The Euro High: Freeriding Davos, Switzerland

Endless Singletrack: Lars Windlin opens it up with the valley far far below. Photo: Oskar Enander

Words by Daniel Caruso photos by Oskar Enander

The highest city in Europe sits at 5,150 feet above sea level and boasts a year-round population of 12,000 residents. There are over 50 bars in Davos, most of them lined up along the Promenade, the main drag through town, as well as countless restaurants, shops, cafés and a few museums. Just a few kilometers down valley lies Klosters, the sister village that Prince Charles calls his second home. And although Davos is surrounded by towering alpine peaks and grandiose valleys, it still somehow retains a metropolitan feel. The place is world famous for its skiing and annual gathering of economists, but mountain biking here is a realtive unknown. Until now.

Beyond the alps and culture, what makes Davos/Klosters such a hotspot for mountain-biking is the infrastructure of six ski areas and a myriad of lifts.  There are trails for all aspects of off-road cycling, from downhilling, to freeriding, to classic XC singletrack and even a BMX jump park. It’s that diversity that makes this place so unique—be it the contrast between city life and the wild mountainous outdoors, or the contrast between lycra-clad aerobic riders pedaling endless trails to freeriders wearing full-face helmets and dropping boulders.

Just as it is with skiing, everything is connected through the lift system. From each of the ski areas, or bergbahnen (translated as “mountain transport”), there are plenty of vertical meters to descend, various levels of steepness and technicality, and lots and lots of access into the wilds of the Rhaetian Alps of eastern Switzerland. But don’t be scared off by how civilized it all seems: all those interconnected ski areas and networks of trams, gondolas and cable-cars available to riders mean there are fewer bikers on the trails.

Rider: Lars Windlin, Daniel RossmannLocation: Davos Who Needs Snow? Daniel Rossman tries to catch Lars Windlin high above Davos. Photo: Oskar Enander

Downhill Davos

From the Hauptbahnhof, or Main Train Station, in downtown Davos-Platz, the Jakobshornbahn, a two-section cable car, heads from the busy city up above the forest and up to the Jakobshorn.  Because this main area is often crowded, with hikers during the hectic summer months, bikes are only allowed on the upper section on the first (8:30 a.m.) and last (4:20 p.m.) lifts of the day.

The trails from the top—over 1,000 vertical meters above town—are singletrack classics. Off the back to the shady north side, the steep and rooted trails that lead down into Dischma Valley are local favorites that demand experience, technique and, at times, lots of suspension. The trails on the front side of the mountain, heading across the sunny South-facing slopes down into Sertig Valley, are a bit less steep and more user-friendly. And getting a last-run, sunset-soul-session down on ’Jaki’ is a must.

Just a few kilometers down valley lies Rinerhorn and this “little area that rocks” features exposures and access similar to Jakobshorn, alongside a quiver of unique trails. Whether you are looking for mellow, dirt-road downhills with the kids to long, sweaty trail rides out towards the Nullisch Grat, or further along to Monstein and eventually towards the Ducan Glacier, ‘Rini’ is the place to beat the crowds and find secluded trails deeper in the back valley.  The Hubel-Hütte is open for burgers and beer most of the summer, and the short pedal up from the gondola is well worth it—especially once you discover the singletrack lurking in the shadows just beyond the ridge.

Backed up against the Austrian border, Madrisa is another mom-and-pop ski area on the down-valley side of Klosters, which starts lower in the Prattigau Valley and the four-person gondola takes you and your bike up into the alpine.  From the top of the gondola, there are a few worthy drop-ins: rider’s left takes you straight into the Flue trails, or some technical single-trails in the Schlappin Canyon.  And off to the north (rider’s right of the lift) there is a nice trail through the forest all the way down to Saas, where you jump on the RhB train and head back in Klosters and/or Davos.  And for those who feel like burning some calories and visit our neighbors to the east, head into the alpine and push up to the pass, and drop into Austria.

Davos-Parsenn is the largest area in town and it  also boasts the fastest lift.  The Parsennbahn is a two-section funicular train, or cable car, that charges up from Davos-Dorf and lets you and your bike loose at the Weissfluhjoch, some 3,600 vertical feeT higher in just a matter of minutes. Off the back, a plethora of rides await, including long downhills to Klosters and even further down the valley to Küblis. There is singletrack here that sends you pass herds of ibex and traversing across steep rocky faces towards Strela Pass and Schatzalp and endless trails heading towards Arosa and central Grison.

But it’s the connection to Gotscha that really makes the difference about Parsenn. The Gotschnabahn is a two-section aerial tram that starts below at the main train station in Klosters and heads up above the steep face of Gotschna, which became internationally feared when Prince Charles luckily survived a massive avalanche on the face in the ‘80s. The Signal Trail (which is singletrack) is a cult-classic ride in Davos/Klosters—a steep, rocky 3,000-vertical-feet rocket ride following the south ridge back down to Klosters. Thanks to the influx of freeride and downhill bikes with lots of suspension, this trail has become more accessible to most cyclists, but there are still plenty of riders who head over the bars into the rocks.

Take the A-line

From the middle-station of the Gotschnabahn at 1,800 meters, lies the Gotschnaboden, the lush green base of the rocky mountain which feeds down into a massive pine forest. It was here that the Mountain Bike Downhill World Championships took place in 1994, and it is here—just next to and combined with the original singletrack—that the Buendner A-line was built. Buendner refers to something from Canton Graubünden, which is the county in which Davos and Klosters reside, and the name ‘A-line’ offers respect to the original technical bike line in Whistler, BC, Canada.

The A-line is the crown jewel of freeride and donwhill mountain biking in the Swiss Alps. There are wooden sidewalks or “boardwalks” slightly elevated above the damp and swampy parts of the forest, known as “North-Shore features,” which originated in British Columbia, Canada. The “drop-stations” are where these North-Shores end, and riders must freefall back to the dirt trail. And there are perfectly formed dirt-jumps, often five or six in a row, very similar to motocross courses, except here they take advantage of the mountains and point slightly downhill to ensure speed and flow.

Flow is the endearing quality of the A-line—it’s a trail that simply takes advantage of gravity and makes it easy and obvious for riders to just keep rolling back towards the tram station, 2,000 vertical meters and over 3.5 miles down the mountain. Building on the history of mountain bike trails from North America as well as some of the recent classics in the Alps, the designers of the A-line retained some of the technical sections of the original downhill course while integrating those modern elements-—such as over 800 meter of North-shores, a dozen drops, a few wall-rides, endless banked curves and more than 30 perfectly sculpted dirt jumps.

Rafael ‘Tschäff’ Rhyner is the owner of Trailworks’ a Swiss bike park construction company met up with me one day in Klosters for a few laps on the A-Line and was nice enough to give me some insight into to the philosophy of the course.

“Building it took only three months, but the entire administrative work took a whole lot longer,” he says. “We started with the first sightings in 2006, from then on we started with the legal work and preparation. We had two teams which were working on the different sections of the trail.”

The first team consisted of an Excavator Driver and one Shaper, and this part of the crew worked on-site for 45 days, making over 4 K of trail. The second team consisted of three to four people who spent 40 days on-site and built 860 meters of North-Shore features. For the woodwork, the team used approximately 2, 000 meters of planks, 300 trees and 60 liters of gasoline (for the chainsaws).

Last year, the trams were able to transport about 1,000 riders per day on to the A-line, but Rhyner hopes that capacity will go up this season.

“This was the first project I could realize from start to finish. The plotting and planning of the trail was really important so we could work efficiently. The good thing about this project was that it was created from scratch and we could do build it with the necessary precautions and also that we could incorporate the features to the natural terrain of the mountain,” he says.

The first summer at Gotschnaboden in Klosters was not only a success for the ski area and the tram, but it really pushed the sport of mountain-biking in the right direction.  On any given day, there were bikers from all different parts of Switzerland and even throughout Europe.  And more importantly for the locals, there were lots of people of all ages from the Davos, Klosters and Prattigau areas who came out to enjoy a new aspect of biking in their own backyard. Now, it’s your turn Americans.

Dan Caruso moved to Davos, Switzerland, 12 years ago, lured by the powder snow and summertime singletrack. When he’s not dropping in on his DH bike, he’s taking BMX lessons from his two sons, Rocco (11) and Siro (7).

Previous articleThe Art of Eliminates
Next articleTrail Mix March 2013

Related Stories

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

Ode to the Craftsmen

A silent skier squints into a rapidly intensifying storm, attempting to make out the remnants of a meandering skin track through the...

Arapahoe Basin’s New Aerial Adventure Park!

Story by Katherine Fuller, pictured above “Oh, good. I wanted to see how this was going to go.”

Escape the Heat in Estes Park

The crown jewel of the Colorado Rockies is the best place to find cool mountain adventure this summer. Here are a few...

Run with the Horses Marathon (Green River, Wyoming)

The Green River Chamber of Commerce/ Visitor Center would like to announce the 17th Annual “Run with the Horses Marathon” scheduled to...