Two years ago, I rode in the Transalp mountain bike stage race through Austria, Italy and Switzerland (all in one day!) and wrote about it in the New Moon Blog.
It was easily one of the most scenic and memorable days I’ve ever had on a bike. The only problem with racing (the way I tend to race, at least), is that I don’t stop to take in the scenery. Ever since that day, I’ve been dreaming of going back to Lago di Resia and Nauders on the Italian and Austrian border for a more leisurely ride. Last weekend, my dream came true.
The beauty of mountain biking in the Alps is the transportation infrastructure. Rather than starting the day with a grueling climb, my ride started with a chairlift to the top of Piz Schöneben: an oxymoron in itself as it translates to “beautiful flat peak.”
The beautiful flat peak is about 2 hours driving from my home in Innsbruck. Although I had been here before for the Transalp race, I had no idea how the trails all connected. Fortunately, I was traveling with my good friends and Lumi Experiences trip leaders Raphi, Krissi and Petra, plus a few other new friends. By the time we arrived at the top of the mountain, it was already close to 10:00 am, just in time for a cappuccino (Schöneben is on the Italian side of the border) and a fresh croissant. Yes, at a hut on top of the mountain.
Riding the chairlift up means you have a lot more energy for the caffeinated descent. We started with a flow trail. A good flow trail is manicured with banked turns (berms) carved around the corners and feels more like riding a roller coaster (or nordic ski trail) than a bumpy mountain bike trail. Ideally, you don’t really need to pedal and you don’t really need to use your brakes. You can simply let your bike flow.
The flow trail was a perfect warmup to the day. Literally. Because it was fall, I started at the top of the mountain with a headband, buff, long sleeves and a vest. By the time we got to the bottom, about 3000 feet below, I was already shedding layers down to my t-shirt and shorts.
Krissi and Raphi picked a slightly bumpier trail for our second run; a trail that would bring us to a logging road to climb up to another hut. “What?! We actually have to pedal today?,” my legs wanted to ask. But I had been to this hut in the winter before sledding down the logging road and I knew that lunch would be well worth the 3000 feet of climbing.
“Prost!” We all cheered as we raised our beers in the hot, mid-day sun. Although it was the last weekend of Oktoberfest, the beer overlooking Lago di Resia tasted better than any beer I’ve had in Munich, plus it was non-alcoholic. On a big mountain bike day, I want my reaction time to be as sharp as the rocks I’m rolling over.
After lunch, our ride took us past the “Dreiländerstein,” the three-country stone where Austria, Italy and Switzerland meet. Heading into Switzerland would have meant more climbing, but by now I was ready for some descent, so we rolled our way downhill into Austria towards the village of Nauders.
Unlike the manicured flow trails at Piz Schöneben, the trail down to Nauders was one of the most technical trails I’ve ridden in a long time. Steep trails with rocks and roots had me feeling like I was riding a bronco. Everyone else in the group was riding full-suspension bikes, gliding over the obstacles. My bike is a 2009 Specialized Stumpjumper carbon hardtail, meaning no rear shocks. I love it for climbing, but sometimes I think it’s time for an upgrade. Anyone who questions the durability of a carbon mountain bike can reach out to me as a reference. I’ve pushed this bike longer and harder than most people and it still rides like the day I bought it, almost 15 years later.
One unique aspect of lift-serve mountain biking is seeing how different ski areas have adapted to mountain bikes. Specifically, how do they get your bike from bottom to top? On some gondolas, you can bring your bike inside with you. Others have hooks on the outside that you have to trust will hold your bike over 100 feet off the ground. Chairlifts are another subject completely. On a chairlift, there’s often a hook and just one rider going up at a time. After a social day of riding and chatting in the gondola, a solo chairlift ride offered some welcome solitude. The best compliment was when the lift operator took my bike off the chair hook for me. After hoisting electric and full-suspension bikes off the lift, he said my carbon hardtail was the lightest bike he’d lifted all day.
When we finally reached the bottom, my legs were more tired from absorbing bumps the whole way down than they would have been had I pedaled up to the top. By now the October sun was getting low and we caught the last gondola to the top of Nauders. Unlike alpine skiing where you have to ski down the hill before the last Ski Patrol closes the run; with mountain biking, you can start your last bike ride down whenever you want. We took the extra time as an opportunity to enjoy the sunset and pause for a few photos on top of the mountain.
By the end of the day, my dream had come true. We were taking a well deserved rest on exactly the point of the trail where I’d zipped by during the Transalp two years ago. Concrete and metal spikes mark the Italian and Austrian border that has been in place since the end of the first World War. It is a sad reminder of the scars that conflict can leave on the landscape. We took a moment to reflect on the wars that are still being fought, grateful that we could peacefully enjoy such a beautiful place.
Looking out over the Lago di Resia sunset, off into the distance at the snow on the iconic Ortler peak and Stelvio Glacier was a reminder that winter is right around the corner. Soon Krissi, Raphi and our other trip leaders will be welcoming our Lumi guests to some of our favorite cross country ski trails and views. And yet, with a summer’s worth of bike fitness still with me, it was a perfect fall day to get out and ride.
If you’d like to join a Lumi Experiences Cross Country Ski Vacation in Europe this winter, we still have very limited space on the Marcialonga & King Ludwig Trip to Italy, Austria and Germany or the France Transju’ Trip. We’d love to welcome you on Lumi trip this winter! Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in receiving a trip itinerary.
See you on the trail,