On my recent business trip to Switzerland and Italy, I had around 24 hours of free time, so I decided to check out some of the world-renowned mountain bike riding in the Alps.  I landed in Milan, Italy, and drove my rental car north past Lake Maggiore and up over the high mountain pass known as Route Napoleon.  The trip to Zermatt is about a 3.5-hour drive, and the scenery is breathtaking.  It’s a popular driving road.  I was greeted at the highest point of the highway by a group of around 60 Ferrari’s seemingly headed to Maranello.

A beautiful drive up the valley towards Zermatt (there is an express train too) brings you to Tasch, where you are supposed to leave your car in the garage and take a short shuttle train up to Zermatt where there are no cars allowed.  Well, tell that to my GPS because I did plug in the address to the hotel in Zermatt and the directions took me all the way into Zermatt, where I was greeted by a cross-looking Swiss man who shook his finger angrily at me.

I did my research and found out about one of the difficult single-track trails down from the high peak.  Zermatt has 100 Kilometers of trails to ride between 1400 and 3100 meters altitude so that was my plan.

I boarded the shuttle train along with way too much baggage since I was to be in Europe for a couple of weeks.  It was about a 15-minute walk to the hotel from the train station.  I stayed at a nice small hotel that I would recommend:

Matterhorn Lodge: Englischer Viertel 11, 3920 Zermatt Switzerland

I arrived at my hotel around 3 pm on Saturday afternoon and immediately asked the receptionist where the nearest bike shop was.   She handed me a discount card, and sent me away with directions to the closest bike shop which was:

Bikearena Zermatt: Hofmattstrasse 30, Bike cost me $134 Euros for the day.

The shop rents for a full day and half-day.  I was going to have to depart Zermatt by 1 pm on Sunday for my first meeting, and the shop opened at 11 am on Sunday, so they were kind enough to let me take the bike for the night and only charge me for a day.  I received the latest Specialized e-bike 29er in size large and brought it back to my hotel (which has nice indoor storage for your bike).  Since I had a couple of hours of daylight I decided to fight off the jet lag and ride uphill to the start of their flow trail.  Zermatt is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and sometimes their English (which is way better than my German) doesn’t translate quite correctly.  You know, little details like go right when they mean left!  I rode through town toward the Matterhorn and began to climb the trail leading up to the top of one of the chair lifts.  Once at the top, you come down a little bit on a dirt road, where the flow trail begins.  It was fast, swoopy, and a little loose.  The berms were nothing like what we get at Kingdom Trails a.k.a. KT, and the potential for speed much greater.  I did the loop twice so that I could get used to the bike.

Well after a couple of days without a real meal, I worked up an appetite the exhilaration from the downhill runs seemed to give me the boost of energy I needed to get through dinner.  In Zermatt, like in Aspen, you’re just not going to find an inexpensive dinner.  I asked the hotel to suggest a restaurant that features Swiss specialties and she suggested the restaurant Avena.  She called and made me a reservation, and off I went on foot to find it. 

Avena Restaurant: Steinmatte 3920, Zermatt

The menu featured appetizers from 13-15 Euros and main courses 30 -50 Euros.  Then on the first page of the menu I spotted “6-course surprise menu – 65 Euros”.  Why get 2 when you can have 6 for the same price… I was too tired to be picky so I went for it. 

First:  A savory mouse with a flavored foam on top

Second:  Vitello Tonnato

Third:  Pasta with Tartuffi

Fourth:  Salad with crevettes (shrimp)

Fifth:  Beef tenderloin with champagne risotto and a shitake mushroom sauce with wine and cream

Sixth:  Sorbet

Wouldn’t you know it was probably one of the best meals I have had in a long time and easily worth double what they charged….so I was off to a good start.

I had to set my alarm for 7 am on Sunday morning, which is when breakfast starts.  I was told the ride would take about 4.5 hours, and I needed to catch a ride up the mountain.  The nice breakfast included with the room was a typical European breakfast with plenty of nice choices.

After filling up, I headed the cog railway, which I would take to Sunnegga.

Followed by a Gondola ride to Blauhard at elevation 2571 meters (8,435.04 feet).

Followed by a final tram ride to Gornergrat at an elevation of 3089 meters (10,134.50 feet).

It was a clear blue-sky day with temps on the cool side in the upper 40’s.  Good thing I packed my Gore-Tex jacket. You can see how high an elevation I started riding looking across at the Matterhorn that peaks at 4478 meters (14,691.60 feet).

My research showed, that I was to follow a dirt road from the lift down a ways where I would pick up the single-track trail.  I didn’t have time to waste, so I was a little leery of heading in the wrong direction and ending up in Italy.  Fortunately, there was a group of mtb riders just behind me, so I followed them down to the trailhead.  

I asked if this was the way to Tasch, and they confirmed in their best English.  The person said to me “but this is very difficult…yah”.  I gave him a thumbs up.  He repeated himself again.  “This is very technical”, to which I gave him two thumbs up and said, “bring it on”.  So off we went down the trail.  I took up the rear to make sure I didn’t slow anyone down.  We got to the first large flat rock with about a 4-foot step up.  The first rider in the group stepped off the bike and started walking.  His buddies did the same.  I kept on riding, giving them my best “scuzzeeee” as the riders stepped aside and looked on with shock.  I lifted my wheel up on the rock and the e-bike thrust me up and over without any drama.  The rider at the front said “oh…yah, this is gud” as I flew by them.  I never saw them again, I lost them in a few flat seconds.

The initial trails cuts across the slope and give magnificent views of Zermatt below and the Matterhorn in the distance.  There were a few rocks in the way, but I cleaned everything without a problem.

Then the slope got steeper, and the trail had quick switchbacks that were burrowed into the ground, with the earth rising up on both sides.  As the slope got even steeper, the switchbacks become tighter, and eventually, it was too much for the 29er and I managed a nice superman vault down the steep (but grassy) hillside.  Since I didn’t have time for injury, I walked a couple more of the problem corners, and eventually, things leveled off as I reached a trailhead.  

Now I was cutting across the hill for a ways until I reached the fire road type trail that zig-zagged down to the valley below.  I easily reached speeds of 40 mph as a burned up the easy downhill.  Once back in Tasch (where the car is parked), I had to ride back up the valley to Zermatt.  There is a nice mountain bike trail that leads all the way back and has some challenging climbs.  I made it back to the shop at 12:15 pm for an on-time departure to the salt mine in Bex, Switzerland.

The people at the bike shop said that they do provide guide service, and apparently, there is a lot of riding out there.  I bet they could show us even better routes.  While this trail itself was not a single track to remember, I can honestly say it was the most stunning scenery of any ride I have done…well with the exception of perhaps the next one.

Mountain Biking The Alps, Part Two