I’d been to the Alps a number of times for magazine shoots, but this year I wanted to just go and rip. No massive photo pack on my back, just my iPhone in my pocket to grab a few snaps for memories. I picked out a handful to illustrate the journey, but honestly, no camera is going to capture the magic of the Alps. You have to go there to breathe it all in for yourself.Zermatt
Zermatt is one of those places that had been on my list for a long time, but I'd never had a chance to ride there. My longtime Swiss friend Alban Aubert told me that it is one of his favorite spots and he has ridden the Alps inside and out. After taking a look at some images of the iconic Matterhorn online, I was sold. As I did my homework on Zermatt, I learned that the only way to reach the popular tourist destination near the Swiss-Italian border is by train. No cars are allowed here to help preserve the fragile glaciers and keep the beautiful alpine vistas uninterrupted by roads.
I felt like a kid at Christmas on the train ride from Martigny to Zermatt. The mountains got more and more majestic as the Swiss Rail train glided towards our destination. As we made the final turn into Zermatt, the craggy-toothed Matterhorn revealed itself.
I checked into my room at Hotel Bahnhof, appropriately named because it sits directly across from the train station or Bahnhof. I highly recommend staying at Hotel Bahnhof because it is cheap, clean, and has an awesome kitchen you can cook your own meals in. Switzerland is an expensive place to travel in and Zermatt is extremely costly even by Swiss standards. It was cool cooking in the professional grade kitchen and chatting with travelers from all over the world excited to explore Zermatt.
The following morning I got up early and caught one of the first trains up the mountain on the Gornergrat train. A single ride is 34 Euros and a full day is 68 Euros. The lift pass was not cheap, but once I got to the top I knew it was worth every penny. If you like big mountains, glaciers and out-of-this-world terrain, Zermatt is it. I felt like I was in Disney World when I got off the train with hundreds of tourists snapping photos in all direction. The air was crisp and thin and I didn’t linger at the top longer than the time it to took to take a few photos and to check my gear. I had a lot of mountain to get down.
The ride down was hands down the best I’ve ever done in Europe. The hiking trail flowed at just the right angle downhill, a far cry from the uber-steep bike parks elsewhere on the continent. I was able to pump, jump and manual through endless rock gardens, natural berms and ledges. There were so many lines created from the tens of thousands of visitors that I never had to slow down for hikers. The few times I stopped to give my hands a rest on the way down, I met some super cool people. I met an awesome family from Bilbao, Spain, where my grandfather’s family came from. The father was a mountain biker and rode enduro. Small world!
The terrain changed throughout the ride from wide-open, blazing-fast shredding to tight switchbacks in the woods. The loam on the trail in the forest was so sweet in the corners. I felt like I was on a moto, spraying up pine needle roost as I passed surprisingly encouraging hikers. I ended up getting three laps in on the Gornergrat and seriously considered doing one more it was so good. My body was pretty tired and every run was a serious commitment of time and energy. Instead, I headed over to Papa Caesar Lounge Bar to grab a well deserved beverage.Lavey-les-Bains
The Valais region of Switzerland has some sweet natural hot spring spots and by far the most baller is Lavey-les-Bains. I stopped here for an afternoon after Zermatt and, as always, it was awesome. There is something very special about the hot mineral rich water that completely refreshes muscles pounded by day-after-day of riding. The 25 CHF entrance fee was money well spent.Grand Saint Bernard Pass
After Lavey les Bains I headed to Martigny to meet up with my good buddy and all around awesome shredder Kris Dassi. Kris runs a guide service called Exoride and offers trips all over the Alps and most recently to Morocco. Check out what he’s got going on at Exoride.net
Kris recommended a sweet ride that started on the peak of the Grand Saint Bernard Pass on the Swiss Italian border. All I knew about Saint Bernard is the big rescue dogs carrying jugs of brandy around their necks and sure enough when we got to the top of the pass it was like a dog show. I counted half a dozen people walking their massive Saint Bernards around the foggy peak.
Kris’ usual shuttle vehicle (a Sprinter) wasn’t available, so the six of us piled into his friend’s Westfalia. It was great to get out of the cramped van after the hour-long shuttle to the top of the pass. Once we got rolling down the sweet singletrack it was worth any minor inconvenience.
Again the trail was an old hiking trail, etched into the landscape hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. Before modern roads, this was the only way for people to bring food, goods and news to the next valley. I felt strangely connected to the past as we flew down the rock-strewn singletrack. The grade of the trail was spot on and required minimal braking. There were a few steep granite rollers that required a bit of tech riding, but for the most part the trail had awesome flow. There was no shortage of high-fives when we reached our wicked glacial lake lunch spot.
After munching up our baguettes and Gruyere cheese, we headed down the final descent. The last bit of the ride was mainly through farmland and cow pastures. We had to stop a few times to let ourselves through the electric fences, but it was mostly just ripping through naturally trenched trails. I had to pull my headphones out to take in the discordant sound of hundreds of cowbells clanging as we reached the floor of the valley.
In all we did over 50 miles of riding- the majority downhill and on trails. We had to do a few bits of steep climbing to reach a few sections of trail, but that’s why today's long travel trail bikes bikes are so sweet. You can rip the hell out of the downhill and not cry if the trail goes flat or up. I had an absolute ball on my Ibis HD and would recommend this kind of bike to anyone who wants some gravity adventures outside of the bike park.
Thanks again to Alban and Kris for helping make this awesome trip a reality. I also want to give a big thank you to Ibis, X-Fusion, Hayes, Sun-Ringle, Answer, Shimano, Thomson, ODI, Fizik, Lake Shoes, Dakine and Sombrio for material support for my trip. Last, but not least thanks to Jeremiah, Colin and all of the guys at Bert’s Bikes & Fitness in Tonawanda, NY, who help keep my rigs running right.