Le Semnoz is the mountain on the west side of Lake Annecy. It’s the highest road-bike cycling climb in the area. It made its first Tour de France appearance in 2013 as a very challenging mountain top finish – won by Nairo Quintana. (The summit is also called Crêt de Chatillon)
Here is a link to a post describing 5 mapped routes up this great mountain. (My favourite is the 5th option)
My plan was to cycle up the tough, north side, through the woods, starting from Annecy – and hopefully rent cross country skis at the summit. It was overcast down low, and I hoped to quickly get though and above the clouds, but it took me well over an hour to see the sun. I took a mountain bike but the road, while wet, was perfectly clear.
My first “bike-up, rent XC Skis” was at Col de Joux Plane last winter see here.
The views near the summit of Le Semnoz were just too good:
I didn’t know if I could get to the very top – and I certainly didn’t expect the south side to be open. But I could and it was – this is fairly new. Traditionally, the south side has been closed for months and been a Cross Country Ski trail. But good news:
At the summit is a small ski station – 18 downhill pistes. There are also 46 kilometres of cross country skiing trails (and plenty of snow-shoes trails). The cross country ski area is split into 3 areas – see here.
I wandered into the restaurant at the summit and asked if rentals were available. Yes (!) – upstairs. The summit cross country ski sector has a Red (7.5 kms), a Blue (3.5 kms) and a small Green trail. Perfect. I rented equipment, decided I didn’t need my bike helmet, and managed a shortish but nice XC ski on tired legs: a red loop and a blue loop. The views are superb. Too much fun.
After cross country ski-ing – I somehow forgot a celebration summit beer – I put my helmet and bike shoes back on and headed down the south side. It’s a long, long, way down to the lake this way. Maybe 25 kilometres (see map at bottom)? At Col de Leschaux (half way down), I was below the clouds with a frozen face and toes. So I just took the direct way from there – instead of the scenic detour via St-Eustache. At the lake, I rejoined the bike path, headed back to the start, and Bob’s my uncle.
Wow, hard work, but so much fun once I made it above the clouds. The only flaw to my bike-ski plan is how tired I felt XC skiing. 🙂
A few more pics:
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That must have been amazing. I did this route (and several others in the area) in Sept 2014. Was it not icy on the road? I remember the first part of the descent (to Col de Leschaux) being quite steep and twisty. I know the Semnoz road from Annecy is kept clear in the winter but are any of the other climbs accessible/safe too? I’d love to spend a couple of weeks in Annecy in the winter if there was still plenty of cycling to do. Thanks and keep enjoying those great rides : – )
Andy, winter cycling here is hit and miss. But when it’s sunny for a few days and the roads dry it can be fantastic. This day the roads were surprisingly fine. I had a mountain bike expecting worse.
I was surprised the south side was open ….. this is new … but from my perspective, very welcome.
Other climbs nearby in winter? Col de la Forlaz is almost always open, at least one side – this allows the best lake loop. Tamié is probably usually open. My favourite winter climb nearby is Col de la Croix Fry, which is kept open as skiing at the summit. This can usually be combined with Col des Aravis, also often open.
Thanks for the info and for taking time out to reply. I think I’ll keep an eye on the weather forecasts next winter then, and hopefully get a flight out (to Geneva) at the last minute. I rode up to Manigod (after first ascending the Col l’Epine) but ran out of time before making it to the Col de la Croix Fry 🙁 Superb scenery.
One final question – if the roads are cleared for skiers does that mean you have to choose your day and time carefully to avoid the traffic?
The main traffic watch out for ski stations is Saturday. First, because it’s a weekend. Second, it’s the travel day as most tourists are on a weekly basis with Saturday being the change-over. Alpine roads can be quite congested on Saturdays, especially during the School holiday period – as all of Europe is visiting the Alps.
I do want to be a little cautious encouraging you to travel here in winter. It can be dangerously freezing cold on long descents (I’ve worn Sorel boots, balaclava, 6 layers, trying to stay warm). Roads can be treacherous if they haven’t had time to clear. I do less of it than I used to, focusing on Cross Country Skiing and local mountain biking. And I now usually wait for “early spring” for most of the fun snow rides.
I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek article with some advice for winter riding:
Hope that helps a little.
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