Continuing down past the lift station you encounter the start of Elfe Secret (yes, secret elf is a bit of a weird name for a trail, but it’s in the woods, see). This trail begins as it means to go on – it’s smoother, slightly steeper, full of berms and there’s a smattering of easy boardwalk features from the very outset.
The trail spends the majority of its time in the thickly wooded slopes on the mountainside – and these sections are good fun as they wind their way down into the valley. There are a few concerns being voiced locally about the sustainability of the trail – as soon as you reach the first series of berms you can see that the surface is beginning to collapse, and there’s evidence of water collection and erosion. Hopefully, with more use and a little maintenance this will prove to be a non-issue.
What’s a little more worrying is that the various sections of unavoidable boardwalk (which appear regularly as you descend through the forest) are not treated or meshed in any way – and look to be made from pine, which will be absolutely deadly in the wet. This applies to the north shore sections higher up on Planet Mars too – someone needs to get busy up there with some grip paint as soon as possible!
Elfe Secret occasionally emerges from the woods and there are several sections of rolling singletrack which are built alongside the access fireroads. These are a little disappointing – and judging by the number of riders who are simply not using them we aren’t alone in feeling they are a bit poorly conceived. There’s probably half a dozen of these during the descent, usually dug into the hillside. Most of them don’t flow – and a couple of them are downright hairy, with a loose, off camber surface and a large drop to disaster mere inches away! It seems that the builders were desperate not to get accused of using fireroads – but we’d rather see well designed trails rather than “singletrack for singletrack’s sake”, if you see what we mean. However, not all of them are entirely lacking in fun, with a couple of them delivering you into absolutely enormous, very fast berms which really put a grin on your face!
Back into the woods and you’ll soon stumble across some very straightforward north shore – it’s all quite wide and mostly low, and very easily ridden. It’s good fun, and a couple of sections provide junctions with different line choices.
The further you get towards the bottom the twistier the trail becomes, as it zigzags back and forth across the meadows below the Flegere lift itself. Eventually the singletrack spits you out onto a fire road from which it’s an easy return to the lift station to head 1300m back up to the top ready to do it all again.
Currently the trails at Flegere form a great starting point for the future; they need riding in so that the surfaces settle down a little, and there’s definitely some improvements to be made and some finishing off to be done. However, in defence of its handful of weaknesses it is only fair to remind readers that the trails opened a mere fortnight ago – and this opening was delayed due to significant problems with snow on the higher parts of the trails following severe unseasonal weather which caused the terrible scenes of flooding in France back in June. To get the place turned round and ready to ride at all is quite an achievement – and makes some of the failings a lot easier to understand. We ended up really falling in love with Planet Mars in particular – it made us want to go back time and time again trying to perfect our lines, before delivering us to the mid-station with a dirty great grin across our faces.
Whilst the lower Elfe Secret trail is graded red, it’s far easier than the Planet Mars top section – which makes it very rideable for those bikers who have spent the first part of their day cutting their teeth on the blue Ushuaïa trail. There’s nothing here which will scare most people – we actually enjoyed riding Elfe more on our trail bikes than we did on downhill bikes – the extra cornering abilities of a shorter wheelbase made things feel a bit more playful. In fact, you can easily ride all of the trails here on a regular 5”+ full susser – there’s a very XC feel to many sections, and that is a great compliment to the trail builders too, this place can work on many levels.
So, are the Flegere trails going to change Chamonix’s fortunes for the better? We think the answer to this has to be yes – but not directly, and not necessarily immediately. To go back to what we said at the start; we believe that they are the catalyst to further development of the sport in the Chamonix valley. And not just from a downhill or freeride perspective – hopefully these trails are indicative of a change in attitude and acceptance of the sport – in other words this development shows that Chamonix has admitted that it needs mountain biking, and in turn the tourism and local income which it brings during the summer months.
The trails here are long, challenging and rewarding, and compare very favourably with those in the competing resorts nearby. Hopefully this is the tip of the iceberg – and looking at the trail map there is a development earmarked for the Le Tour area further up the valley. In all likelihood this is just the start for Flegere itself too – there’s a lot of available mountainside which the trailbuilders could still put to good use – and hopefully we’ll see some plans for further trails to add to the existing three.
With the addition of Flegere Chamonix now has enough trails to keep any rider entertained for a week – if you stay in local accommodation you can get a visitors travel pass which lets you use the trains and buses (both of which accept bikes) absolutely for free. All of the main man-made riding sites – Flegere, Vallorcine and Les Houches, plus the proposed Le Tour trails – are all served by the Mont Blanc Express train service which runs hourly, 7 days a week. This means you can easily ride all of the trails in a day.