THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO RIDING IN
Words, photos, & video by Brice Shirbach
The question was almost unanimous. It came from almost everyone I met, and was typically the first or second thing that came after the handshake. "So, have you heard of the Ötztaler Moped Marathon? Are you planning on working that into your story?"
Well, I hadn't and as a result I suppose I have to say that originally I wasn't
. But adjacent to the hotel I would be spending my week, the Hotel Bäckelar Wirt, and directly across from the trails at the Bike Republic Sölden, was the start/finish area for an event that involved over 1,500 two-stroke mopeds intent on "racing" through the alps during a 4 day-long festival that involved heavy doses of rock and roll, beer, food trucks, denim vests, and some of the most beautiful little scooters I'd ever laid eyes upon.
Of course, it's not just about the racing, as the competitors "race" their 2-stroke mopeds throughout Austria's Ötzal Valley, up and down numerous alpine mountain passes for hundreds of kilometers, all vying to finish neither first nor last, but smack in the middle of the field. It is instead a rock and roll concert celebrating Tyrol County, Sölden, and the Austrian spirit with what sounds like thousands of chainsaws constantly revving throughout the weekend. It was a spectacle in every way imaginable. Of course, the scooters and massive festival complex that had been erected in just a few short days were truly captivating, and proved to be the source of many amazing memories from my week in town. You'd think that I would have had a hard time staying focused on the task at hand, which of course was to learn as much about the people and trails as I could in a week, and share these experiences and this knowledge with the rest of the world. You'd think. Not here though. Not in the Ötzal Alps, a place straight out of Bob Ross' wildest dreams.
Despite the best efforts of the Ötztaler Moped Marathon, and to be quite honest it was actually pretty close; my week in Sölden would ultimately be defined by the mountains that surround this community and the people and trails who call them home. The moped shenanigans proved to be quite the sight and sound, but as far as spectacles go, these mountains proved to be in a league all their own.
// Local FlavoursAge:
Wilmington, DE, USAIndustry affiliations:
Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Pearl Izumi, 9point8, Julbo, MRP, Deity Components, EVOC, Shimano, Dialed Health, Stan's No Tubes, Topeak, Leatt, Cane Creek Cycling ComponentsInstagram: @bricyclesFavorite Trail in Sölden:
Ollweite LineRiding Style:
I'm still pinching myself. This place was truly love at first sight.
A Bit About the Region
Sölden is a mountain village in the Austrian state of Tyrol, with a small population (less than 4,000 residents) spread out amongst a massive area (180 square miles). It is situated close to the southwest corner of Austria, perched 4,448 feet above sea level in the heart of the Ötztal Alps, with several peaks over 3,000 meters surrounding the town, including the second-highest in all of Austria, Wildspitze at 12,362 feet above sea level. Sölden is about an hour southwest of Innsbruck, and 30 minutes north of the Italian border.
Tourism is the beating heart of this centuries-old settlement, with nearly 5 times as many beds available for visitors as there are residents. Every year, the FIS Ski World Cup opens its season in Sölden, drawing in tens of thousands of spectators and effectively kicking off the ski season, which this place is certainly most well known for. But the community here has bought into mountain biking, both figuratively and literally, with an insane amount of money being invested into the mountain bike infrastructure which includes several pumptracks, bike-specific hotels, a plethora of bike shops, bike wash stations throughout town, and of course the Bike Republic Sölden.
In a very general sense, this is a bike park located in Sölden. In a much more specific sense, this is in fact a commonwealth of sorts devoted to the cultivation and development of incredible trails by a very dedicated and growing contingent of riders - of all levels - with most of the decisions behind the bike park being made by the people who ride it and call this place home, which is rather refreshing given the weight of the tourism industry here. This was their dream, to develop a mountain bike paradise for themselves and make sure that people from around the world feel welcome and at home whenever they pay a visit. The Bike Republic has been around for less than a decade, a fraction of the amount of time the ski resort has been opened, but its impact on this small but bustling town has been significant. I was visiting during the week following Crankworx Innsbruck, which is an hour down the road, and was happy to have missed the circus. Most of the locals I spent time with were happy to have what they were calling a "slow week", but every day I was there the roads, trails, and gondolas were full of bicycles and humans looking to enjoy themselves in some amazing mountains.
Getting to Sölden
Getting to and from Sölden and the Ötztal valley can be done via a number of means. First, if you've never traveled internationally, be sure to give yourself plenty of time for customs agencies, as that can add significantly to your travel time. I stood in line for 2 hours when arriving home from Austria at Philadelphia International Airport, and all I needed to do was hop in an Uber and head home. Others were anxiously attempting to connect their flights to other corners of the globe.
The nearest airport to Sölden is the Innsbruck Airport, which is about 80km from town, roughly an hour away. It has one terminal and one baggage claim, which means that it's possible to be checking into your hotel an hour after your plane touches down, traffic permitting. Side note: the route into Innsbruck involves navigating the aircraft between some staggeringly steep and high mountains, and to do so a pilot must have additional licensing before they're allowed to take off or land here. If you'd like to fly into another airport and have a mini road trip to Sölden, you can opt to fly into either Munich Airport (246km/ 3 hours 20 minutes drive), or Zurich Airport (279km / 3 hours 10 minutes drive).
My next visit to town will likely involve me flying to an airport several hours away and driving, as the landscape in this part of the world is unbelievable and worth the extra hours of travel time. From Zurich or Munich you can expect to spend 3 hours or so behind the wheel, 5 hours if you're driving from Frankfurt or Vienna, and 12 hours if you want a real adventure from London. There are two main parking garages in town that offer free parking, and most hotels have free parking as well.
You can also opt travel by rail and utilize Europe's vast system of train options. The nearest stop to Sölden can be found at Otztal Bahnhof in the Inn valley near Imst, which would require a taxi or bus ride to cover the 38 additional km to town.
The Best Trails to Ride in Sölden
Do you like mountain biking on actual mountains? Well then go ahead and pick your proverbial poison, because there are so many massive runs with breathtaking views here, you can't make a bad choice. However, it's my job to narrow things down a bit, and I'll try and do my best here. When the Bike Republic opened 5 years ago, one of the main objectives was to build trails that allow for a broader range of riders, with trails that allow for people new to the sport to enjoy, and also manage to satisfy more experienced riders with creative eyes on the hunt for Easter eggs. In just half a decade however, they've managed to develop a plethora of trails that range from super fast and flowy, to steep and rough, high alpine bits of exposure, and warp speed green tunnels. The park employs 23 full-time trail builders, has 4 lifts including two gondolas, and thousands of meters of vertical to play with. While there are thousands of kilometers of trail available in Tyrol County, Sölden is really split into two areas: The bike park and the Silent Side
, a collection of backcountry trails across the Ötztaler Ache river from the gondolas and main part of town that offer no uplifts or shuttles.Key trail - Ollweite Line
: I can't say that this is my favorite trail here, but I can't say that it isn't either. This is currently the highest trail at the bike park, starting at 8,720 feet and dropping riders 2,400 feet over the course of 4 miles with a steady gradient, and breathtaking views the entire time. There is quite a bit of creative rock armoring towards the top of the trail, and quite a few really well-built berms and creative line options from top to bottom. The second half of the trail picks up steam as well from the "north shore" features down, with a few nice chicanes and launch points to keep things interesting. You can session this trail over and over via the 6-pack lift, or you can use it to start a nearly 5,000 vertical foot journey over the course of several miles down to the base area. No bad choices here.Key trail - Nene Trail
: This is actually a tale of 2 trails in 1. The Nene Trail is a black diamond rated work of art, with loads of steep, chunky, rocky sections for the first half of the ride, and amazing dirt, greasy roots, and warp speeds on the bottom half. This is definitely a trail with some consequence, and thus might not be for everyone, but if you're up for it you will be rewarded in many ways. The trail drops riders over 2,000 vertical down the mountain for just over 2 miles, and includes a small stream crossing early on, and amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the town itself throughout.Key trail - Ohn Line
: So the Gahe Line is kind of the shiny new kid in town, an 11km long flow trail with some of the best berms you'll find anywhere, and really providing a lot of fun for riders of all levels. However, for me the best flow trail on the mountain was the Ohn Line. The Ohn line drops 1,500 feet down the middle of the mountain, and offers up so many fun line choices, and has a much higher speed limit when approaching some of the features compared to the Gahe Line. I rode it during a rainstorm, I rode it when it was dry and dusty, and I always had a huge grin when I was finished. Bonus points for ending right across the street from the Hotel Bäckelar Wirt!Key trail - The Leiterberg Trail
: I'm told that first impressions are everything, and I suppose there's some merit to that idea, because this was a trail I had the chance to ride my first day in town, and it really set the tone for me and the rest of the trip. The Leiterberg Trail is perhaps the furthest removed of the trails that are lift-served, and as a result has more of a backcountry feel to it than the others at the bike park. It's rough, raw, and rowdy singletrack with a plethora of line choice from top to bottom, and rewards those who are looking to push the pace a bit. Riders drop 2,000 feet over the course of 2 miles, with a few short sections where pedaling will help keep your legs honest.Key trail - The Kleble Alm Trail
: The Silent Side of Sölden is under-appreciated, due in large part to the grunt work involved in getting to the trails, as there are no lifts available, and shuttling on the access road is really discouraged. On one hand, it's a shame that more people don't suck it up and dedicate at least one day to exploring these if not more. On the other hand, less traffic keeps the trails quiet and the dirt primed, so in the end I suppose it's a wash. The Kleble Alm trail is an unbelievably fun romp dropping 1,700 feet in just a mile, which can make for some extended sections of trail that maintain a 40 degree pitch or more in spots. Riders will find a healthy mix of natural flow, high speed tech sections, and plenty of tricky switchbacks to test your nose wheelie skills.
Sölden is way, way up in the Alps and skiing is still king here, with the resort typically playing host to the FIS Ski World Cup season opener in late Autumn. The ski season typically runs through April, although climate change occasionally likes to throw a few curves balls here and there. You can expect the Bike Republic season to kick off every June, and run through September. There are thousands of kilometers of trail throughout the region, with many in lower areas that will grant you riding opportunities earlier in the season and will stay open later in the year when snow starts to cover trails high up on the mountain.
The weather can be a bit unpredictable as well, so always come prepared with a shell and cool weather layers no matter what time of year your visit is, but summers here are pleasant and warm and often filled with sunshine, making this a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes.
You can find bikes of all types scattered throughout the trails and town here, but I think that for now a proper DH bike is overkill for just about every trail, and a short travel XC bike will definitely leave you wanting more. I think that most modern "super" enduro rigs (see: long travel trail bikes) are perfect for this place. There are definitely some BC-level sections of steep and deep stuff here, but nothing that I could see that would warrant anything more than a 170-180 travel machine. The trails across the valley on the Quiet Side are often utilized via e-bicycles as well, with the climb up being a bit of a bear otherwise.
I don't know of many places that can compete with the beauty of this region.
Accommodations and Food:
There are 54 bike-friendly lodging options in Sölden, from mountainside chalets, to no frills apartments, to 5-star hotels, and most of them offer amenities that include locked storage for your bike(s), laundry, bike wash, and bike repair kits. I stayed at the Hotel Bäckelar Wirt
, located directly across the street from the pumptrack and trails, and right next to one of the gondolas. Simon and Natalie are the owners, and made me feel so at home and comfortable here, I cannot say enough good things about them or their team. My room was incredibly comfortable, my bike secure, the wifi strong, and the gin and tonics were the best I'd ever had. Every day we'd finish on the mountain and head here for a drink or coffee, as the hotel is also home to a very popular cafe with a cozy restaurant, delicious espresso, and a very well equipped bar. Seriously, it's a perfect location and the people here are exceptional. I left counting them as friends.
Breakfast: Hotel Bäckelar Wirt
has an amazing breakfast menu and spread, and their coffee is delicious.BÄCKEREI ÖTZTAL BÄCK
is a quaint bakery close to the gondola with delicious baked goods and espresso, and very affordable prices. Cash only!
Lunch:Wirtshaus am Giggijoch
is right off of the gondola, and is a helluva great way to refuel and recap your time on the bike. The Pizzeria Nudeltopf
has great pizza, and is right next to the Gaislachhkogl cable car.
has quite an extensive menu, but their pizzas are incredible.Hotel Bäckelar Wirt
once again, is pretty darn perfect. Werkstatt
comes through for the burger and beer crowd.
Local Bike Shops:
Sölden is home to 6 bike shops. That's quite a lot of LBS' for a town of under 5,000, and information on all of them can be found here
1. DO go chasing waterfalls
. The Ötztal Valley is loaded with some breathtaking waterfalls, and it's 100% worth dedicating an afternoon to go and chase them. Start with the Stuibenfall Waterfall, about 30 minutes from Sölden. It's the tallest in the region, with numerous trails and viewing platforms to check it out from. The beauty of the falls and the landscape that surrounds it will blow your mind.
2. Bond. James Bond.
. Situated off of the summit gondola, right next to one of Sölden's most esteemed restaurants, Ice Q, is the 007 Elements
museum. If you're a fan of James Bond and/or cinema in general, then this is worth checking out. It's an immersive installation sans climate control (the permafrost that the structure was built upon needs to remain intact), that pays homage to England's favorite spy and the work that went into filming one of the series' most memorable chase scenes in recent years from the Spectre film.
3. Race a moped across the Alps.
. Okay, this is kind of a selfish endeavor of mine, but I want to participate in the Ötztaler Moped Marathon, and am looking for any teams with a spare moped and a willingness to endure my completely inept German speaking skills. I was shocked and awed by the spectacle of this weekend-long festival, and I think it's worth scheduling your trip to Sölden based on the dates of this event. 1,500 50cc mopeds tearing through the Alps is only a part of the equation. The concerts, debauchery, and incredibly fun vibes are really what's important here. Check it out for yourself and let me know if you want to join my yet unnamed moped gang.Bike Republic Sölden mountain biking trails