PART THREE: “There's no catch netting, no caution signs, just excellent trail beneath our tyres.” What's ahead for Zermatt?
Words and Photos: Mike Blewitt
The following day we take the train to Gornergrat with Adi Greiner, one of the masterminds behind the trail developments and EWS event in Zermatt - plus he's one of the bike guides. We stop at a mountain restaurant, where some of the trail crew are looking over the plans as they are working on a new flow trail. We've ridden the Moos trial, and some of the Sunnegga Flow Trail, but there are plans for 45 kilometres of flow trails in the valley. It's a big project as Paddy, one of the trail builders explains.
“The whole project has been going for four years. The Moos trail was the first project. It was a big learning process. We had a lot of trouble with water, and we learned quite a lot on how to drain the trail and make sure the trail would stay in one place!”
The Moos trail is right down near town, and gets so much use that it showed the builders very quickly what they needed to update. School kids even use it for the ride down to school, and adults use it to get to work! But the flow trails higher up the mountain are different.
“In the beginning the corners and berms were small. And we figured out we should build them bigger and make them more fun to ride. It was very interesting. At first we started with the small turns. For the locals it was the first time we had any berms up here. It was great, and then we started to get the turns bigger and bigger. And everyone was coming back with a bigger smile, you know? Big berms means big smiles!” The trail crew are a broad mix of people, but they are constantly checking their work, not just for how it handles weather and riders – but also if it's fun.
“We always build something, then have to try it. And it means we plan for the next project. Right now we are building, but we also look at the terrain and have to modify the plans for newer trails to make sure we use the terrain. That way we get a really good, fun trail.” The development is a work in progress, and the 45 kilometres of flow trails might not be finished for a couple more summers. But this crew is Swiss – they're making sure they do it right the first time
The Sunnegga Flow Trail is a monster compared to the Moos trail. At 5.8 kilometres long and descending over 500m, the trail is the longest flow trail in Switzerland. Access is by the Sunnegga train, although there is an easy ski road to ride up if you like.
Starting on a ski run, the berms aren’t so high to pop up through the snow. But once the trail hits the forest, all bets are off, and the biggest berms feel like dirt wall rides. This is one of the most sculpted flow trails I have ridden, one where even when you think you have pushed your bike over enough, you realise you could probably tip it some more. The Sunnegga Flow Trail rides like a downhill pump track, with more elevation loss and speed than just about anything you will ride in Australia. But thanks to clever use of the gradients, if you’re not after the thrill of high speeds, it’s easy to ride and use the terrain to manage your speed, and not ride the brakes the whole way down. It’s a really well designed trail, something that a whole variety of riders can enjoy.
We hit the bottom out of breath, despite barely pedalling. It is such a different trail to the raw, loose rock we rode below Gornergrat, or the meadow trails around the alpine lakes. And that variety is what makes the riding in Zermatt so good. While some of the bigger mountain bike destinations are created by locals, for locals, Zermatt is different. They are working to make trails that suit a far rider range of riders than just their local riders who can charge steep and loose trails. The world comes to Zermatt every day, and the world of mountain biking is about to start visiting in ever bigger numbers.
Get a guide!
If you take a trip to Falls Creek, Mt Buller, Blue Derby, Maydena, Hidden Vale Adventure Park, Atherton, Alice Springs or any of Australia's iconic mountain bike destinations, there is little chance you will bother getting a guide. But in Zermatt, like in many European alpine resorts, the culture of mountain biking matches the culture of skiing very closely.
“I always say we are like the movie director,” says Adi from Bike School Zermatt. “There are many different scenes in the mountains. From the restaurant to the hotel, to the trails. The right guide can link all the right experiences to make the best whole day experience. That makes the whole package.” With well over 2500m of altitude to cover on the trails above, in and below Zermatt, there really is something for just about anyone, no matter how or what they want to ride. “The right guide can link all the right experiences to make the best whole day experience,” Adi states, meaning that you don't have to come and ride demanding technical trails – they can find the fun flow lines for you too.
The guides from the Bike School are qualified mountain bike guides. They won't be there to show off, but they are truly capable riders, and at ease in the changeable mountain environment. And from our experience – they're great company too!
What bike should I take to Zermatt?
Take a trail or all-mountain bike. We recommend 130mm or more of travel, strong tyres, big rotors, and a dropper post are a must. You will want low gearing, and platform pedals are good if you want to ride the really high natural trails where some hike-a-bike might be required.
Can I rent a bike?
Yes! There are lots of sports shops but Bike Arena are a mountain bike specialist, with high-quality rental bikes and a full professional work shop. They have all the spares and gear you might need.
What else can I do in Zermatt?
Where do we stop? You could ride to the Fluhalp Hut to spend a night high in the mountains.
Why not take the gondola to Glacier Paradise, and do some summer skiing?
You could go hiking – and knock off a 4000m peak!
Catch the train to Gornergrat and walk down – it's hard on the legs but a lunch stop at the Findlerhof makes it very easy on the stomach, and the eyes thanks to their view.
Travel to Zermatt
You can catch a train right to Zermatt, and it is easy to do so from either Zurich or Geneva Airport. If you will be in Switzerland for more than about two weeks, buying a half card is worthwhile, as it does just what you expect – it makes tickets half price.
Rail travel is one of the best ways to get around Switzerland, and there are few places where a train won’t take you. Forget about a hire car and take the opportunity to watch the scenery!