Tuesday, 15 August 2017 08:19

Mountains ready, bikes ready. Henry Iddon finds out what makes the Swiss Roll

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The last time I visited Switzerland was Gstaad in early February, snow on the ground and low cloud raging in the valley.

I've always been of the mind that snow is for skiing on, low cloud isn’t ideal for piste skiing, however I was there for the XC which was excellent as expected. Meanwhile the chance to go fat biking turned out to be a revelation and certainly great fun. It begged the question what is the off road riding like in Switzerland without the white stuff. Five months later the opportunity came along to find out.

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Corviglia Flow Trail St. Moritz © Henry Iddon

The Graubünden region is in the east of Switzerland and includes some of its most famous mountain towns. Davos, St Moritz, and Klosters - that’s the World Economic Forum, gilded host of the 1928 Winter Olympics and Royal holidays covered. This is, let’s be honest, one of the things that makes people nervous of visiting Switzerland for a holiday - the cost. But things need not be so - especially with the recent arrival of Herbert.Bike who not only amalgamate ride information - trails, post bus and train times, hotels with bike facilities etc but have also arranged some remarkable offers. One nights B+B in a three-star bike hotel and two days lift passes for CHF69 (£55) is good value in any part of the world, never mind Davos. Consider that membership of the World Economic Forum and an invite to the Davos event starts around £22,000. And those power players don’t get to ride the trails. More fool them.

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My tour of the region started in Celerina / St Moritz which is surrounded by the magnificent peaks of the Engadine including the Piz Bernina at 4049m and numerous other peaks over 3000m. You really are riding in the heart of the alps. As can be imagined the Swiss do mountain biking with a clockwork efficiency, converting ski lifts in a variety of ways to allow bike uplift and bike hotels investing in infrastructure to support visitors’ needs. The local Cresta Palace Hotel upgraded its winter ski room with hi tech lockers, changing rooms, bike maintenance and cleaning facilities, including compressed air lines to dry those valuable components. The improvements came in at a whopping CHF 2.5 million (Just under £2million), which goes to show how much the tourism industry is future proofing against changing climates by backing mountain biking, and for that matter road cycling.

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Trail start above St Moritz © Henry Iddon

With alpine hillsides to play with it is a trail builders heaven and Darco Cazin and his team have done a fantastic job sculpting Corviglia Flow Trail above the St Moritzer See, all served by the network of gondolas and chairlifts that transport skiers up hill in the winter.

What’s most amazing about MTB riding in Graubünden is the network of ‘legacy trails’ and these exist right across the region - to put it simply mountain bikers have access to hiking trails. And that’s is a rarity in most countries across Europe. If there’s a trail there you can ride it - and there are 17,000km of them with 4000km with easy to follow signage targeting mountain bikers! In St Moritz that could be the rocky moonscape descent from Les Trans Flours (2752m) through the trees towards Samedan or the Suvretta area above Champer.

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A lunar landscape riding from Las Trais Fluors, St Moritz © Henry Iddon

Hiking trails that have evolved over many years result in brilliantly defined natural singletrack featuring rocks and roots as well as noodly twists and turns to test the handling skills of the best. From the fast-flowing berms of the flow trails, to the tech single track ‘legacy trails’ and the magnificent scenery the Engadine takes some beating. But...

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Fast legacy on Alp Clavadatsch heading towards Samedan, St Moritz © Henry Iddon


Next stop was Arosa Lenzerheide which is just along the road from Davos, and was hosting the UCI World Cup XCO and DH events. The discussion wasn’t about global economics but but bike mechanics and who would win what. As it turned out the biggest news was that first place in the women’s XCO race was taken by Annie Last. A whole twenty years since a GB female had taken the top spot in a cross-country World Cup with Caroline Alexander’s win at St. Wendel, Germany in 1997.

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Start of Mens XCO World Cup Lenzerheide Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup © Henry Iddon

Meanwhile what about the recreational riding. Well not surprisingly Lenzerheide sits in a valley so there are two options either side. Aim high on one side and head up the Rothorn 2865m via a two stage gondola, which gives access to the huge dramatic valleys behind it and some wonderful single track (legacy trail) that traverses the Parpaner Weisshorn 2824m to a tranquil lake, the Alpisee at 2156m. After some technical riding you can then give it full gas down through the meadows of Inner-Arosa at 1820m. It’s then possible to take a bubble out of Arosa up to the Hörnli where the new Urdenbahn gondola takes you back to Urdenfürggli 2546m. From there you a magnificent decent that drops over 1000m vertical back to Lenzerheide via fast access trails, single track and the flow trails / bike park used as part of the UCI World Cup Downhill.

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Singletrack amongst the meadows by the Alpisee above Rosa, Lenzerheide © Henry Iddon

The western side isn’t maybe as dramatic, with the Pic Scalottas being at 2323m it is 500m below the Rothorn. The riding i also less gnarly - still technical singletrack but on hillside and woods with no man-made berms or jumps. In fact, to keep the pure high speed downhill crowd’s brakes on you are not permitted on to the gondola wearing body armour or full face helmet, that’s reserved for the Rothorn and the Bike Park. There’s still plenty of opportunity to operate at full gas though with some trails simply begging you to lay off the breaks. So, while Lenzeheide may not have the big mountain feel of the Engadine it certainly has some fantastic riding and variety, and lots of other leisure options for the family.

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Singletrack traverse below the Parpaner Weisshorn to Arosa, Lenzerehide © Henry Iddon


Next stop Laax / Flims, a popular weekend destination for the Swiss and also the host for many a crazy weekend of winter madness as host of ‘The Brits’ snowboarding championships. It may host the infamous / famous, delete as applicable, Britsh Snowboard Championships but it also has two of the most well-known MTB trails in Europe - The Never End Trail and The Runca Trail. Yes, you can see where Africa hit Europe.

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The Höhenweg Nagens trail Flims © Henry Iddon

The Runca originally built for the Red Bull Trail Fox events and has since been adapted and upgraded while being designated the longest flow trail in Europe by the International Mountain Bike Association.

It packs a lot in to its 6.1km and 693m of descent, more berms than you could shake a mini pump at, rollers, table tops, ‘North Shore’ style boardwalk, wall rides along with the contrasts of open meadow, forests and views. Wet or dry there’s incredible fun to be had, the boardwalks are covered in textured paint for grip and if big air isn’t your thing there is the option of a ‘chicken run’ to keep thing amicable and the less confident still up right. Meanwhile if you really want to let loose the famous Never End Trail is a must with its jumps and fast technical riding. The single track isn’t to be forgotten though and there is some brilliantly challenging tight and twisty legacy trail to be ridden that has you grinning from ear to ear such as the Höhenweg Nagens trail accessed from the Grauberg gondola at 2228m.

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Runca Trail, Flims © Henry Iddon

So where do you grin the most - St Moritz, Lenzeheide or Flims? The simple and honest answer is all three as they each offer something slightly different, a big mountain environment, great riding and race day atmosphere, or lift accessed classic trails. A lot of the mountain bikers I know do a Euro road trip so the option is there to ride a variety of terrains, yet many British riders seem to cross the channel with bikes loaded on cars and follow the traditional route to the Portes du Soleil. Are the missing a trick? I think they probably are. Oh, and you can rehydrate in Switzerland with Rivella, drink of the gods in my book.