Steffi Marth & Micayla Gatto Compare their Hometown MTB Scenes in 'Canada vs. Saalbach'

Jun 25, 2019
by Steffi Marth  

Words by: Steffi Marth/ Micayla Gatto
Photos: Daniel Roos

CANADA VS. SAALBACH - Canada is the land of unlimited mountain biking opportunities. The birthplace of Freeride and North Shore bridges, and home of the most famous bike park in the world: Whistler. It also happens to be the birthplace of my friend Micayla Gatto. Although most of you may know her from her hilarious and strong-willed “Ferda Girls” video, Micayla has a much more layered involvement in the mountain bike scene. Up until the end of the 2014 season, Gatto was competing and shaking up the Downhill World Cup circuit before transitioning into a more creative and adventure-seeking career path.

She now travels the world looking for the best spots to ride her bike and tell compelling stories through video, photography, and her artwork. When she told me she was coming to Europe, I immediately took this as a challenge and opportunity to showcase the Alps. Knowing the caliber of the trails and riding in Canada, I chose Saalbach-Hinterglemm to showcase our European version of “Adventure Biking”, and how it compares to her favourite Freeride spots back in Canada.

The cable cars have just opened on this beautiful June day as Micayla and I gear up, full of anticipation, as I take her to Spieleckkogel. I knew of some pretty epic views with technical single track, and was excited to show Micayla some unique “freeriding” in the European Alps. However, as soon as we reached the top, my Canadian friend steers purposefully towards an almost vertical rock face jutting up from the side of the access road. “This looks awesome! Let's climb up and ride down this!”. This is where I learned that, in Canada, “Freeride” means finding lines everywhere and anywhere… a sort of “choose your own adventure” type deal. In Europe, the term “Freeride” simply means getting a shuttle or chairlift to the top, and descending down sanctioned trails. So, with a decent dose of adrenaline now pumping through my bloodstream, I let Micayla teach me the rules of Canadian freeride as we creatively pick a few different lines down a seemingly unrideable rock face.

What a rush!! We nail the lines and, as I roll around beaming with pride, Micayla is already up the backside of the face again, this time pointing her tires down -in my opinion- a completely absurd and inaccessible line. As I stand at the bottom slack-jawed and confused, Micayla drops this nasty rock crack in the middle of a thick pile of sharp boulders comfortably, smiling and cheerfully extending a high-five, thanking me for bringing her to this spot. Although the line could be considered “Freeride” the rest of our adventure that day didn’t have too many line options or room for creativity, due to the topography of the land. I learn that Canada has a lot more of this open freeride-type terrain, and we decide that Canada, indeed, gets a winning point here.

Fortunately, we have local rider and Spielberghaus owner Sabine Holl, to show us the best scenic spots in the area. Sabine steers us purposefully to an ascent that will take us up and over to a scenic ridgeline, and I glance over to see Micayla’s reaction. She’s clearly impressed and awe-struck at the vastness and never ending sea of peaks and valleys. The ride up goes slower than usual, because every few steps Micayla pulls out her cellphone to take photo after photo of the views. Point for Europe?

Shortly before the summit, a dense snowpack blocks the last few meters. The slope is steep and off-camber, and we hoist our bikes over our shoulders before digging in our toes to traverse across. Micayla leads the way, well versed in this type of terrain. At first we are all laughing and having fun, until it becomes apparent that one false move and you could be finding yourself taking a long, cold ride down the side of the mountain.

We reach the summit where, in typical Euro-fashion, there is a big white cross and a summit-book to write in. We have a snack and take in our hard work. After Micayla fills her phone memory with more photos, we blast downhill on the new Hochalm Trail, past a big waterfall before looping back towards Saalbach-Hinterglemm. Although breathtakingly beautiful, Micayla and I both decide it is a draw between Canada and Austria.

Canada has only been named “Canada” for 150 years, so I take the opportunity to win back some points with some old Austrian traditions. We arrive back at Spielberghaus and I hand a dirndl to Micayla as our hosts start to prepare dinner.

Walter Holl was working hard in the kitchen all day while his wife took us riding. In Austria, the distribution of roles works well among men and women. As he prepares a dish called Kasnocken over an open fire in the yard, Micayla and I take a stab at catching the chickens running around in the coop. How traditional this scenario really is, is up to you. In any case, I think we knock Canada out of the park on this one. The Alpine traditions move on into the night, as our traditional Austrian dinner is served to us in the rustic mountain lodge, followed by a glass of wine in an original wooden barrel hot tub, the sounds of cows bells on the mountainous grassy hillsides lulling us into relaxation.

It’s not an adventure if there isn’t any struggle involved, so, after a 3am wake-up, shuttle to and hike-a-bike to the top of the mountains, we enjoyed an epic sunrise surrounded by the glorious Austrian peaks just as we reach the west summit. This time, Micayla isn’t the only one who’s breath is taken away by the beauty. We enjoy the silence and the warm glow of sunrise on our faces before starting on the trail towards Klinger Toerl, the overpass from Saalbach to Oberpinzgau.

We have to cross a large cow pasture where, Daniel instructs us, there is an aggressive young bull amongst the sows that should be fine if we stay a good distance away. Since Micayla is more at home dealing with Black bears and Cougars, I’m less worried as we start our traverse. Not long into our crossing, I hear Bine yelling from behind, and then, I hear the hoofbeats. The bull is charging down the trail behind us, and I jump out of the way before I get trampled. He charges on after Micayla before circling back, standing its ground, screaming at us. I say screaming because I have never heard anything but the lazy “moooooo” come from a cow. This was a different sound; a dangerous warning to all of us who dared step into this bull’s field. My heart is pounding and my eyes are locked as we move slowly past him. Micayla agrees that, although she has seen many bears, has never been threatened by one like this bull just threatened us. One stressful point for Austria? We finish the ride by passing the beautiful Hacklberg lakes, slowly working our way down to the valley for a well deserved morning coffee. Average Adventure Score: Saalbach is still a bit ahead.

Our last point of comparison between Canada and Saalbach is now: the Bike Park. Micayla and I can’t wipe the smiles off our faces as we hit step-downs, wood drops, and wall rides on the pro line of the park. It’s no Whistler, but we still have some great trails that are fun, and there is enough choice for all levels of ability on both mountain flanks plus the famous Leogang bike park, which is chairlift accessible and one valley adjacent to Saalbach. There are also numerous other interesting bike parks and trails in the surrounding area, and throughout the Alps, but, I must admit, they all look to Canada for inspiration and building ideas, and I have to begrudgingly give at least a half point to Canada.

Finally we agree that, although Europe is definitely not Canada, and visa-versa, they both have their own attractions. Whether it be the rugged free riding in Canada, or the deep-rooted traditions of Austria, we decide there are two winners here. We also decided that I will work harder on my freeriding lines, and Micayla…. well, she has already commissioned a dirndl and booked her stay for next year in Saalbach!

You think this looked cool?

You want to share an adventure with Micayla and Steffi?

Book your stay with the #twostokedgirls Micayla Gatto and Steffi Marth at Spielberghaus Saalbach 27.-29. September 2019.
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Info & Booking here.

Regions in Article
Whistler, Saalbach Hinterglemm


  • 15 1
 Is it just me, or is it becoming more common in our younger generations (those folks say, under 40) to search out residencies based on lifestyle? Just this articles "comparison" of two places seems to illustrate the point - would our parents and older generations have done such a thing? Or would they have only looked at two places as "can you get a good job there and have lots of kids?"
  • 13 2
 Totally agree! What an awesome transition from the corporate driven mindset our society rams down our throats!
  • 12 0
 They are professional riders, it's their jobs. But yes, I moved to CO because the lifestyle here suits me, and where I move next depends on it as well.
  • 9 0
 But, to play devil's advocate a bit, did their (our parents) sacrifice and hard work allow our generation the ability to move where we please? And I am alluding to more than potentially providing the personal means to do so, I am talking about contributing, even in their own small way, to a society in general that produced infustructure, products, communication devices, industries that support more transient life style.

Also, by living where you want for lifestyle will you be able to contribute the most back to society, your children, future generations, and provide them with the best future possible?

I am not saying that doing so will not be a proper allocation of your time and resoureces, or provide for the "social contract," but as a point of conciousness it is at least worth considering. Again, devil's advocate and worth the thought!
  • 3 0
 @BadgerBacker: A worthwhile debate, for sure. It's part of the reason I advocate for making our cities more green - preserving open space and providing access to expansive outdoor space. It's a shame many of most productive cities have such high cost of living and such terrible congestion that reaching say - good trails, is such a challenge. In cities that are cheaper, they seem to lack these great resources. Thats at least one area that Vancouver and some of Europe have in common, and where the cities on the East Coast of the USA seems to lack. It's like, "Cheap, Lots of Jobs, Good Climate, Good Access to Trails" - Pick two.

I feel like our generation is desperately searching for the best mix of that given four-option criteria. Often times, as you said, it means being less productive, or leaving behind previous generations to pursue our own path (I say this as someone living 2000 miles away from my family and friends in order to live someplace beautiful and have a good job).
  • 7 0
 @PHeller: jobs and professions also now exist where we can (and do) live in places which can be close to recreational amenities. This allows more choice for both employers and employees.

Not quite as true in our parent's generation
  • 4 1
 I'm 39 and moved to Vancouver 5 years ago from London (UK) without even really looking to see what jobs were around or what the housing cost (astronomical) was. I just knew there were mountains close by and so I packed up my life and left to Canada.

I don't think it even crossed my mind once to see if I could get a job (I work in technology so I can usually work most major cities) or wonder if it's a good place to bring up kids. I didn't know caring about those things was a thing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • 1 0
 @PHeller: I think you nailed it in the first sentance, "advocate for making our cities more green - preserving open space and providing access to expansive outdoor space."
  • 1 0
 Not just the younger generation. I'm way over 40, and we moved to the north shore 20 years ago to be close to mountains, trails and rivers. I would rather live close to where I play than where I work, although I ride to work regularly. Riding to the trails is where its at!
  • 1 0
 My parents to moved to where they lived for better jobs. I moved to where i live for a better lifestyle (and I found a way to make the job happen).
I'm 42.
  • 3 0
 @Skooks: The key thing is that you moved to the shore 20 years ago. That was when it was somewhat affordable. Many times on my way up to ride I wonder how many more times I will get to do this before I'm forced to leave this amazing place.
  • 3 0
 Another thing worth thinking about is the possible diluting/gentrification/degrading of these "lifestyle" places that often occurs because of the large influx of lifestyle people.

For good, or bad, Boulder CO is often viewed as the archetype of this. It still has great outdoor opportunities, but due to the large influx of "lifestyle" people the vibe/"lifestyle" has at best been changed, or at worst rendered unobtainable or diminished for many of the people who moved there for the "lifestyle" in the first place.

Thus, I think this circles back around to @PHeller about the increasing greenspace/out door opportunities within or very near to large urban centers.

Iguess if I were to distill the question; is it better to move to some place you like and potentially begin the process of degrading it, or to stay and try to create some element of what you like about that other place where you current reside?

Again, I have no clear answer for what is best, and there is no singular right answer as it is personal question. However, these are certainly points worth considering.
  • 2 0
 @BadgerBacker: Excellent thought on "shape your current cheap city" or "built an expensive life next to a mountain".

The unfortunate fact is, many places that support a "extreme sport outdoor lifestyle" are surrounded by public land and public access.

You can't ask thousands of property owners of Pittsburgh, NYC, Atlanta, Tampa, etc to give up thousands of acres of land in an attempt to recreate the public-use proximity of the western states. A lot of Europe has this already built-in, it's pretty hard to build in mountainous terrain, so those areas were left for public access. The East and Mid-West of USA don't have many boundaries on development, much to the detriment of pubic land and trail access. Green belts are usually just considered bike paths, not substantial strips of wilderness.
  • 1 0
 I'm absolutely looking to live where I want to cycle. The problem is that most the places that I want to live are remote or dying, and do not offer much in the way of work.
  • 8 1
 Wow wow hold on.
The headline hit me hard. Comparison of Saalbach and Canada? What would you want to compare Bikepark wise?
The trails ist Saalbach are the one of worst you can find in Austria, they are dangerous!
You think when you let it roll you have the speed for the upcoming jumps is right? Like most of the time in Canada? Nope. Hit your Brake. Slow down an unknown amount and you can survive the jump.
Turns without a berm after jumps? They got them all.
Wood drops where you again are not able to let it roll? You have to step off your bike. Look at the feature. Get back. Dial in your speed with the brake and hope for the best.
I am a good experienced rider but these things were annoying me. Before my last Saalbach visit I was in Canada. The difference hit me hard.
The people and culture are great. But guys the trails are not pure fun or safe. Comparisons to Canada... Saalbach is far of.
  • 6 0
 I think Canada blows Austria out of the water in the trail category. Half a point..?! Ok, must be because of the uplift infrastructure, cuz.... there is simply no comparison when it comes to TRAIL infrastructure.
  • 8 0
 Yeah ladies!! Freeriding and having fun!!
  • 7 0
 i enjoyed looking at those pictures very much
  • 7 2
 In reality Saalbach is just another ski ressort, cable cars all over the place and shaved Mountain.
Who would want to live there (it is an ok bikepark, yes)???
  • 2 0
 It's a beautiful place where you don't want to live. At least not in Saalbach directly. Trails are at best OK, definitely overstated compared to whistler...
  • 7 0
 A entire country vs a village/resort? I dunno Smile
  • 3 0
 Correct me if I am wrong but I think Steffi is from Germany. This seems to be an advertisement of Austria as a mtb destination. This is quite ridiculous because you are not allowed on 99% of the hiking trails and you are not allowed to ride on fire roads. If you get caught it gets really expensive. So if you want some fun on the mtb visit Switzerland Italy Germany France Spain but not Austria.
  • 1 0
 It's rather an ad for Saalbach. A well pictured ad though.
  • 4 0
 Let's face it. AUT is not friendly to mountain bikers. Just a mountain range away south in Sudtirol they welcome bikers. Sure you can poach unsanctioned singletrack in Tirol and get yelled at by farmers and hikers. Or you can ride legally in Sudtirol or Graubuenden or really most other neighbouring regions and not feel lile a bad person
  • 1 0

Been there, done that - rented e-bikes on Salzburg hiking trails from the peak. Fun, but Austrias not a place I would bring my own mtb bike for a trip. The farmer took photos of us, as if the police would be able to catch the hooligans. Road riding was fabolous though.
  • 4 0
 Please don't forget to mention that Sabine Holl (or HÖll!) is the mom of WC ace Vali Höll, so gnar & stoke has eventually been inherited!!!
  • 2 0
 WOW - big editorial oversight for sure. Thanks for that info!
  • 2 0
 Affentittengeil! I rode Saalbach/Leogang last year and randomly joined up on one of Steffi's group tours in South Tyrol. This area has world class hospitality for mtb tourists and an incredible number of locations with lift access to mindblowing take off points. Even though only a few areas have truly purpose-built-freeride-runs, it's a great riding experience for anyone that appreciates more than just getting park laps in.
  • 2 0
 The Alps VS Canada is more relevant.

Canada is nice for mountain biking but i miss true food and alcohol form the alps ( most of the French are illegal in Canada ) and Aprés ride in Europe is pretty good too. Whistler is overpriced 2 or 3 times more expensive than les Portes du Soleil or other european Bikeparks. The chairlift in Whistler are from the 90s but you can put 4 bikes and ride at 7-8 PM. It's hard to compare a 300 years old country with Europe.
  • 3 0
 Saalbach/Hinterglemm It's a really cool place, and it's getting better every year! Was there just last weekend.
  • 3 0
 Fun and interesting story, with writing a cut above the usual Pinkbike fare - brava! Pinkbike needs more dirndls!
  • 2 0
 Steffi Marth is german not Austrian, didn't know Saalbach belongs to germany already Wink
  • 2 0
 really cool story, and some great photos - love it !
  • 2 0
 Girls that know how to have fun! All you need is a bike and some dirt!
  • 1 0
 Most of Canada is flat, and there’s no mountain biking at. It’s just the Southern BC part that kicks ass.
  • 2 1
 I’ll be the douche to point it out, but I guarantee I’m not alone- I zoomed in on the hot tub picture VERY eagerly.
  • 1 0
 That Kazakka-whatever they call it looks so f n good.
  • 1 0
 Beautiful Ladies that SHRED..WOW!!!Smile
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