

It was nothing more than pure dumb luck that on our first day, on our first chairlift, we ran into US downhill and World 4x champion Melissa Buhl. She had been in Europe for two weeks and after a short conversation she happily agreed to lead us out. We were all in various states of disbelief: not only were we actually mountain biking in Europe but we were also getting a personal guide from an international champion.

Each run dropped us into trails that ranged from flowing and rutted with 4-inch deep stutter bumps, to endless chutes riddled with rocks and roots. We found others off the main routes which went straight down the mountain and kept you an inch off the rear tire with two fingers on both brakes for entire 1,000-foot decents. Those in the group who seek out big air and big drops were completely satisfied as well. These trails pushed all our bikes and skills to the limits. It is no exaggeration the majority of trails were simply hold your breath, pucker up, and point the bike in the general direction you want to go. We all absolutely loved it, and I’m not too proud to admit the wetter, muddier chutes absolutely kicked my ass. At the end of every section we all stopped, caught our breaths, and simply smiled and nodded in agreement.

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pucker up buttercup - photo courtesy Tim Bukoski
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photo courtesy Tim Bukoski

The weekend of the festival included refreshment stations along the tours. A bountiful spread of bread, fruits, cheeses, meats, chocolates, soda and beer. The tents were filled with riders carrying overloaded plates of food and sharing stories.
It was a new experience to be able to simply skip into a neighboring country. We spent the first three days exploring and mastering the trails at Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz in France. Our initial foray into Switzerland looked to be another great day as we passed the point of no return up the lift at Chatel, France.

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One of the many optional road gaps along the route - photo courtesy Tim Bukoski

The weather had been perfect entering Switzerland on our way to the lift at Morgins, but halfway up to Champoussin, Switzerland, it all fell apart in a alpine storm that brought hard rain, hail and lightning down on us. Yet the 4-hour bike and hike to the pass back into France didn’t do much to dampen our spirits. We were accompanied by breath taking scenery of the rugged high alpine peaks, glaciers and canyons. Green slopes surrendered to sheer gray cliffs and snow still held the high ground. We finally returned to Morzine from the last pass close to 10 hours after starting out. It wouldn’t be our last venture into Switzerland, but would be the most memorable.

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One of 15 chairlifts on the PDS circuit (Photo: Manu Molle/Portes du Solei)
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Photo: Manu Molle/Portes du Solei

Fourteen years ago, when I first started mountain biking on a used $250 rigid bike, if you have told me it would take me to Colorado, I’d believe you; Whistler, BC, maybe; but in the Alps on a $4,500 bike I built, I would have said you’re completely nuts. It was unequivocally the most amazing experience of our lives—one which we will never forget.

Thanks must given where due: first to BIKE for setting up, offering the trip and for picking my video, and Cosima Zinck, our liaison and one of the many organizers of the event who coordinated to allow my additional friends to join the fray.

Next year’s seventh-annual Passport will be held June 26 and 27, and will be based in the French village of Chatel. For more go to www.portesdusoleil.com