High-Alps MTB Tour 2002


A Mountain-Bike Week in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps



Day 4, Tuesday, July 23, 2002: Bonneval S. Arc – Col de la Leisse (2758m) - Lac de Tignes


We start the day with a good breakfast. With us are some motorcycle riders from Austria. They tell us they are going to visit the site where a friend of them got killed during a motorcycle accident. A sober reminder that riding a bike (or MTB) amidst this beautiful landscape can be as dangerous as anywhere else.

A new day means new strength for Frank who had felt pretty bad last night. We all start rolling out the valley towards Lanslebourg. We stop in the village to refill our water bottles from local fountains and stock up on some fruit and cereal bars.

Today will be our longest climb on this trip: First we have to climb a long paved road towards a plateau with the ‘Chalet Refuge de Plan du Lac’ for some 1400m, then we follow a path into a valley where we won’t be able to ride all parts. Our total vertical elevation gain for the day will be near 2500m, 1.5 times the Grand Canyon! But first Frank has to fix yet another flat tire – time for the rest of us to have a drink and enjoy the scenery…

During the following long climb Markus and I team up and ride ahead, with Frank and Andi following. We are alone with our thoughts as we ride up the road and start sweating profusely in the mid-morning sun. Once we reach the end of the paved road, Markus and I seek out a vantage point high above the road to watch Frank and Andi climb. We feel like we are in our own ‘Tour de France’.

After a short time we are reunited again and roll back to the Refuge de Plan du Lac, a welcome reprieve from the climbing and sweating. It is 2:00pm and we certainly enjoy the lunch and long rest stop at this nice chalet, which also serves as a basecamp for winter skiing.

The landscape is truly grandiose up here in this part of the French Alps, the ‘Parque National de la Vanoise’. We work our way back into the valley, partly riding, mostly pushing our bikes upward.

Eventually we reach the Refuge de la Leisse, another welcome rest stop along the way. We sit and drink, take pictures and day-dream. This is one of those Kodak moments where you don’t want to get up and move on, it’s just so nice to sit there and relax…

But it is already 5:20pm in the afternoon and it is still quite a ways to go. I often think about how far this would be to walk in or out this valley! With the MTB you are just so much faster, and your radius of daily trip distance is much greater, allowing you to see even more of this beautiful landscape in a single day.

We climb steadily towards the end of the valley and around the back side of the Grand Motte, a well known skiing mountain accessible in the winter from the French ski resorts of Val d’Isere and Lac de Tignes.

Finally at almost 7:00pm we reach the Col de la Leisse at 2758m, one of our highest points during this 1 week trip. The view is stunning. The glaciers of the Grand Motte on one side, the skiing slopes of Lac de Tignes right in front of us, the dizzying heights of the Mt. Blanc not too far in the distance towards the NorthEast.

Again, surprisingly, we can ride down almost the entire descent, thanks to a winding path gently sloping around the bigger boulders or rock bands. This is one of the most scenic area I know of for MTB riding. The setting sun provides the perfect light for some additional pictures, as we roll past sheep grazing on slopes where thousands of skiers and snow-boarders find their way down in the winter and spring.

After the long ascent around the back of this mountain we really enjoy this downhill ride at the end of a hard day. We stop one last time in the evening sun for a group picture, which shows all four riders with big smiles.

From here it’s just a few more minutes down the steep slopes to Lac de Tignes, where a hot shower and dinner awaits the hungry riders. It is a very different feeling to get here in shorts and warm weather for MTB riding, rather than in warm cloths for skiing during the winter or spring.

Dinner is as good as ever, and soon thereafter we fall into our beds still thinking about the trails and sights of this day in the French Alps.


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