MTB World Feature - July 6, 2005
Hans Rey and Thomas Frischknecht on the Alta Rezia Freeride Tour
Thomas Frischknecht is one of the most experienced XC riders on the World Cup MTB circuit. In a break from competition recently he was given the opportunity to ride the Alta Rezia freeride tour, a transalp odyssey throughout Switzerland and into Italy. It makes for intersting and entertaining reading, and the photos show how spectacular the environment is. Hans Rey takes up the story...
A few days ago I finished my latest 'Hans Rey Adventure Team' trip together with XC legend Thomas Frischknecht from Switzerland. We took a six-day freeride tour in the heart of the Alps, utilising ski-lifts, gondolas, trains and shuttles to get around and to the top of some of the best singletrails in the world. We did close to 60,000ft (20,000m) of vertical downhill trails. The Alta Rezia regions consists of approx. 40 villages, partly Swiss and partly Italian; our route started in St. Moritz via Tirano via Livigno to Bormio, with many detours and surprises along the way.
The "Alta Rezia Freeride" will become a permanent route for people to ride on their own in the future. One can either ride the entire six-day route or choose any individual stage, always using public transportation to get up the mountains or back to the point of origin. The region will provide maps, a DVD and GPS coordinates free of charge in 2006 to follow our tyre marks (www.alta-rezia.com).
Frischi was the perfect partner for this trip. The Freeride boom is just about to hit Europe and our diverse backgrounds - Mr. Cross Country and Mr. Extreme - were the perfect combination for this expedition. But we also have much in common besides our passion for mountain bikes and Italy; we are both Swiss, World Champions, MTB Hall-of-Famers and both of us have been around since the early days of mountain biking. Frischi rode a Scott Genius MC10 (4 inch) with a Fox Trail Tune 130 fork, I rode a brand-new prototype GT i-drive 7 (7 inch) with a Fox 36 fork.
OK, here goes:
St. Moritz - Celerina - Marguns - Alp Survretta - Bever - Diavolezza-Pontresina - Muottas Muragl - Pontresina
It couldn't have been more Swiss than this - with the exception of meeting Heidi, we just about experienced it all: majestic glaciers, delicious chocolate, fresh cheese, happy cows, red-cheeked yodellers with alphorns, the famous red mountain train and bunches of curious Japanese tourists. We had a full day which started out at the recently launched Frischi Bike School in Celerina (www.frischibikeschool.ch). From there we took our first gondola to Marguns.
From the top we had a short 30 minute climb with incredible views of St. Moritz and the surrounding glaciers and mountains. The first 1.5 hour downhill took us to the town of Bever, where we waited for a short while for the "Rhätische Bahn" - the famous red mountain train - which took us for a small fee to the Bernina Pass. From there we descended past the Morteratsch Glacier down to Punt Muragl where we jumped on the next cablecar for our last and final downhill of the day. I almost took my eye out on a dead tree branch which I didn't notice; I was focusing on the trail rather than the tree. I got quite lucky, my Evil Eye glasses prevented me from getting an evil eye. The branch broke off but scratched me like Zoro across the entire face. Frischi had his own wake up call when he practiced half a backflip. We were very tired and sunburned after the last singletrail to Pontresina, where we stayed in the Sport Hotel.
Pontresina - Bernina - Poschiavo - Col D'Anzano-Tirano - Poschiavo
Early morning we rolled from the hotel to the train station and took the little red train to the top of the Bernina Pass at 2253m (7391ft).This is the highest point in the alps, passed by a train. We dropped down on the south side of the Alps past the Palü Glacier to the idyllic town of Poschiavo at the most Eastern tip of Switzerland. We started out in the snow and continued on some breathtaking trails, hit a sweet wallride and rode for hours through alpine meadows, forests and remote alpine settlements where traditional farmers made sure their cows got to eat only the best grass and wildflowers.
One of the cool things about the Alps is, as remote as you can be at times there is always a mountain hut or small family restaurant nearby, where one can get typical local snacks and refreshments. We stopped in Poschiavo at the only bike shop in town, which is about half the size of my garage. From there we took a car shuttle (which is also available upon reservation to the public), and shuttled on top of Col d'Anzano from where we had 1800m (6,000ft) downhill to Tirano. Along the way we had another one hour hike n' bike before we did the endless descend - somewhere along the way we had crossed the border to Italy, without ever realising that we did. Part of the trail was on old military roads which were built in World War I; they always have an 8% incline, and zigzag up sheer cliffs. Halfway down I went through my first set of brake pads and had to brake metal on metal for the rest of the day. We also met some locals who were super stoked to find us on their trails. They invited us to the local winery and a Pizzocheri dinner that night. It was quite an impressive day, after starting in the snow to descend all the way to the 'Veltliner' vineyards. After dark we took the train back to Poschiavo where we spent the night in a 325-year-old hotel.
Poschiavo - Bernina - Val da Fain-Livignio - Carosello 3000 - Val Federia - Livigno
Another beautiful sunny day awaited us, only shadowed by Frischi's small hangover. Again we started our day with a train ride; the trains are super reliable and almost always have a special wagon for the transportation of bikes. From the top of Bernina we had a short downhill to Diavolezza, from where we had to climb the beautiful Val da Fain Valley for about two hours, Frischi could have probably done it in half the time but he had mercy for me and rode my pace.
From there we crossed the green border to Italy again and faced one of the most technical descents of our trip. Nobody had ever ridden the whole trail clean without getting off their bike, so it was my turn to give her a go. It turned out to be quite challenging and I have to admit that I put my foot down on three occasions, two of them were loose uphill traverse sections - however, I never got off my bike, and was quite happy with my run. From there we headed towards the outskirts of Livigno, site of the 2005 Mountain Bike World Championships in September. Livigno is bicycle heaven off and on the road. They are in the process of building some bike parks right now, and together with the tax-free shopping and nightlife, I have to award them the 'Whistler of Europe" award. I love this place. Before heading into town we stopped at the Carosello 3000 Gondola and took a ride to 2796m (9173ft). From there we rode down the backside through Val de Federia to Livigno. Clouds started to move in but it didn't rain on us.
Towards the bottom we joined part of the 36km long 'Panoramica Livigno' Singletrail which was built especially for mountain bikes, and winds all the way around town. I guess the days when XC racers didn't know how to properly descend are over; Frischi proved what I had expected, and I didn't have to wait for him once - on the contrary, he attacked quite frequently. We had some fun duels down the mountains. We ran out of time to pre-run the World Championship downhill course, which could have been another option for additional frequent flyer miles. The great thing about this 'Alta Rezia Freeride' is that there are many more options and alternatives to the itinerary than we had chosen. We stayed at the Hotel Concordia, one of the 10 bike hotels in town.
Livigno - Trepalle - Passo Trela - Laghi di Cancano - Bormio - Bormio 3000 - Santa Caterina
We left Livigno via the Mottolino Gondola, after a short downhill we had a beautiful early morning climb, partly on a trail that was personally built by the Mayor of Livigno. We stopped for a glass of fresh milk and descended to the Lakes of Cancano, where I met a guy who I'll never forget for the rest of my life. Silvio. He was the local mountain bike expert, and ran the Mountain Bike School and Bike Station for the Stelvio National Park; but he was also the ultimate super Frischi fan. He was soooooo excited to meet the "Grande "Frisch-neck" and il "Grande Ans Rey"! He knew everything about mountain bikes and the history of the sport, and he was sporting an orginal Richey Plexus hardtail, which went really well with his colorful lycra outfit. He gave us some pointers for our afternoon route, where a proper first descent awaited us, and we made plans to meet him again in a couple of days time to ride with us.
After we had lunch in the ancient village of Bormio we went up Bormio 3000 Gondola to 3011m (9879ft) to be the first to attempt the backside on bikes. As soon we got up there, the weather started to turn on us; we already could hear and see thunder and lightning in the sky and the first rain drops started to fall. The first few miles were just endless rocks, without a proper trail - every 50 yards there was a painted rock with the number of the hiking trail we were on. Sometimes those rocks were hard to see and the trail wasn't obvious at all. I was glad it wasn't too foggy. I was able to ride most of it except a few uphill sections.
No one was in sight all afternoon, not even a remote settlement or mountain hut. It was quite eerie, and after a while we hit some alpine, rocky meadows, we had to cross several creeks and the wet grass didn't make things any easier. We came by some picturesque lakes which looked like the Scottish Highlands. All we could think about was beating the storm down the hill. The adventure factor definitely kicked in. Frischi wasn't too happy when he told me that his carbon frame especially attracts lightning. After a tough hour of technical descending we finally saw a proper trail and a settlement far below us - when we finally got there we had another 45 minutes of gravel roads and forest trails to arrive soaking wet at the village of Santa Caterina.
Santa Caterina - Val Cedec - Passo Zebru - Val Zebru - Bormio
"Super, Super, Super and one more time Super" were the words we were greeted by from Silvio, our super fan, when we walked outside the hotel. And those words were also the motto for the rest of our trip. Its been a long time since I've laughed as much as on this day. The sun was shinning once again and he was there waiting for us with the shuttle driver from the National Park who offers this service to anybody upon reservation and a small fee. We drove up to the Pizzini hut, where we were supposed to have stayed, but due to the bad weather we had to stay in the valley. It would have been an awesome place to wake up to, surrounded by glaciers and pure nature.
From there we had another hour of climbing to the top of the Pass Zebru and to the highest point on our tour at 3029m (10,000ft). All day long I was blown away by the beauty of this place and by Silvio and his funny comments. He was definitely a XC style rider - he had to carry his bike most of the way down until we hit proper trails again. The top part was very technical with big patches of soft snow, which were nearly unridable. Some sections were so steep that they had permanent metal ropes affixed to help hikers find there way down. Once again I managed to ride almost every section of the trail, and even Thomas had to push his ride a few times. But I had earlier pushed my bike way more on the uphill while he was still riding effortlessly through the thin air.
Half way down the valley we came by a cozy little baita (hut); a cute old couple operated this place where they were staying all summer making all the food in house, from bread, sausage, cheese, cake, all the way to the homemade wildflower schnaps. The rest of the downhill, the remaining 2000ft of vertical work was mainly on gravel roads all the way back to Bormio, where we got to enjoy the ancient Roman hot springs at the Bagni Nuovo. Nothing better than a nice mud bath at the end of a long day...
Bormio - Pedenolo - Bormio
To celebrate our final day, Fadri and Darco Cazin, the Alta Rezia representatives, had a special surprise for us arranged. Instead of the National Park Jeep shuttle, we had a helicopter waiting for us to take us up near the famous Stelvio massif and the Umbrail pass from where we did a sick downhill; not once but twice, for filming purposes. At some points the helicopter almost blew us off the trail when they were filming us. It was a perfect way to end a great trip. We all had a good time and big grins on our faces. Frischi took his freeriding skills to new levels, and I took my Swiss German dialect to new levels (I usually speak German). And we both realised how many more trails there are to be ridden in this region in the future.
This form of transalp riding will find many more fans in the future and will bring many new people to biking and to nature. And just for the record, don't you think we didn't get a workout just because we had some help on the uphills. Catch you out there,
Hans and Frischi
More info on this tour will be available soon on: www.alta-rezia.com. Check out: www.frischi.ch www.hansrey.com. The premier of the DVD will be during the World Championships in September.