Passport to Pain: A Mountain Biking Epic

Dan Milner photographs a heroic day in the Alps' Ports du Soleil

The Portes du Soleil area, straddling the French/Swiss Alps has become the most successful mountain bike region in Europe. The seasonal opening of the area’s extensive mountain bike-friendly lift service is marked by the now infamous Passeporte du Soleil event, a three-day bike festival centered around a 60-mile mountain bike circumnavigation of the region.

The challenge is to ride this loop—including 7,000 feet of joyous descending—in a single day, by connecting ski lifts throughout the area. Though the big event attracts some 4,000 riders annually, the entire area and its extensive network of trails empties out come September, when the lifts close for the fall shoulder season. It was lure enough, I thought, to try riding the Passeporte loop without lift assistance. Over the course of two days, we tackled the required 7,000 ft of climbing that, only a week or so prior, riders could breeze up aboard a chairlift. After every big haul, though, we reaped the reward of dropping into long, flowy descents without the pressure of the masses around us. In fact, over two days we didn't encounter a single person on the trails during the whole 60-mile loop, making our epic a passport to true solitude.

Click here for the Mountain Biking's Passport to Pain slideshow.

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