Moun­tains of fun

Cy­cling trails, and tales, in the Swiss Alps

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRISTO­PHER WAKLING

All Alps are steep and pointy, but some are steeper and pointier than oth­ers. Ver­bier, fa­mous for its ex­treme win­ter sports, sits among no­tably steep Swiss Alps. As the snow re­cedes and spring kicks in, so the pre­cip­i­tous slopes above the vil­lage will empty of skiers and board­ers and wel­come a dif­fer­ent breed of thrillseeker, on bikes. The first moun­tain bike runs here, built 20 years ago, were de­mand­ing and un­til re­cently Ver­bier was for ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers only. Now, how­ever, in­ge­nious track­builders are open­ing up the re­sort to in­ter­me­di­ate and novice bik­ers.

When I ar­rive last north­ern sum­mer, I find in­cred­i­ble, var­ied rid­ing. In­deed “moun­tain bik­ing” no longer suf­fices as a def­i­ni­tion. When the sport be­gan, that term cov­ered it all. You were a moun­tain biker if you cy­cled off road. Now there are as many sub­gen­res of the sport as there are Inuit types of snow. Down­hill, cross-coun­try, all-moun­tain, slopestyle, freeride, north shore, en­duro, bike park, dirt jump … the list goes on.

Lo­cal ex­pert Vincent Riba meets me at the panoramic La Mar­lenaz restau­rant and ex­plains, over a plate of de­li­cious mush­room rosti, that the re­sort now aims to cater for as many cat­e­gories of rider as pos­si­ble. “From fam­i­lies to down­hill rac­ers … we’re mak­ing trails for ev­ery­one here.” I start the next morn­ing in La Tzoumaz, the bike park. It has seven down­hill runs com­pris­ing 12km of trails with a to­tal ver­ti­cal drop of more than 880m. Syl­van Haed­erli, guide and trail-builder, shows a group of us around. We swoop straight into Tsopu, the long blue run (they’re graded like ski pistes), and link up with a red called Tu cuci by way of an easy bit of the Tire’s Fire, the of­fi­cial race­track. From there we head up to the 2475m sum­mit of Fon­tanet and try two new red runs, Bortabitche and Rodze.

I’ve rid­den in plenty of other bike parks and the grad­ing here is op­ti­mistic; a true be­gin­ner would strug­gle on the blue run and the reds feel black in places. Mind­ful this might be the case, we wear body ar­mour. Sadly, we need it (ex­cept for Syl­van). One of our group, press­ing to keep up with his ef­fort­less jump­ing, hits a steep, pointy Alp hard. The crash sounds like some­one drop­ping a crated rhino from a crane, and puts him out of ac­tion for the week­end. This slows down the rest of us, giving me more time to think about the trails we’re rid­ing.

They’re ex­cel­lent. Rodze sends you over 65 (doable) jumps (no gaps) above the tree line. Also up high, Bortabitche in­cludes a long sec­tion of (north shore) plank­ing across a moon­scape of lichen-frosted boul­ders. I’ve not rid­den much north shore and ask Syl­van for tips. “Don’t fall off it,” he sug­gests, adding that they close the trail in the wet. Lower down, Wouaiy (an­other red) twists straight through the rut­ted, root-strewn for­est, with rocky drops and jumps among the pines. As well as be­ing var­ied, the runs are largely empty; it feels as if we have the place to our­selves. No queues for the lift, no break­ing bumps (caused by lots of rid­ers skid­ding in the same place) on the trails. It’s heav­enly (if chal­leng­ing) rid­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.