More and more of us are looking for multi-discipline active holidays & the French Alps ticks all the boxes and more.

For only the second time since 2012 there was no British winner of Le Tour de France this summer but it’s unlikely that will tapper our national interest in cycling. In fact, according to our own Consumer Research, the most popular non-winter sport for snowsports lovers is cycling (including road, downhill and mountain biking). As such, we went to Tignes and Courchevel to see what two-wheeling, and other alpine, activities were on offer.

We arrived into Tignes the day before Stage 19 of Le Tour was (supposed…) to finish in Tignes Val Claret with caravans hugging the mountain road and hundreds of road bikes parked outside of restaurants. However, it was the downhill variety of bike we were to experience first.

The closest thing to skiing

You get a chairlift up. You get down under your own steam. The runs are colour coded green, blue, red and black. Your guide is probably a ski instructor in the winter. But what are the differences between skiing and snowboarding compared to downhill biking? Well for one, you don’t have wide-open pistes to carve down; they’re more single tracks that traverse the mountain. I also found the adrenaline to be elevated compared to when I ski, but that’s maybe because I’m pretty much a beginner on the downhill bikes.

With our lift pass provided for free by our accommodation, Fred our guide, gave us three main tips. Don’t go too slow; if you trickle down the mountain your wheels will collide with every stone in your path but with a little speed you tend to glide over them. Enter a ‘berm’, or a banked corner, high to get the best possible line (this will also mean you avoid all of the debris at the bottom of the turn). Finally, when entering what he called a ‘tip-tap’, a series of sharp turns, always look a few metres ahead and twist your whole head into the turn.

Cruising on the green trails allowed us to test our newly-found ‘skills’, arcing through berms and even managing to hop over small bumps.  The group soon found our competitive side and persuaded Fred to take us onto a blue, and even a red, trail. With the sun on your back and the wind running through your helmet the sensations are extremely similar to wintersports. As in the winter, it’s a real workout too: standing up the whole time and with your hands juddering on the handlebars, it’s definitely a muscle-toner for both arms and core.

Summer is substantially quieter than winter and the warm temperature means you can regularly pause and really appreciate the scale and beauty of the mountains (but that’s only once you’ve stopped; as soon as you’re away all you’re thinking about are the 4 metres in front of you!). Like the winter, Tignes links its trails with those in Val d’Isere to give you a whopping 160km to explore.

Ski Club members can claim a free basic membership to British Cycling, or up to 50% off other membership tiers, here 

Tignes and Val d'Isere Bike Park facts and figures

  • If your accommodation is a ‘My Tignes’ partner (most are) your liftpass is FREE, as are two other activities per day (such as Aqualand, climbing wall, swimming pool etc.). Otherwise it’s €10 for a day.
  • It opened on the 26th June and will close on the 1st September.
  • A bike (and all the protective gear) costs between €60- €80 a day.
  • There are 6 green runs, 12 blue runs, 11 red runs and 11 black runs across 160km

A surefire way to turn back the clock (just don’t enter a road cycling time trial…)

Mountain biking has a more recent history in Courchevel than it does in Tignes, but this means pretty much every single shop has e-bikes to rent. If you’ve never been on an e-bike the premise is simple; when the mountain gets too tough, turn on your electrical aid (eco, trail or boost) and, in theory, you’ll glide along. I’d never ridden one before but the big wheels and chunky frame meant it felt a lot sturdier than a road bike, or a normal mountain bike for that matter.

After a few metres assessing the bike, the inner child in me took charge and I was straight on ‘boost’ mode zooming far in front of our group. Different bikes have different size batteries but there was no chance I was lasting the whole day on ’boost’, so initially this mode was set aside for making short, explosive ‘getaways’ from the others! Our guide Flo took us along a gradual uphill before dropping down above Lac Rosiere, a cute opening for picnics and also the location for a Via Ferrata area where you traverse across the cliff face. The morning had been a damp one so, in a strategy much used in the winter when the clouds are low, we were heading for the pine trees and a rushing waterfall.

The gravel track heading up Les Avals valley was where the e-bikes came into their own; ensuring all 6 of us were able to go at a similar pace even when the path rose up sharp inclines. Of course, for those who are regularly active, an e-bike would open up the whole mountain to play and with Courchevel’s 4 free lifts and 80km of trails there’s a lot to cover! However, the real beauty lies in the fact they can bring a family of different generations, or a group of people with different levels of fitness together on the same ride. The bikes were quite heavy but there are child versions and switching on eco-mode is a good way to give yourself a helping hand, without draining the battery.

Once we’d reached the waterfall, we made our way back to Lac Rosiere down the same gravel track; the mountain bike skills learnt in Tignes earlier in the weekend were very much needed! Using any of the e-modes there’s a cap of 25km/h so going downhill you can just turn it off and let rip!

The second part to our e-biking day came in the form of a dubious entry into the Effiage Trophy time trial, a 22.6km race from the bottom of the Courchevel valley to the top of La Loze, which drops into Meribel. The final 6km is a new, car-free road that opened this year and which provides stunning views of the slopes you would ski on in the winter, apart from today when the valley was in a cloud…. The slight issue with our entries was that we were using e-bikes and our competitors were all on road bikes! All 6 of us were on the receiving end of some funny looks (this was an event with trophies up for grabs after all) so the organisers allowed us to start first; maybe we were acting as a durny on a track and giving the other competitors a target to aim for?

Man it was hard. E-bikes are perfect on a trail, or to traverse short distances on road but I don’t think they were built for climbing 1,510 metres across 22.6km… One of the group, Ben, had taken an early lead and I was no longer seeing him even as I was coming out of turns. On top of that, the fun I’d had earlier with ‘boost’ came to bite me on the derriere too, as I ran out of battery 10km in. Fortunately Izi Bike shop, where we had rented the bikes from, was approaching so I jumped off and cheekily asked if I could swap batteries! Ben was back in my sights! The following 5km were on normal roads, but traffic was minimal. Approaching the altiport the route bears to the right onto the purpose-built road and this is where the gradient starts to get tricky, although with my new battery and on ‘boost’ mode I wasn’t feeling all the pain! I never caught Ben and despite us finishing in 1st and 2nd respectively there were no trophies for us, though the soup and bbq waiting at the top of the Col were most welcome. Having not had the ‘full’ experience three of us decided to rent road bikes to tackle the Col de la Loze the next morning before breakfast.

Courchevel cycling facts and figures: - There are 4 lifts all of which are free and give you access to 80km of trails - E-bikes are available to rent from €55 a day from Izi Bike

Lifts are open until the 1st September.

If you love to get out on your bike or have been inspired to start doing so, the Ski Club runs monthly cycle meets, the next is on the 10th August, more info is here

Road bikes are better suited to roads!

We’d been promised clear skies but we were not rewarded for our early rise. Nonetheless, we set out from our apartment in Courchevel Moriond, 11km into the route, with the slight hope of climbing above the cloud hugging the valley. It felt liberating to have the light road bike under our hands rather than the heavy e-bikes. We glided through the glamour resort of Courchevel 1850, reaching the Col road within 25 minutes and a steady trickle of cyclists passed us coming down, most probably having climbed up from the Meribel side to complete a 35km circuit. The plan is to connect the car-free road from Meribel across to the Val Thorens valley for next year and it was clear to see the appeal; if successful it wouldn’t be a stretch for this to route to become on the cycling bucket lists.

The road is smooth and wide as you cut through the surprisingly green mountainside. Every so often you glide past a piste marker, a reminder that for 6-7 months of the year this road is covered in metres-deep snow. At this altitude, the gradient starts to increase sharply and the fauna by the side of the road becomes a welcome distraction from the burn in your legs. The final respite before the last 2 kilometres is a short plateau at the top of the Verdons chairlift followed by a short downhill and then the final slog up to 2,305m. At this stage, I was in the thick of the cloud and could barely see 10 metres in front of me but I was determined to get to the summit. The final three turns are the hardest but I could just make out the sunlight glistening off the water droplets and knew I was reaching the peak, both of the Col but also of the cloud. There aren’t many times you can say you’ve cycled from the bottom of a cloud to the top and the views were unrivalled. No words would really do it justice, so below are a few shots. Seems like an ideal route for Le Tour de France...

We rented our bikes from EspaceVTT in Courchevel 1850. Prices start at €20 for less than 2 hours to  €35 for more than 4 hours.

If you’ve had your fix of two-wheelers…

Although the weekend revolved around bikes, we also experienced the many other summer activities the French Alps have to offer. None of the group were particularly handy at golf, so we swerved the 18-hole course in Tignes (the highest in Europe) for the driving range, but seeing the looping course hugging the mountainside gave me the desire to pick up the sport. Unfortunately, the Tignes Grand Motte Glacier had closed early for summer skiing due to shrinking ice levels (down from 70 metres in 2015 to 60 metres in 2018) but it’s still open to pedestrians until the end of August. The scenery is stark with exposed crevasses and unforgiving drops but the views, especially from the roof (the “world’s largest cable car roof terrace”) are worth the trip up alone. A return pass up the Funicular (to the base of the cable car) is €20 and a further €10 to use the roof terrace.

Our time in Courchevel was dominated by cycling but we did manage to squeeze in a trip to Aquamotion (and 3 minutes of cryotherapy!) complete with a slide, diving board, three swimming pools (indoor and out), a surf centre, climbing wall, saunas, hammams and jacuzzis. We went on a particularly wet day and although most people in the resort had the same idea, it didn’t feel overcrowded. Access to the pools and wellness area is €29.50 for an adult (and Ski Club members receive 10% off).

James stayed as a guest of Hotel Langley in Tignes Le Lac, just a 2-minute walk to the lifts in Tignes Le Lac, and Les 3 Vaches apartments in Courchevel, operated by Cimes Alpes and across the road from the Ariondaz bubble in Courchevel Moriond.

Get involved with the conversation! Join our resort Facebook groups today, Val d’Isere, Tignes and Courchevel all included.