Swiss Bliss - Take Two

Oct 20, 2011 at 13:26
by Mitchell Scott  
Every once in a while, for whatever reason, if you're really lucky, you might find yourself in an experience that's never happened before. To anyone. In the summer of 2003 I was fortunate enough to be on such a journey. Led by Chris Winter and his Swiss co-hort at the time, an adventurous mountain biker named Francois Panchard, myself, Sterling Lorence, Wade Simmons, Andrew Shandro and a small gaggle of Whistler shredders headed out on what would be Big Mountain's first ever mountain bike tour. The trip? An 8-day long pioneering adventure through the Valais Region in southern Switzerland. Under the towering peaks of the Swiss Alps, on a vast network of trails that had barely ever been ridden before, we descended nearly 80,000 feet during the trip. Using chairlifts and gondolas, our legs and our lungs, and stringing together an insanely complex maze of trail, path, road and everything in between, we accrued what is still, to all of us, one of the most astounding mountain bike adventures of our lives.

At the time, it didn't seem right. The only other mountain bikers we saw were XC lycra locals riding gravel roads. We were some of the very first to hit these amazingly epic trails in downhill/all-mountain fashion. And at the time we knew it. We were pioneers, pirates almost, hoarding singletrack gold in an entirely foreign land - right from under their noses.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

I recently returned to the Valais and was quite surprised at the scene that has risen since our group of marauding Canadians first ventured there. Not that our trip, and the subsequent feature in the March 2004 issue of Bike Magazine started the scene. No, this is not a feeling of entitlement, more one of warm reflection--that we were the first to catch on to what is now a thriving scene. It would be like being the first to ride Vancouver's North Shore, or Moab's slickrock, discovering G-Land or Mavericks if you were a surfer. Being a pioneer has a certain gravitas to it. You were there.

My visit to the Valais this time was spent riding trails vaguely familiar. I recognized peaks and draws from relatively minuscule moments of many months past. I talked to immigrant "bike bums" who have moved from Germany and France just to ride here. Trails were still being discovered, while old standbys like "The Brazilian" which Simmons named on our inaugural trip, are heavily ridden tracks known throughout the region.

As the seemingly infinite mountain loops and descents continue to be catalogued and explored, and as the Valais begins to emerge as one of the world's top mountain bike destinations on the planet, I thought it would be cool to take a look back at Swiss Bliss, pasted below the photos as it was submitted to Bike eight years ago. Incredible photography by Sterling Lorence, words by Mitchell Scott. Insane riding action by Andrew Shandro and Wade Simmons. Epic adventure by Chris Winter and Francois Panchard. Singletrack, gondolas, chairlifts and spectacular culture by the Swiss.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Swiss Bliss
Burning brake pads, francs and vertical in the land of perfection
Words: Mitchell Scott
Photography: Sterling Lorence

The acrid stink of burning brake compound, purpled steel and seared flesh rises through a cloud of man-sweat. In the Valais region of south western Switzerland, where grapes grow beside the Rhone River and cows with brass bells graze alpine meadows 8,000 feet above, and gondolas and trains and chairlifts zip between the two with uncommon ubiquity, we’ve stopped because we had to. Our forearms are so pumped they could be full of spinach. Eyes are so watery and red they could be filled with sorrow. But they’re not. The trail beneath our tires is ancient. It is also perfect.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Formed by a scintilla of actions incremented to millions by great periods of time. 1,000, 3,000, 5,000, who knows, as the glaciers of the last Ice Age began to recede it’s possible people roamed this path 10,000 years ago. Now, the trail is four feet wide, worn that way by the traffic of civilizations come and gone. Primordial stones lay buried at each edge. Packed one step at a time, one age after another. It contours downward through mountains carpeted by tall evergreen forest. And it is fast. On one side lay a ditch with water trickling towards the Mediterranean, channelling its descent in and out of village; past slate-roofed farmhouses and cafes; meadows; and views…always views.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Down and down, the trail’s center worn to a smoothed rut from the plod of infinitesimal footsteps, an effect that burms corners magnificently. Miraculously, almost sacrilegiously, this trail has no name, but it does indeed exist.

What is perfect singletrack? You hear it often, from friends, the guys at the bike shop and even right here in this magazine. What exactly is it? What does it look like? Feel like? How did it get there? Where is it? Perhaps these questions can be answered in Valais, a 2,000-square-mile region in the Pennine Alps on the eastern edge of Lake Geneva, home to one of Europe’s most famous mountains, 12,700-foot Mont Blanc.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Ten mountain bikers from Canada have gathered in Valais to ride perfection…or at least, that’s what they’ve been told. With Whistler, British Columbia native Chris Winter and lifetime Valais local Francois Panchard as guides, with a host of local Swiss rogues as companions, this band’s mission is to pillage singletrack. All the while no one aware of what they are doing except themselves. “Why do those men laugh and hug?” the locals ask. “Why throw head skyward and scream with joy?” This voyage presented them with 80,000 vertical feet of descending in eight days. They are some of the first foreigners to ever experience Switzerland like this. The first to blend the modernity of lifts, the technology of all-mountain full suspension bikes and the antiquity of trails built from millennial leg, lung and foot.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Raggy mountain bikers don’t usually blow big cash on a plane ticket that goes halfway around the world to one of the planet’s most expensive country’s…just to ride a bike. Surfers go to budget beaches. Climbers dirt bag on desolate peaks. Mountain bikers go to Utah. What would make riders like Wade Simmons and Andrew Shandro leave the world-class trails of their North Shore backyard? Why would a government statistician blow off his fiancé, half his vacation time, and a good chunk of his savings to ride in the same clothes for over a week? Why would a bike shop manager from Whistler leave A-line? Our stories could all be laced back to friends who had their minds blown on a trip to Valais last year. They promised perfection.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Three years ago, 32-year-old Chris Winter, an entrepreneur and avid rider, started researching the possibility of guiding bike tours in the Swiss Alps, a place he had spent a portion of his childhood skiing, a place he had always had an infatuation for. His quest led him to 33-year-old Francois Panchard—a fellow not normal by Swiss standards. The son of a mountain climber, Panchard’s freaky green eyes and conniving grin belies a certain imbalance. He is not following the footsteps of his thirty-something peers, taking high profile jobs in New York and Paris, making heaps of cash in Geneva playing with oil baron cash, driving BMW’s with in-dash DVD players and wearing designer clothes and fancy watches. Instead, Panchard runs his own CD-Rom trail mapping business, spending day after day documenting the labyrinth of singletrack that drapes his country like a giant gill net. He lives high in the mountains in a tiny little cabin with his beautiful Hungarian wife, and almost every summer day he explores his homeland by bike. In the last four years he has gone from a tight, light cross-country rig (the Swiss mountain bike of choice) to a four and four all-mountain machine with disk brakes and wide rubber. Even still, he wants more suspension. Like I said, he is not a stereotypical Swiss.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

But Panchard knows something most of his countrymen don’t. He is one of the very first in Switzerland to discover what could be the greatest jewel in the mountain bike universe. Lifts. Yes, lifts. Ski lifts, gondolas, tiny double chairs, trams, quads, funiclaires, trains that go to 12,000 feet. Hundreds of them. Everywhere. Idiot, you say, that’s easy. You’ve skied at Swiss resorts that have hundreds of lifts. You’ve travelled 50 miles in a day and barely walked. Everybody knows that. But that is winter. In summer it is a landscape dominated by hikers. Mountain bikers are nowhere to be seen.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

“The Swiss mountain biker rides up the gravel road and down the gravel road,” explains Panchard. “They don’t ride singletrack and they think lifts are for wimps.” But Panchard, like he’s done most of his life, has gone against the traditionalist ways of his countrymen and swallowed his pride. He rides lifts with his bike all the time. Almost all of them—of which there are hundreds—allow bikes, some on platforms, some on little hooks, some you have to hold yourself. From the top of each one spreads a weave of hiking trail, cow paths and doubletrack that meander through some of the world’s most spectacular mountains. Some traverse, some go up, but once you’ve won an elevation of 8,000 to 10,000 feet, most go down—for a long way.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Worn smooth since the Dark Ages, by a people confined to a relatively small, rugged and mountainous land, with a knack for perfection and industry, the Swiss have made a labyrinth of walking paths, many linking farms and churches and villages from peak to valley bottom. And just like everything else Swiss, they are of superb quality. This is a country obsessed with time, so it makes sense everything is built with an ageless quality—local villages even hire unemployed residents to rake and manicure its proximate trail network. There are some 42,000 miles of them, they are naturally contoured and wonderfully irrigated, with drinking fountains and benches in the furthest reaches of every valley. But they are also special for another reason: very few have ever seen the roll of knobby rubber. They are virgin, fresh, unspoiled. Yes, Panchard is a lone sailor on a sea of gold.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

On this day, Panchard has a capable crew—who understand the unclaimed treasure that envelops his very existence. We find ourselves high above the glitz of Verbier. Earlier that day we traversed narrow, derailleur claiming cow trail through alpine hued by an August dawn, descended to a decommissioned road, through winding, dipping singletrack as it runs beside a medieval aqueduct. Wondering across a steep forested slope, we then climbed 3,000 feet on gravel road high into the alpine, to a cross, and a hike-a-bike up a steep path that tops out somewhere near 9,000 feet. And here we sit, fairly blown.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

The starting point of our ride, a quaint stone and log lodge hostel near the top of a ski gondola, is barely visible across the valley. We sit, eating cheese and sausage and chocolate, marvelling downwards at 7,000 feet of vertiginous relief to the Rhone. Francois readies his home fashioned helmet cam. He has a crazed look, like we’re about to ambush unsuspecting prey, absolutely certain we’re going to get away with it.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

It seems like hours go by until we stop. Steep singletrack melds to wider, more rhythmic trail that rails through sub-alpine meadows with groundcover that is brick red, mustard and rust. Rotors sizzle. Eyes caked with dust. There is a collective tingle when we notice the Rhone is still an age away; it’s patterned vineyards and orchards and roads barely enlarged from the vista of before. And then into forest, where the trail widens even more, and burms and jumps emerge with regularity, and flow and speed and the clang of cow bells and bright green and cramping fingers and aching feet and rattling biceps and blurred forest and focus and elation rush upon you in a single wave of sensation. At the bottom, you don’t know what to say…so you say nothing.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

After 12 miles of solid, uninterrupted descending we whiz through vineyards to a village where we buy beers and cappuccinos and sandwiches. We load our bikes into the trailer, crowd into our van and drive an hour up the mountain-walled Rhone Valley to another neat little gondola, two at a time, up to a mountainside village. We spin through the narrow streets where cute blonde children wander amongst shiny little sport scars and stilted houses from the 1300’s. We stop at a grocery store where the Camelbak is stuffed with wine and cheese and more sausage and bottles of weak European beer. Then it’s off to another gondola, this one smaller than before--a ski lift, up to a modern little hostel tucked above the bullwheel. On a sun draped deck we indulge on Lowenbraus and views of glaciers and ragged peaks and lush green valleys. We drink and eat and try to recall the thousands of spectacular intricacies of the day, and the day before that, afraid we’ll forget because there are so many worth remembrance.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures


This goes on the next day and the next until it’s a blur of rightness. Flow comes easier now. Over the course of eight days we ride an average of 25 miles, 2,000 feet of up, and 10,000 feet of down per day. We begin to feel like animals, travelling wide and far and long, each mile the bike becoming more an organic extension than a piece of metal, plastic and rubber. Rolling through villages, rushing to repair bicycles at rest stops, airing off of retaining walls, storming lifts rife with reek. The locals ask us why we’re so lazy. Why we don’t ride up the road like all the other cyclists. Panchard rambles in French that we like to ride downhill and that we’re Canadian, and the lean, weather-wrinkled old men with felt hats slap back disapproving looks. But they don’t know. No one here seems to know.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

In Zermatt, a picture perfect ski village in the German-speaking Upper Valais, we cruise like a pack of wolves through streets lined with geraniums and Rolex shops and fur coats. We’ve got these five and five suspension bikes with overly stuffed daypacks and we’re not wearing spandex and we haven’t showered in days. People stare a lot. In the train station, littered with glitz and leather and wealth, we stand out like sore thumbs. We look like rogues that are up to something. We’re not cross-country riders, they’ve seen those before. We’re not boisterous British climbers, they’ve seen those too. We pile our bikes into gondolas and funiclaires, speak bad French and laugh overtly. We’re here to take their treasures without them even knowing what their treasure is.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

We ride the apogee of Swiss ingenuity, a train up to Gornergrat, a lookout at 10,270 feet, where a four star hotel stares out at views of Europe’s highest peaks—the 15,200-foot Monte Rosa, right there. The Matterhorn, in your face. Mega glaciers close enough to refrigerate you.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

We wait until the people with Tilley hats and graphite walking poles finish their business. The sun begins to set and the hikers and the trains have all gone. I fall in behind Simmons and Shandro and submit to a path that is more a living, pulsing vein than a trail. We are cells coursing to a preset destination, our direction already known, already pre-programmed. We travel in unison and only need but react to the subtle turns and dips and switchbacks of hard packed earth. The moment is otherworldly. Instinctual.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

We spend the night in another immaculate chalet, high above the shimmering opulence of Zermatt. The Matterhorn fades through the window and someone says we may as well be kings. And there is that feeling that we have found it: Raiders that have sailed forever and finally landed on that dreamed of shore. The one that was promised to you, that made you take all the risks to get here, a place of copious treasure, too much to even conceive and there is no one else to fight it from, no rush to horde it. And now we’re here. In the land of perfect singletrack. Not in a single stretch, but in a trail that goes and goes…and then goes some more.

riding switzerland with big mountain adventures

Maybe perfection is the addition of the infinite. Maybe perfection is built by the foot and exhumed by the tire. It’s hard to tell. But I ask you one more question: What will your little stash in the woods look like if you padded it down foot by foot? And you and your kin and their kin did that for 500 years? And there would be lifts up to the top of each one. Energy efficient, self-loading lifts and upward monorails, gondolas and pretty little red trains. Not because you are lazy. It’s that these rides are so huge, the relief is so damn big, riding from the bottom would kill most mortals. You toss in convenient villages and cafes to refuel. Lay down a complicated network of glacially fed runoff to dug out logs so you could stay hydrated. And benches with views and, oh yes, character rich chalets at the top of each one so when you wake, the alpine is right there, your trail is right there. And then, one day you snip the ribbon. Open up all the trails to be ridden by you and yours for the rest of all the days. Could this be perfect singletrack? “Yes,” you say. “Yes it is.”


101 Comments

  • 121 3
 Well, well, well...
When I read this words, I'm amazed by the prejudices that are showed here although you have been visiting Switzerland several times...
I'm a Swiss guy and I've started biking 15 years ago and since the first ride, I'm wearing baggy shorts and riding fat tires... I'm riding bikes starting at 160mm Travel (6,3 inches Speci Enduro) and ending at 203mm (Speci Demo). In 2001 for ex. I was riding the first Specialized Enduro... and I'm not the only one here...
The first time I rocked the trails you describe, was in the last Millenium... you are not the pioneers! You are only the first guys who try to commercialize that feeling of "Swiss montain culture" for bikers. Well I have some mixed feelings about that. Let me tell you why:
Swiss people are loving their mountains and are - in a modest wise - proud of their land. Not in a patriotic way, but they are proud to be respectful to the mountains and the nature. That's the reason they don't want too much "circus and funfair" in the mountains. We respect the trails. They are made by blood, love and sweat...
we ride it, but we do not scream the out in the whole world. We enjoy that silently like gentlemen and are very thankful for the moment and the people who Switzerland to what it is... we need to preserve that!
So please visit our country and enjoy it, but please respect the nature and be kind with the trails (not every corner needs to be drifted :-) ).
PS: The name "the brazilian" was given by Wade? Cool! I rode it before it was named "the brazilian"... I guess it was in 1981 with my tricycle and we called it "Joleduuliduliduliduuuuuhhhhhuuuuuuuu...." :-)
  • 10 1
 Oh man you made my day with your post scriptum, buahahah!
  • 20 0
 I was just going to write a reply along the lines of "loosen up, let them have their fun", but this article almost has the taste of colonialism to it.

"We were pioneers, pirates almost, hoarding singletrack gold in an entirely foreign land - right from under their noses." In 2003??? What???
Maybe if his trip was 10 years earlier that would sound credible.

If they knew how hard it can be to get a gondola or chairlift to take along bikes they would know that they were certainly not "some of the very first to hit these amazingly epic trails in downhill/all-mountain fashion".

Anyhow, check out their website and you'll see that they offer 3 weeks for small groups. That cannot really be called "circus and funfair". So, loosen up and let them have their fun.
  • 7 1
 All I can say is all the best to anyone respecting mountains and not wanting them to be the circus and funfair. I was looking for that kind of sentence when btchn on electric motor equipped mountain bikes. The worst you can have in mountains is circus and funfair done by total amateurs. If it was just Schwarz and Simmons, no probs, but there will be unskilled haddies following. We have very little of "Alpine kind of mountains" in Poland, it's a national park and you are not allowed to bike there. I would love to do it and I might know ways to go around the ban without meeting guards - but at the same time... I think I wouldn't do it and I wish no one does it - because I don't want a bunch of brake burners start ruining the trails and pixxing off hikers...

I stuck upon this on James Wilsons website, i think it catches very well some problems I am trying to adress:

Mark Twight:
"I'm an elitist prick and I think posers have polluted mountaineering. They replace skill and courage with cash and technology. They make the summit, not the style, the yardstick of success."

You can replace mountaineering with mountain biking and here you go...
  • 5 1
 Well, there's bike parks and all in Switzerland and all over Europe. And one of the main reasons they just aren't as good as the ones in Canada is that there are TOO FEW people riding there.

Because there are many parks and not that many mountain bikers, the critical mass to make a bike park as good as Whistler is never reached. So I think we need more and not less riders, even the "unskilled haddies".

As for the remote tracks that need to be accessed with pedal power: there will always be only a few people fit enough to actually ride them.
  • 15 1
 You got to be kidding me th0m - you miss something in Switzerland? bikeparks aren't as good?! What else do you want fk... man it's like saying to a paralyzed guy, oh I hate God for not giving me legs of an Olympic sprinter. Dude, living around Switzerland, France, Italy, anywhere with Alps and wishing you had Whistler by the corner, seriously - really? A-Line is already a McDonald of mountain biking trails- sure super fun but why do everybody want it around? isn't it the best thing to travel around and try those places with their own identity? It's like saying: I was in Rome and Paris in the same day - I went to Vegas...

To be very honest I have a very hard time to decide whether I like the sport to develop further. I don't do much of lift/shuttle accessed riding so I have a different perspective on such things. I don't even want to imagine how terrible it would be to see a Mega Avalanche race in places like singletracks from Gornegratt. I mean it's a some kind of profanation to me really. And lack of lift/shuttle/heli access is a good guarantee that many people won't put their foot in these places. Not unles they learn their skills and with it the respect to trails and dangers mountains bring - therefore ultimately, respect to their own lives. You earn access to such godly places ONLY by your hard work to achieve skills and fitness. Not with money spent on lifts and bike.
  • 4 0
 I love this solid European explanation!
  • 6 1
 That's pretty cool to get the Swiss perspective. Not to speak for mitchell as he can speak very well for himself but this article was written some years ago. The bike culture is very rich in Switzerland and the people very welcoming. I/we thank you for that!
  • 8 1
 where to find such a hot bike lift operator? Big Grin
  • 2 0
 To WAKIdesigns: Finally! Thank you, you took the words out of my mouth, especially regarding the 'electric mountainbikes'. It is getting harder and harder to find people with opinions like these though, mostly because they get labeled as some sort of backward revisionists who would rather inhibit innovation (generally regarded as a perfectly natural and correct development) merely for the sake of keeping their rigid worldviews and some fleeting notions of 'value'. It makes me feel like looking at the world that's heading into oblivion, being met with all these confused and disapproving grimaces when I tell people electric mountainbikes are bullshit and mountain lifts maybe *aren't* always as great as they may seem. When it's all only a matter of simply looking a step or two ahead. I could rant about this for hours on end, but this isn't the place, so just - cheers Smile

Coming back to the article - I do get similarly amused when I read the lines "...making heaps of cash in Geneva playing with oil baron cash, driving BMW’s with in-dash DVD players..." or phrases like "a tight, light cross-country rig (the Swiss mountain bike of choice)". I'm sure that coming back home from such an euphoric experience as riding the Swiss alps will loosen up people's tongues in one way or another, but it still has to be noted that the author doesn't seem to realize he is, in a remote sense, part of the same hypocrisy. He even mentions it himself - a plane ticket costing a million, biking equipment costing two and then all this boasting about pirates and pioneers and "weak European beer". And then comes that paragraph about Zermatt, the zenith of all this.
  • 3 0
 I'm not arguing that what he's saying is inherently wrong, but in the context of the article he does make things sound ever so slightly patronizing, perhaps even colonialist. If I were to retaliate in a similar fashion, I would say that it's "stereotypically American". And I don't think he, nor anyone, would approve of that label too much, no matter how un-insulting it may objectively be.

All in all, I'm not really all that much against what's being said up there, I love biking and as a foreigner who's ridden some of those very same trails a few years ago, I'm not really in a position to comment. It's just that people should be wary of putting bold words on the paper (...onto a website...) without thinking twice about whether they may not sound a bit offensive to someone who can have more insight into the topic at hand. Like the locals from a place that's some 8000 kilometers across the globe from their own places of origin/residence.
  • 1 0
 I'm going to perhaps stick my foot in the mouth here. Of course my experience with Swiss trails is pretty limited so take it for what its worth. My limited experience was that North Americans coming to Switzerland (and perhaps for South-central Europe?) who want to find truly "remote" tracks (to paraphrase Waki) and to find the true mountaineering experience in the Mark Twight sense are already well-served in North America. For example, routes in Yukon, routes in high alpine in the West Chilcotin, some of the more adventurous routes in Escalante in Utah, perhaps even sections of the Colorado trail. There will be rambling networks of trails where you are not just hours but days away from help and where you would be hard-pressed to find more people than bears.

There was evidence of people in most places I went to in Switzerland but then I did not go expecting wilderness and did not seek it out. Perhaps I went to the wrong places and i should explore more? If so, where? Aletsch, Riederalp, Bettmeralp? Or is it that the focus on the resort like towns is wrong?
  • 1 0
 Ok leelau now you are just showing off Wink i got a bit offtopic towards hating on pozers taken by pro guides to remote places, some seem to start wandering into North America vs the rest of the worldtopic. I think DaveritoCH put it very well what is it that is disturbing with the way article is written and we shouldn't perhaps be adding our high fly farts to it Wink
  • 1 0
 Sorry Waki - that was not my intent!! It's an interesting discussion for sure but perhaps distracts from the article and the thrust of other people's comments. I sympathize with the sentiment though as a ski tourer, hike-a-biking mountainbiker
  • 3 0
 Well put, Daverito. Well put. I too, think that the tone in which this article is written is totally preposterous and typical of the media scene nowadays. Where has the goold old "earn your turn" gone? We don't need some guys from Canada to tell us how beautiful the Alps are and they feel as pioneers, when all they actually do is behave like tourists on a mountain bike. Still, the photography shown in that article is extremely well done. They really carry that great spirit. However, please guys, don't kid yourselves - you weren't the first, you are no pioneers, you are just professional media hogs. Cheers! Happy trails to all of you.
  • 1 0
 One more thing: If you love singletrack and if you love the Alps, look no further than this thread: www.mtb-news.de/forum/showthread.php?t=490135 Great shots, nice people. You might have to learn some German though... Wink
  • 2 0
 Thanks for sharing tricknology, great pics. Never seen so much of such amazing pics even though i heard a lot about vert riders.
  • 34 0
 (2003) "We were some of the very first to hit these amazingly epic trails in downhill/all-mountain fashion. And at the time we knew it. We were pioneers, pirates almost, hoarding singletrack gold in an entirely foreign land - right from under their noses"

WHAT AN IDIOT
  • 10 0
 I refuse to bother to read this article but came back to it to see what comments have been added and came accross this line...

"We’re here to take their treasures without them even knowing what their treasure is"

Someone take his passport away
  • 34 0
 I wholeheartedly agree with DaveritoCH. I've been riding Swiss singletrails for more than 20 years. Those were the pioneering days! Our first bikes had skinny tires, flat bars and stiff steel forks. I cannot help but smile when I read about some Canadian guys who call themselves "pioneers". We had to figure out what trails to use, there were no signs or special maps. And nobody thought about using cablecars and chairlifts. We didn't brag about our riding and kept a low profile. You talk about the elusive perfect singletrack. Well, I'm glad you've found some them, with the emphasis on "some". I guess cablecar and chairlift guys miss out on a lot of good trails because their available choice of trails is rather limited. Stop talking about the soul of the trails and mountains if you use lifts to take you to the mountain top. Part of all-mountain and enduro riding is going uphill, even if it requires stamina and strength. Ask Mark Weir.
  • 10 0
 Serotta11: I like your comment :-) You got it!
  • 1 0
 Yeah Serotta11!!! you rock!!! props to you man!! ride on!!!!
  • 2 0
 Serotta11: what you tried to explain is just the ROOTS of FREERIDE! and that's totally true!

Simmons stays and will stay : un grand Monsieur!
,
  • 1 0
 Don't worry about these guys earning their turns. They do. Shandro showed Mark Weir some of the epic canadian cross country trail in the Chilcotins. Sometimes its nice to have such easy access to great trails.
  • 26 0
 Do you know why you did not see other bikers!? Some are working, some are on other trails. There are more then 60'000 km of Singletrails in Switzerland... The chance that I'm on the same track than you is close to zero...
So, you see: Swiss people are not "behind the moon" about mountainbiking! They are just on a different trail... B-)
  • 9 0
 Yes, Switzerland is a true paradise for MTB: Incredible topography, Incredible trail and path network, Incredible public transportation network, Incredible maps to prepare your next adventure. And I promise I will give you some hints to prepare yours at the end of this post.

But come on man, your words are so dramatic. You should write novels for Hollywood.

"At the time, it didn't seem right", "We were some of the very first to hit...", "And at the time we knew it". "We were pioneers, pirates almost, hoarding singletrack gold in an entirely foreign land - right from under teir noses.", "They are virgin, fresh, unspoiled. Yes, Panchard is a lone sailor on a sea of gold."

I am 45, had my first MTB at 20. At this time, terms such as freeride, riders or even baggy short were not existing, or at least not used in our sport. Suspension forks and disk brake manifest themselves in our secret dreams only. But trails were already there. And we were not so idiot to ignore the fun that they can offer us.

I remember riding Les Rochers-de-Naye (probably in 1987) with 1:25000 map, selecting the steepest section. I remember pushing to Fenestral Hut, going down to a trail which is still seldom ridden. I remember going Chanrion Hut, climbing and going back thru any single we found. Yes 20 years ago.

I was always very keen to share my discoveries and I did. But I think that there is a BIG difference between sharing and monetizing !!! And maybe this is what you are talking about. Being pioneer in monetizing the trails. For you to know: some part of Switzerland have already prohibit MTB and Valais is thinking about.

So yes, Switzerland is a paradise for MTB, but please respect its fragile nature, and apprehend it with humility.
Take the crowds to bike parks, give them riding lesson, have beer, sex, smoke and money there. There are the leisure park of 21th century...
  • 9 0
 I started to read the whole thing, but stopped after the first few sentences (the one about them being pioneers and pirates of some sorts).
Too much crap.
Completely agree with DaveritoCH.

But the pictures are nice.
  • 9 0
 that place looks amazing. that has to be one of the best riding locations ever.
  • 6 0
 "We were pioneers, pirates almost, hoarding singletrack gold in an entirely foreign land - right from under their noses." pioneers? really.. hahaha
all I can say is, that the european masters in downhillbiking were held in 1993 in my hometown: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPB1q9oTxKI
when was that? 10 years earlier? Smile
  • 1 0
 I love the disc rims, just amazing!
  • 6 0
 That's pretty cool to get the Swiss perspective. Not to speak for mitchell as he can speak very well for himself but this article was written some years ago. The bike culture is very rich in Switzerland and the people very welcoming.

Just to reciprocate and give BC, Canadian perspective, I am used to climbing 1,000, 2000m to get to alpine that is so magnificent like that. So for us to find a lift or railway to take you that high is very unique. Now it also might mean that there are more people there but in Graubunden for example, it was not hard to find trails that didn't have lots of people and even if there were other people the meetings were pleasant and friendly. Therefore we did not experience crowds, could get to the alpine easily and that means we could ride day-after-day refreshed (we rode 18 of 23 days there - some days travelling, some days snowed out). That is what was special to us about Switzerland; the ease of getting to alpine, friendliness of people, fantastic infrastructure and quality of trails. Definitely the grass is greener effect if you know what I mean?

We were in Graubunden area and Zermatt/Wallis too. I/we thank you for that!
  • 5 0
 Hell yeah, it's more than chocolate and cheese... Big Grin thanks and cheers!!
  • 5 0
 So much agree with DaveritoCH and RideMore. It's not just Mr. Scott that seems to think they're the first. But can't be bothered. Good thing they stick to uplifts and short unassisted ascents. Besides, there are many other places in the Valais, many other in the Alps. There's enough room for everyone Unbelievably, I wear a finnish watch... I ride modern bikes...
  • 2 0
 It indeed is funny that a group of people coming from nearly the other side of the planet, really believe that (in a country where the mountains have been there for longer than human kind exists) they are pioneers in a discipline that has been around for nearly 20 years at the time they were there. Most likely, the true pioneers were riding/finding thos trails when these guys were still in their diapers....

Nice story, good pictures, but a tad too romantic when it comes to reliving their own memories Wink
  • 3 0
 - Nice pictures
- Bad Article
- and by the way the worst guiding company ever!

if you ever go to valais and need a guide look for www.besttrails.ch or www.x-trailguide.ch
  • 1 0
 what makes you say that about their guiding skills ?
  • 1 0
 @Bont:and around Morgins and Chatel trails are awesome too!
@uncled: i think it was a joke for the old guy putting the finger on the map...
  • 1 0
 halt de latz.
  • 2 0
 True. I heard rumours that Big Mountian Adventure booked a trip at the Swiss xtrailguide and then mapped all trails via GPS - Now trying to sell "their" knowledge...

Sorry guys this is not the way it works....
  • 1 0
 Edit. Nice Photos Sterl.
  • 3 0
 DJLCrew if that would be true, it would be really fkd up...

To be very honest I hate GPS tracking for many other reasons. I think it contributes to destroying of many trails even on purely local scale. The idea of "secret trails" is disappearing, just as true "exploration". I mean peope are really not aware of how much they miss by using all this fun-technology, and it is such a fkng : I do feel so truly sad by being dissappointed with some of my best friends posting their "runkeeper" record on Facebook. People I would never thought to be posers.

It may sound stupid but I really feel like writing a "trail riders honour code". Maybe I'm a romantic, but I see nothing wrong with it, and I'm not a emo kind of romantic. It's really about humility and respect, I find mountains and wild areas as best places to feel small and humble. I see a lot wrong with "fun maximization, now!". To brig an extreme example: one day we might get to a technological level where anyone can get uplifted in some way to Mt-Everest - How incredibly horrible would that be?

Dealing with obstacles is what make us great.

It's really great to read your guys thoughts!
  • 2 0
 Pioneering is a spirit, not a prize. So for the one who still have this SPIRIT of pioneer, and that prefer to discover than to follow, here are some tips:

- Most of the trails (at least under 2000m-2500m) are riddable with modern trail bike.
- Free 1:25000 map: map.schweizmobil.ch/?lang=en
- Train take bikes: www.cff.ch
- Postal bus take bike and go high in the mountain: www.carpostal.ch/en
- Weather forecast is quite reliable: www.meteosuisse.admin.ch/web/en/weather.html

This is all you need to have real fun. See you on trails...
  • 3 0
 This was useful for English speakers - www.swissalpineadventure.com

I liked this website www.trail.ch Super nice info but I had to use Google Translate a lot because my German sux

Swiss Pass was awesome and super easy to navigate with buses and trains - www.swisstravelsystem.ch/en/content/offer/tickets/swiss-pass

and from PB user flowzone - www.flowzone.ch

These maps were good - 1:20,000 scale too www.bike-explorer.ch

Migros and Coop to save money on groceries!

ahh i better stop now. I already miss it
  • 2 0
 Guys, I'm 13 and I lived in the US for ten years... And in Switzerland for three years. And in the three years I've been here, I've expirienced the best downhill
/XC trails ever. I really agree with Th0m. There just aren't enough riders. Luckily because of this article on pinkbike, Switzerland should get more publicity (and hopefully more riders). I've riden nearly every dh trail here, and the best place to ride (I think) is either near chur or in Portes du Soleil.
  • 2 0
 ''Where is it? Perhaps these questions can be answered in Valais, a 2,000-square-mile region in the Pennine Alps on the eastern edge of Lake Geneva, home to one of Europe’s most famous mountains, 12,700-foot Mont Blanc'

So Lake Geneva is home to one of Europe’s most famous mountains, 12,700-foot Mont Blanc???? Well that's news to me because last time I checked Mont Blanc was located between France and Italy and it's just shy of 16,000 Feet... There's one thing that guy is no 'pioneer' in and that's acurate geography. Badly written article and hard to give it any kind of credit.

Having said that, Switzerland does have some amazing places to ride, just don't rely on Canadians to take you there...
  • 5 0
 Hipsters are such hipsters! Taking lifts before it was cool!
  • 1 0
 Luckily no yankees or canucks have been pioneering and privateering around in my mountains as of yet. I doubt they`ll ever show up `cause the supply of gondolas and chairlifts is quite limited and hike-a-biking the only option uphill, a freeriding rig is simply too heavy. Amazing views and gnarly trails though!
  • 2 1
 Wow. so many of you have completely either glossed over the time stamp or just missed the point entirely. This article was written the better part of a decade ago and it still gives me shivers. When I read these words I remember it as a time in mountain biking where the soul of our sport was becoming more elusive. I think the romanticism and eager words are a reflection of experiencing a truly remarkable place in the world and a discovery of something new on ancient trails. Thanks for revisiting la Valais, Mitch.
  • 1 0
 Being from BC and having ridden in Switzerland I can see where Mitchell's sentiment is coming from. We have just as great scenery and trails but they are not as accessible and not as long. And if they are, they don't have restaurants or gondolas at the top! I think his writing expressed the novelty of how expansive, diverse and easily accessible the trail system is. Yes, I guess its a bit naive to say anyone is a pioneer in Europe anymore. The continent has been lived on for thousands of years. But it is pioneering for someone to come from Canada and have such easy access to great trails and area!
  • 1 0
 hahaha, mitchell was free riding in the Alps!

as for the hungarian wife.... I've booked a trip there for this upcoming long weekend to find myself a Heidi. The other 6 weeks of vacation I had were filled with free riding all over the Alps:-)

ohja, what not to overlook, most of the farmers are closet downhillers who can school the most of us!

Ride on!!
  • 1 0
 The farmers even drive the nicest cars. Honestly I expected even the chue to have Audis. So many nice cars in Europe we cannot get in North america
  • 1 0
 I agree that there are some bad scentences in the article, that are disrespect full. But I unterstand how the Canadians felt at the time. I live in Valais and I'm sick and tired of swiss people telling me that I should earn my turn, that I'm a lasy ass and if I was a real man I would climb the hilll, etc. In the wintertime everyone takes the lifts and it's not unfair or soever.
  • 1 0
 Wow, Switzerland seems amazing!!! It's definitely a place where I'd enjoy biking. But boy does this writer seem arrogant. Belittling the Swiss riders and locals and glorifying yourself? Really? As has been said, they're not the first to shred that singletrack. The tone of this article is disgusting really..
  • 4 0
 like the "cliché" pictures
  • 1 0
 BAM! Great photos, I rode in Laax and Saas-fee in Switzerland a few years ago and it was so amazing. The only problem? Cows with big bells around their necks nomming on grass in the middle of the trail on blind corners!
  • 6 4
 Don't worry Swiss guys, Americans just like to think they discovered Europe. Don't tell them the truth, it will shatter their dreams....
  • 2 0
 HaHaHa!! Thanks for making me laugh, best comment here, and I'm an American!Wink
  • 2 0
 That's is a great comment. haha but wasn't the guy that wrote this article Canadian? correct me if I'm wrong. I just clicked on the person who posted it and he had a Canadian flag..
  • 2 0
 I logged in just to neg prop you, IllestT. You obviously didn't read the article: "quite surprised at the scene that has risen since our group of marauding Canadians first ventured there", "we like to ride downhill and that we’re Canadian". Actually look at what you're criticizing next time before you slander an entire country in an attempt to get positive props.
  • 1 0
 IllestT, dude i logged in just to neg prop you too. Are you retarded dude? There are so many things wrong with your statement... the USA, like Canada, is an immigrant country made up of mainly people from EUROPE... the founders of the USA: ENGLISH....

and btw, SHANDRO AND SIMMONS AND STERLING LORENCE ARE ALL FROM BC.

so please - kindly shut the f*ck up.
  • 1 2
 haha but none of those dudes wrote the arcticle... Mitchell did, so IllestT stands correct. Jury has deliberated.
  • 1 0
 LOL
  • 1 0
 Sorry yeah I'm english. No idea why I have a Canadian flag next to my name
  • 2 0
 Mitchell is Canadian too...
  • 2 0
 ibeaver - Not trying to bust anyone's balls, but if you read what I said above; I clicked on the guy who wrote on the article (Mitchell) and he has a Canadian flag. Second time I've said it.. haha
  • 1 1
 well I have a swiss flag but I'm not swiss... jehe'sus.

maybe mitchell is from ontario, which is getting pretty close to being american from where I'm from. dunno. don't care either, just heard a rumor he's just calling Canada home.

have your happiness, its fine for me. I was riding all weekend in Italy. so HAHA :-)
  • 1 1
 Loved the pics - but just fugget the text.
As someone else said - there's an underlying reek of colonialism and superiority.
One of the locals, here in southern Switzerland was riding trails on a 80mm hardtail where nowadays the younger guns (tourists, perhaps?) ride dressed like them loony conquistadores.
But this old dog was riding (and still does) the same sans armour, with 1.95" section XC tires :-))

Come whenever you feel, enjoy the mountains, the food, "swissness" but just please spare us the condescending attitudes
wink, wink

Ciao,
Paul
  • 2 0
 yo dudes, i loved the pics i thought the story was a pile of pish, pics are awsome!! but you all talk some shite!! shut the fuck up and just ride!!
  • 3 0
 beautiful nature and a legendary bike trip! nice Wink
  • 3 0
 that shot with the cow head was awesome!
  • 2 1
 Hello everyone,

Simmons and co were true pionners on the shore and I think the first to ride in Switzerland with "Style" understand "no-lycra". over.
  • 5 2
 @matpolli: you are simply too young to understand...

The article is actually very disrespectful... Too bad, because I really love the pictures! Thanks for them!
  • 2 0
 Actually, aside from the one comment about taking a treasure, it was respectful. No disrespect to anybody here or not here, but I think what they were saying is, no one shredded that mountain like they did. When I say shred, I mean speed and grace as Shandro himself put it. I'm sure that's the case most places that Simmons and Shandro ride. They are incredible riders, and I'm sure that people weren't sending it like they did, especially at that time.
  • 4 1
 In the sense that they were riding bicycles on a mountain, not necessarily what we would consider mountain bikes. I'm sure people did ride those trails with speed and grace, just not to their level. What I get from this article was different because I took it more like "this is how these trips made us feel from our own perspective", not "we own these mountains, and we're the only ones nailing these trails". This story to me represents what it is like to be a visitor there, with the type of bikes and gear that most pinkbike readers can relate to.
  • 1 0
 Bien dicho Manuel, like an old bicycle european bike add used to say "before there were mountain bikes, all our bikes were mountain bikes"
  • 7 8
 In this thread: Butthurt swiss elitists galore.
You know, I've been in a lot of places where I felt like an explorer and/or pirate whatever... even though I was sure that some people had been there before me. Or done the same things as I had.
If someone told me he'd felt like that on "my" mountain, I wouldn't bitch like a little girl, I'd not only be damn proud, but also glad for that person.

This article was actually very good. Not necessarily brilliant... but it had its moments.
Shred in peace, hombres.
  • 6 1
 You haven't understood the article. He isn't claiming that they felt like pioneers - he's saying that they were pioneers, that no-one else had done this before and that they were unique trailblazers, when in fact they were nothing of the sort.
  • 1 0
 Feeling like some freeride half-god in the land of the unwitting natives and keeping it to yourself is perfectly fine. I like to feel like that every time I ride Smile But publishing a several-page article about it to a well-known magazine is different. Everyone is entitled to their emotions, but moderation is advisable while making the world know about them. Double true when you're supposed to act like a seasoned journalist.

That said it's actually a real shame, because he really has a wonderful writing style, which I sure would like to see more of. Just sans the attitude...
  • 6 0
 I don't know where you guys are getting the feeling of attitude from. The story is an honest account of how our entire group was feeling in the context of our adventure at the time. All this literal interpretation of pirates and marauding etc is ridiculous. We were riding singletrack mates. All we left behind was the odd tire track and a whole whack of friendly Canadian "mercis" and smiles. In the week and a half we were there we didn't see a SINGLE OTHER MOUNTAIN BIKER! It's an honest reflection of how we felt. If you really think we were offensively stealing from the Swiss, you're completely missing the essence of the story. And I wonder how many actually read the comments first, then go back to read the story infused with negative sentiments. The only thing we stole was experience. Really great experience. Which, if you actually read the story, you'll see that 99% of the text is spent describing the natural wonder and ingenious mountain infrastructure developed by one of the most amazing civilizations on earth...the Swiss. Colonialists?? Seriously?? This is a story about mountain cycling. Not corporate swindling or stealing oil reserves from first nation peoples. It uses metaphor and analogy to give a sense of context to a really cool adventure in an amazing place. A story that will hopefully inspire others to seek out equally cool adventures in said amazing place. And judging from my trips to Switzerland, and the trail and lift infrastructure over there that is lovingly maintained and incredibly vast, I don't think they have a problem with that. Nor should some of the haters on this website. My two cents.
  • 2 0
 since when are there beautiful girls like that, that work the lifts. i need to go here just for that
  • 3 0
 haha...the grass always seems greener on the other side
  • 1 0
 Um, one more piece of constructive criticism to add to the others... Mont Blanc is 3000 feet higher than you claim. I love the pictures though.
  • 1 0
 Hey, You know what? great article, Fantastic Pic's of a fantastic voyage, Just embrace and enjoy!! It's about riding isn't it?
  • 2 0
 lovely pictures! second pic just installed as desktop background Smile
  • 2 1
 Ummm... Didn't I read this article in BIKE mag four years ago? Nice do-over, Pinkbike...
  • 1 0
 exactly what i was thinking dude. I saw the pictures and looked at the exact same torn out BIKE Mag pic taped on my wall among like 200 others and thought. "WTF? isnt this from like 06 or something?" haha whatever though. still sick pics
  • 2 0
 "as the Valais begins to emerge as one of the world's top mountain bike destinations on the planet, I thought it would be cool to take a look back at Swiss Bliss, pasted below the photos as it was submitted to Bike eight years ago"
Honestly, I feel like I'm the only one who actually read the whole post.
  • 1 0
 Sick photo's of a sick journey! It feels like just by watching that you've been there with you.
  • 1 0
 the pictures are extraordinary, the article is well written, but.... mr. scott is most certainly "pumping his own tires".
  • 1 0
 oh my days, what a great riding tip, awesome write up too, want to go!
  • 1 0
 I wish they had sticked with just the pictures, and riding...
  • 1 0
 Lovely lovely and great pictures.
  • 1 0
 One day i will go there!
  • 1 0
 Me too =)
2012 maybe? Wink
  • 1 0
 ...
  • 2 0
 swampwolf - in 2012 tsunami will destroy mt everest. Zermatt lies over 6000m below mt everest... so no can do how
  • 4 0
 If you`re talking about the End of The World Event for 2012, I`m afraid it`s been cancelled ! NO BUDGET !
  • 1 0
 buahahahah oh fk, you made my day man
  • 1 1
 Awesome pictures!! I didnt read the text...i love switzerland! A guede!
  • 1 0
 AWEsome pictures
  • 1 0
 www.besttrails.ch

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