Switzerland for Dummies: FIims - Laax Part 1

Nov 20, 2011 at 22:56
by Lee Lau  

Bryce, Sharon and Lee find out if there is lift serviced, all-mountain alpine singletrack epics in Switzerland. Follow them in this six part series as they document how a bunch of North Americans find their way around Switzerland.

Stay tuned each coming week for the next installment of Switzerland for Dummies

Grüezi! - An introduction

|| Flims-Laax || Lenzerheide || Davos-Klosters || Engadin-St. Moritz || Zermatt || General Tips and Tricks ||

Often it’s not until you return from a trip that you have the chance to really reflect on the journey. You unpack, decompress, and download and as you fall back into your normal routine it all sinks in. Memories evolve like molten earth, eventually forming an impression that will remain somewhere in your mind forever. And yet, months after returning from a 23 day bike trip to the Graubunden and Wallis canton of Switzerland we still felt muddled about our time there. We had no tales of hardship, of adventure gone awry, none of the usual travel detours to stand out and solidify that impression. Instead we found amazing lift-accessed high alpine singletrack in an area steeped in rich traditions. So, what kind of impression does that make? We'll have to call it paradise.

Approaching the Nagens rift valley and the Glarus overthrust geological formation

Approaching the Nagens rift valley and the Glarus overthrust geological formation - a UNESCO world heritage site in Flims Laax


This trip started out just like any other - planning, preparing, purchasing, and packing. We are alpine singletrack addicts and our goal was to find out if the stories of quality lift-served, downhill-oriented singletrack were true. It started innocuously enough with a Friday departure from Vancouver, a stop over in Dusseldorf, and final arrival in Zurich at about 11am on a Saturday. Within one hour we had managed to buy Swisscom SIM cards to get a phone running (useful for checking transport schedules and travel arrangements). Shortly after that we were stocked with groceries from the Migros supermarket at the airport (Flims - Laax is a small town with a market that closes at 5pm on Saturday, and doesn't re-open until Monday). We transported our bikes using the Mitch Chubey patented hockey bag method, thus saving ourselves approximately $100-150 per bicycle (dedicated bike cases usually get charged extra). This unfortunately meant that we had to fight off jet-lag and put bikes together outside a very nice Zurich cafe by the Fly-Away Hotel as bemused patrons looked on.

I know, you want to hear more about the endless alpine trails. But first you must be bored with with more details about how mind blowing it is to travel with Swiss public transit. Perhaps for Euros this is not a big deal, but for us North Americans who are married to our vehicles it is almost unheard of for such efficiency and user-friendly customer service. Suffice it to say that from Zurich Airport, we were navigating first the Zurich city train, then on to Zurich main central station to the regional capital of Chur (100km SE of Zurich), all with our bikes and backpacks. Then friendly staff helped us to our bus transfer to Flims (which is about 17km west of Chur) where we had to figure out whether to stop at multiple stops in Flims and Laax. All the while, still groggy with jetlag.

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"10 Things I Have Learned About Mountain Biking". Beautifully filmed by Tom Malecha of Zurich in various places in Switzerland. Used with his kind permission, it spoke to me because it embodied the joy of mountain biking and the beauty of Switzerland trails and scenery"


Flims-Laax-Falera

Switzerland's reputation for beauty, reverence for history, and culture is well-deserved. We found out through this trip that the mountains are magnificent, the people are friendly, and if the alpine towns were any more seemingly perfect you’d pretty much have to be in 'Vegas. But where the Swiss really stand out is in their attention to detail and efficiency. The Flims Laax resort operators (Weisse Arena Gruppe) put us up in the RocksResort bike hotel. This concept is one that seems to be particularly common in Graubünden lift-served resorts. Mountain bikers are put up in accommodations which offer bike-friendly services such as breakfast, lift-tickets, bike maps, bike storage, tools and laundry. It means that mountain bikers are not treated like an inconvenience, but as valued guests. Our accommodations, their comfort, proximity to lifts (literally 1 minute walk) and the fact that the Swiss are so dialed made for an easy check-in, restful sleep and prepared us for our coming days of riding.

Rocksresort hotel amp Signina Hotel in Laax-Murschetg and surroundings

The Flims Laax resort operators kindly provided us with accommodations at the Rocksresort hotel in Laax-Murschetg


Rocksresort hotel in Laax-Murschetg

Interior of the Rocksresort Hotel


Flims- Laax is popular for skiing in the winter and as a local mountain bike and hiking destination in the summer. Flims - Laax are two distinct villages and areas but are quite close together, with populations of approximately 6000 people in the winter and 3000 in the summer. Lifts run in the summer to transport recreationalists into the alpine. The area contains 200km of hiking trails (wanderweg). Graubünden (and Wallis for that matter) have adopted formal policies where mountain bikers can ride on hiking trails; note that this is not universally true of all other areas in Switzerland.

Separating Flims and Laax is an ancient slide that gave rise to the Ruinaulta - the Rhine Gorge (or the “Swiss Grand Canyon" as the tourist brochures will relate). Also created by this event are underground springs that create a chain of lakes - Caumasee, Laaxersee and Crestasee - deep-blue through to turquoise-coloured mountain lakes. After September 1st the Laax gondola only runs on the weekend for bikers and hikers. Hiking is more popular on the Flims side than biking. Mountain bike trails on the Laax side are more DH-oriented, where on the Flim side trails are more enduro-oriented.

The Foppa to Naraus views on the Flims lifts

The Foppa to Naraus views on the Flims lifts





Route Descriptions

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ROUTE: Crap Sogn Gion - click here for more pictures and video from our blog

Summary: We took the Laax gondola to Crap Sogn Gion, rode about 20 minutes up the road and down a rocky switchback trail (trail nos 363 into 364 to 356/7 to 314 - Part of Maxi Avalanche to 358) through Plaun Ualgonda then to the free-ride Runca trail. This is a good introductory ride that we could have made longer by riding higher (weather curtailed our adventuring). The alpine trails are relentlessly technical so you should have your game on to do this ride. The middle trails involve extensive road and doubletrack, but at least it's fast. Lower trails have quality and are interesting - it was cool for us to see the Runca "freeride" trails. Total ride is 14km distance with a 1200m descent and minimal (<100m) of climbing.

Murky alpine day on Crap Sogn Oign

Murky alpine day on Crap Sogn Oign. A quick ride up the Laax gondola with our guide Linder brought us from 1080 meters to 2220 meters. Downhill was a sinuous rocky path, deeply worn into the hillsides from decades, if not centuries, of passage


Murky alpine day on Crap Sogn Oign

We inched around tight switchbacks and pointed it through rough chutes, all interspersed with sections of buffness where we could relax momentarily to take in the amazing views


Laax Switzerland - Crap Sogn Gion at EveryTrail



ROUTE: Naraus - Panoramaweg - Laax Murschetg - click here for more pictures and video from our blog

Summary: From the Station Flims Bergbahnen we took two chairlifts: - Foppa and Naraus to 1800 meters, to ride a Panoramaweg traverse and then ride back down to Laax. Distance is about 14km, with 200m of rideable and hike-a-bike climbing to start, then culminating with a 1000m descent. This trail really showed us the goods of Flims/Laax and had us regretting the shortness of our stay. Beautiful views, interesting trails, cool geology. Even a ridge line descent then capped off with fun, fast and flowy downhills through the tree line. Indeed wunderbar!

Nagens ascent

The easiest way to describe alpine riding in Switzerland to a North American is this: take your favorite Rocky Mountain national park, mix in some quaint towns, sprinkle a few gondolas around, add a generous helping of bike-accessible singletrack and you've pretty much got it.


Linder attacks

As the sun burned off valley fog, Linder led us on a gorgeous alpine traverse that offered incredible views of the entire valley.


A wide, rock-strewn remnant moraine trail dropped gradually, then became a gradual descending singletrack allowing us to stay off the brakes and carry more speed over smoother lines.


Nagens descent

As we approached the tree line we wove through the sparse conifers, aware we still had over 600m to descend.


Flims Switzerland - Panoramaweg Flims to Laax at EveryTrail


By Sharon Bader, Bryce Borlick & Lee Lau. Maps by Sharon. Photos and video by Lee unless otherwise noted


Does Lee, Sharon and Bryce's Swiss adventure have you adding up your vacation time? Stay tuned for part 2 of 6 next week
Must Read This Week









48 Comments

  • + 6
 Thank you again for your many amazing contributions to this website and MTB in general. I plan to ride MTB in Europe sometime within the next 3 years, and articles like this really help with the planning!
[Reply]
  • + 9
 Great Article!! POY will come in due time..
  • + 2
 1. true 2. so true 3. hell yeah 4. you said it 5. you bet it does 6. never did 7. yes we are 8. most of the time 9. main thought 10. thats why i use Pinkbike
[Reply]
  • + 4
 nice report. for anyone planning a trip to Switzerland, you can find a vast collection of trails (500+) here www.traildevils.ch/trails.php the site is in german but i'm sure you will find ways to translate it and english questions in the forum are welcome!
  • + 3
 Google Translate gives very funny translations to the trip reports. Danke for the link. We did use traildevils too as well as flowzone.ch and trails.ch and swissalpineadventures.com for english writeups
  • + 1
 represent!
  • + 2
 I was reading your Engadin trip writeup. We must be from the same way of thinking - i totally agree with your thoughts
  • + 1
 that's exactly what I was thinking while reading your posts Smile
[Reply]
  • + 2
 nice writeup! i want to give also some inputs:
The panoramaway is much easyer accessable via bus, wich drives to nagens. (tha takes the hiking away) Costs for one way: 10.-
u didnt see some really nice trails. One has a descend of nearly 6000 feet. Cassons - Bargis - Trin (there are 2 different trails wich are both cool in there own wayes) You can take the bus from laax to nagens. Then hike 1800 feet up. (For like 3 hours) It's worth it.
I've got some vids on pinbike of this region, if u want to see even more ^^
  • + 1
 The bus wasn't running when we were there otherwise we would have gone up there.
  • + 1
 fair enough, than the hike was worth it.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I was there in 2010 and the chairlift and trails were closed like one and a half hours earlier than official opening times due to the hunting season. There was no announcment on the website and the info was provided after I traveled 2 hours, paid my ticket and read the info on a note in the chairlift station - not cool!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I'm going to study next summer in Switzerland but have ten days to play...and really wanna find some nice freeride/DH lift access trails...I don't know the region yet, I'll have to look it up, but I'll need a rental bike and some good advice. Please help a rider out!
  • + 1
 give me a note when you know more...where are going etc...
[Reply]
  • + 1
 paradise? nope!
wait for the first hiker that tries to kill you just because you're a biker.. yup, that happens quite often in Switzerland.
that's why I'm in BC now.. now that is the paradise!
  • + 5
 the hikers reactions mostly depend on you. never had someone wanting to kill me.. calling yourself sickrider explains quite a lot to me Wink
  • + 2
 then stay in BC sicko... if the hikers wants to kill you they must have a reason.

As for myself, I just spent two year in Canada. What I can say is that there is no
MTB paradise on either side of the ocean. There is room for improvement everywhere.
Here we lack more BC-like bikeparks; the ones we have a over-crowded. In Canada,
the number of mountain trails is extremely limited, with respect to the available space,
and it is very frustrating to drive for hours through beautiful mountains to finally reach
one with a trail.
  • + 2
 We were pretty respectful of the other users in the area. We all have to share! Give BC 500 years when our population gets bigger and people start moving into the remote areas and putting up gondolas everywhere! BC is too remote to have this kind of access. Even getting some trails in Whistler alpine for bikes is a challenge.
  • + 2
 It is unfortunately true that one can have very bad experiences with walkers, never mind who slow (sluggish) a ride by walkers, nevermind how friendly and polite I am there will be a large percentage of people not open to bikers, a small part of them even aggressive with comments such as "go break yourself a leg" or a little "friendlier" "you I don't tell you hello". These weren't answers made to rocket fast crazy riders but to slow and polite riders of respectively 45 and 60 years old! Even better the previous actually happened on an official bike trail!
Yes these cases are rare, but pretty much as rare as the rate of "hello" I hear back on a bad day (considering on a good day it surely is lower than 30%).
They might have had a bad experience with some bikers but that's not a reason to behave like this with all of them. Of course the best would be to have trails for bikers and others for walkers. But if we start like this then runners will want to have their own and so on and so forth... not possible. Cohabitation is possible. But only if everybody makes efforts.
  • + 1
 Words - I will check back in 500 years ;-)
  • + 1
 Enduro - i see you are in Basel. We heard that for some reason the hiker - biker relations in the Bernese Oberland is not so good. Of course this is all second-hand but I am wondering if that is the experience around your local trails? If so, that's a shame. Keep in mind our experiences were very limited to resorts and to Graubunden (and Zermatt) where I am told the towns/villages are very pro-active in encouraging people to share.

sickrider I see you visited Woodlot, perhaps Gold River and Kamloops? Of course these are all awesome places to ride and generally speaking people in BC are very welcoming of bikers. Indeed many towns also recognize bikers as very good tourists and encourage it (see Tourism Kamloops working with Lone Wolf Productions :>Wink . Having tasted a bit of the other side of the pond I would conclude that Swiss and Canadians are both very very fortunate people.
  • + 1
 you just have to come to Ticino ;-)
  • + 1
 Taaamaaaaaroooooo!!!!! Smile
  • + 3
 I see you have not read the article properly but made your comment based on previous experience. As the article mentions the trails are shared between hikers and bikers. Little signs every where in Graubunden make hikers aware of this and its even announced on some of the mountain transportation like the trains in Davos. Its an excellent initiative and works well if you respect it.....I guess respect is key!
  • + 2
 haha, well, nice! you all know how I behave on a trail when I see hikers just because of my nickname Big Grin
what else do you know about me? Do I rape cats?

and yeah, I'll stay in BC. such a peaceful & beautiful place here. where people actually live together and not against each other.

leelau: yeah, that was 4 years ago =) I fell in love with canada back then and now I'm back for at least one year.. working & skiing at the moment Smile I found my peace here.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Nice writing! Although I'm swiss, I never rode those trails. Maybe I should definitely do that next summer!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Hopp Scwhyyyyyz!!!! LOL

Hasch diini schokki scho chaaa hüüüüütt?

;-)


OK, now tell us about your encounters with the mighty Bratwurst sausages !!!

Ciao

Paul
  • + 1
 Stay tuned! We were in Lenzerheide next and it will be part 2. We will bore you about wonderful things like Urdenfürggli, Schümli Pflümli and Chuchichäschtli
  • + 1
 LOL.... Anyone can CTRL+C CTRL+V that, duude...
Buuut - Are you man enough to actually say it properly?
:-))

Ciao from The South

Paul
  • + 1
 Believe it or not I was thought by some friends from Ageri how to pronounce it. So now I have a Zug accent apparently. Kitchen cupboard is still by far my favourite
  • + 2
 trust me he said it enough times to get it down...
  • + 1
 Paul - I give up. What does it mean? Can you show me how to pronounce it? It took me almost 3 days to get Chuchichäschtli and huere vereckte stärne chaib correct
  • + 2
 uuu interesting. hope u saw the aelpliseetrail from lenzerheide rothorn to arosa. One of the most epic trails of this region Smile
  • + 1
 olexex - you have good taste! That's the next episode. That trail blew my mind
  • + 0
 @ Leelau: Hasch diini schokki scho chaaa hüüüüütt - means "did you drink your chocolate today (yet)?" It's an old advertisement for Caotina or Ovomaltine (I expect the Zürilöllies to skin me alive, now, LOL).
Here in The Deep South we only drink grappa and/or merlot :-)))))

Ciao

Paul
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Such a huge trip and such great looking trails. Looking forward to the whole series Lee!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 yeah nice one.....there are so many amazing places in switzerland to ride.....
[Reply]
  • + 1
 CH for the win! Looks like you guys had a great time. I have to get back there...
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Nice write up Lee! Waiting for you in Ticino next year
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I'd love to go but I would have to sell my bike,car and maybe an organ to get there. Seems legit haha
[Reply]
  • + 1
 "Sharing DOUBLES the Fun?!"

I like Partying with the GANG!!!...

^_^

Nice!...
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Coming summer i'm going to Switzerland instead of Austria i guess!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 best trails in europe!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 amazing... switzerland is just amazing
[Reply]
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