Ride Like a Pro at The Best Mountain Biking Destinations in Switzerland

Switzerland boasts one the most spectacular networks of natural mountain biking trails in the world, and all of it is picturesquely set in the Alps.

The first time I visited Switzerland, I thought it was like a closed-off island inside of Europe. As a former pro-rider, I’ve mountain biked all over the world and have come to realize nothing beats the trails in this naturally secluded country.

Because the Alps cover nearly two thirds of the nation, the Swiss have developed a unique mountain culture that touches all aspects of life. Over time, its people have tamed the terrain creating countless walking paths. Today, many have been incorporated into a huge network of trails that ascend into the clouds, cross between peaks, connect distant villages and for the MTB-inclined, offers ample opportunities to bomb back down to earth.

If you ask me, the whole country’s practically one huge mountain biking park—a natural one at that.

Switzerland MTB
I’ve mountain biked all over the world, but for me nothing beats the views here in the Alps. Photo provided by Ride the Alps

Mountain biking in Switzerland is built into the culture. And infrastructure

There’s simply nothing better than long downhill runs on rooty, rocky mountain terrain. I’ll take singletrack on natural trails, sans manmade berns or jumps, above all else—and Switzerland has lots of it! It’s no wonder the country has produced some of the greatest athletes the world of cycling has ever seen.

Mountain biking is a part of everyday life for the Swiss and they’ve put a lot of money into the sport. Take this, for example: The PostBus is the public transport service that runs between the villages daily, and each bus in its fleet is fixed with six bike racks. Kids use them all the time, heading to school by two wheels and riding home on four (or more). Some trails that link nearby villages have even become little MTB downhill tracks. The sport literally connects people here.

When you go down into the valleys, there’s chairlifts and gondolas everywhere you look. Who would’ve guessed that their infrastructure efforts from the 20th century would set the cornerstone for a massive tourism and sports industry?

Switzerland MTB
This is me, as usual, having the time of my life on the trail. Photo provided by Ride the Alps

What’s an Englishman doing in Switzerland, you ask?

My cycling story starts in 1984 in the industrial town of Leeds in Northern England. Back then there wasn’t much racing going on, but I was lucky enough to find a team to take me under their wing. I was young and plucky and fast, and became the youngest member of the first British mountain bike racing team.

I was able to participate in tournaments, experience the welcoming kinship among riders, and mountain bike at the best places across Europe. It all fanned my love for cycling and made me realize that this is what I wanted to do. Fast forward to today, my partner, Mary, and I run our own company, Ride the Alps, and are raising our two beautiful kids on the French-Swiss border.

Now that we’re here, people always ask me what my favorite tour in Switzerland is. But that’s just impossible to answer. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of five amazing locales that I think every mountain biker should experience once in their life, regardless of skill level.

1. Zermatt

TOP CHOICE FOR THE BEST ALL-AROUND EXPERIENCE
The unbelievably beautiful landscape
Wealth of trails to discover
Great location, transport system and infrastructure
You’ll probably encounter hikers on the trail
They don’t like cars in Zermatt, so plan accordingly

This legendary mountain resort is one the world’s most attractive vacation villages for a reason. Mountaineering, some of the best backcountry skiing in Europe, mountain biking, Zermatt is an outdoor tour de force. Above all, literally, is the is the backdrop. Matterhorn’s striking fin rising into the sky is unbelievable. Here you might want to spend as much time marveling at the scenery as you would riding the trails.

Note that the landscape attracts its fair share of hikers, so it’s important that we time our rides. But other than that, it’s smooth all around. Even now, after years of coming here, we’re still discovering fantastic surprises in the area, like the technical Fluhalp Trail or hammering through rocks in Zmutt Glacier. Then there’s Sunnegga, whose fun, flowy trail is perfect for beginners.

Switzerland MTB
Even when I’m flying down trails at high speed, my eyes are constantly drawn to this majestic rock commanding the skyline. Photo by D. Convertini licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How I got my spirited start in Zermatt

I’ll always remember our very first Zermatt trip. It was June with still a lot of snow. We were tired and freezing and struggling to ride on the slippery patches. Just as we were about to reach another difficult section, we came upon a local family living in a small home on the hill.

Their young daughter came up to us and said: “My father’s never seen people riding bikes down this in his entire life! He wants to invite you in for a drink.” Of course, we didn’t think twice. They treated us to hot coffee and biscuits. Then the old man hobbled over and put down this bottle of crystal clear, homemade vodka on the table. “Drink dis!” he crowed. And, you know, when in Rome… So we enjoyed their hospitality until we were red in the face.

As we were saying our goodbyes, they informed us of another, much better trail only the locals knew about. We followed their directions and found the route, which turned out to be sublime. 58 switchbacks! We still ride it to this day.

Zermatt is the stuff of legends, no doubt about it. History is etched into every single one of these trails spreading under the imperious gaze of the Matterhorn.

Zermatt - Good to Know

Difficulty:

Mostly intermediate to advanced, though some beginner options are available

Best intro trail:

Sunnegga, which is easily accessed by rail, is perfect for riding multiple times or as a finishing touch at the end of a longer tour

Season:

June to October

Area map:

Zermatt trail map

Elevation:

12,333 ft (3,759 m)

Where to stay:

From luxurious chalet-style hotels to snug family homes with that rustic Alpine flair, there’s no shortage of fabulous accommodation in this tourist hub

Know before you got:

Before heading out, it’s always prudent to check online or at the valley station to see if the trails are open

2. The Eiger

TOP CHOICE FOR EPIC VIEWS
Incredible views of the Bernese Alps
Top-of-the-line singletrack
The tour passes through many iconic locations
Beginners and even some intermediate riders might find the tour too challenging

No list of MTB spots in Switzerland would be complete without the Eiger. The area beneath this 4,000 meter (13,000 ft) giant of the Bernese Alps is a mountain biker’s playground and a regular favorite among my groups.

There’s so much to see, from glaciers and green valleys to picturesque villages by mountain lakes and waterfalls. Just like Zermatt, this is one of those places where you want to have a camera in your backpack at all times. And then you have all of that stunning scenery connected by some of the best singletrack Switzerland has on offer.

 

Eiger Route
The Eiger Tour is a classic in our point-to-point repertoire. Photo by Trailsource licensed under CC BY 2.0

For me, Swiss mountain biking starts with The Eiger

This is actually where I raced with the best of them in 1988 as part of the British cycling team. I was still very young and winning was not an option but the people I met and the places we visited made me realize how incredible this sport is.

Today, I take clients on a slower-paced scenic tour to Grindelwald and right up into the Eiger. This is one of my favorite parts of any rides in the country: the brilliant descent off the back that flies down the Wengen side. There are many other classic zones on this tour that will get your blood pumping, but none of which I would describe as easy riding. So let’s move on to something a bit different.

The Eiger is a mountain biker’s playground and a true classic in every sense of the word.

The Eiger - Good to Know

Difficulty:

Intermediate to advanced

Best intro trail:

Exploring the trails of Crans-Montana before the tour, especially the two-part Bisse de Lens

Season:

June to October

Area map:

Eiger trail map

Elevation:

12,320 ft (3755 m)

Where to stay:

The Gletschergarten in Grindelwald offers great value for money with lots of seasonal packages at discount prices

Know before you go:

Visitors to the Jungfrau Region should consider buying a Jungfrau Travel Pass or the Berner Oberland Regional Pass. They offer free and discounted transport on trains, buses, boats, cable cars and funiculars in the region

3. Verbier

TOP CHOICE FOR ENDURO
Largest mountain biking area in the country
Amazing chairlift system for navigating around the park
Diverse terrain and trails filled with opportunities for stunts and tricks
Not a lot of beginner-friendly tracks for such a large area

For clients who like to spice up their time on the track by flying over the occasional gap and hitting big drops along the way, Verbier is the place to go. This brilliant bike park surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Alps—including stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc—holds endless possibilities for top-of-the-line riding for all skill levels. There are activities to be found here throughout the year, including hiking, rafting, paragliding, golfing, and skiing—plus riding for all levels from intro summer camps for kids to the ultra competitive.

Switzerland MTB
Come snowmelt, these freeski slopes turn into a downhill paradise. Photo by Kallu licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Done with your ride? Take a lift and go for another!

Now, how do you take a diverse bike park—with trails spread across flowy alpine meadows, pine forests, quaint mountain villages and rocky ridgelines—and make it even better? Well, you give it an awesome lift system that goes as high as 3,300 meters (10,800 feet).

This means that you can spend hours and hours in Verbier riding like the wind without ever having to worry about how you’re going to get back or reach the next trail. Just hop on a lift (which offers an amazing 360-degree view of the area, mind you) and off you go to explore over 400 km (248 miles) of classic routes, including the Tour du Val de Bagnes and Tour des Combins.

How do you take a diverse bike park — with flowy Alpine meadows, pine forests, mountain villages and rocky ridgelines — and make it even better? By adding an awesome lift system!

Verbier - Good to Know

Difficulty:

Beginner to advanced

Best intro trail:

Chôtatai S1, a blue-rated flowtrail starts from Savoleyres and descends over 240 well-groomed berms

Season:

July to October

Area map:

Verbier trail map

Elevation:

12,320 ft (3,755 m)

Where to stay:

This is considered the most cosmopolitan resort in Valais and there are many chalets, apartments and hotels

Know before you go:

There’s something for everyone here, with over 248 miles (400 km) of trails and the choice of single track, freeride, downhill and cross country. If you get bored of biking, you can also try your hand at one of the two golf courses, rock climbing and even paragliding

4. Aletsch Arena

TOP CHOICE FOR THE BEST HIDDEN GEM
Picturesque mountain villages overlooking the Aletsch glacier
Lots of charging stations for e-bikes
You’ll never have to ride the same trail twice
Not as close to the most popular spots

As I mentioned before, Switzerland is like one enormous bike park. So it comes as no surprise that there are great mountain biking spots hidden away from the well-known faces of the Matterhorn and Eiger.

One of those areas lies just above the Rhône Valley, in the very heart of the Swiss Alps. Dominating the landscape is the Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps and a stunning backdrop to our next location. The surrounding Aletsch Arena currently holds 100 kilometers (62 miles) of varied biking trails and with another 50 in the pipeline.

Switzerland MTB
Little-known Moosalp features flowing, pine needle singletrack that’s a hoot to ride. Photo by Aletsch Arena licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A mountain biking gem in the Swiss Alps

What I love most about mountain biking in the Aletsch Arena, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are the wonderful little villages we pass through. Bettmeralp, Riederalp and Fiescheralp are fairy tale towns scattered on the sunny Valais plateau, amid one of the most beautiful sections of the Alps. They are popular holiday destinations for families, with loads of things to see and do.

Combine all that with high-speed biking trails, amazing panoramas and a lift system to die for—six lifts along the valley side all on the same lift ticket—and you have a recipe for a storybook getaway.

Scattered here and there on the sunny Valais plateau, the many picturesque villages dotting the landscape look like a scene pulled straight out of a fairy tale.

Aletsch Arena - Good to Know

Difficulty:

Beginner to advanced

Best intro trail:

Giltsteina is an easy, cruising singletrack that starts near the man-made Scheene Bodu and ends at Greicheralp, known for its paragliding

Season:

June to October

Area map:

Aletsch Arena trail map

Elevation:

12,882 ft (3,926 m)

Where to stay:

You’ll find ample mountain cottages and a few larger chalet-style hotels

Know before you go:

This is a paradise for nature lovers as the trails are almost all natural

5. Anniviers

TOP CHOICE FOR VARIETY AND EASE OF ACCESS
Great trails that are home to Europe’s biggest mountain bike race
The valley’s diverse terrain is supported by a brilliant transport system
Maybe not as glamorous as other big-name destinations

Small villages merged together into an MTB superpower

The municipality of Anniviers was officially created in 2009, when six smaller villages situated in the Val d’Anniviers (the valley of Anniviers) merged into what is now the third largest municipality in Switzerland. Lucky for us.

Today, the Val d’Anniviers holds over 200 kilometers of top-tier track, from crazy fast downhill sections up in the mountains, through smooth open stretches on flowing slopes to technical forested singletrack that’s incredibly fun to ride. The trails here are so good that the valley is home to the Grand Raid BCVs, the biggest mountain bike race in Europe.

Switzerland MTB
Unspoiled nature and crowd-free singletrack as far as the eye can see—it doesn’t get any better. Photo by Alain Rouiller licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s no wonder the pros flock here every year to race at breakneck speed. The Anniviers is renowned for its diverse array of trails accessible by both funicular and PostBus. In addition to the natural trails, there’s the bike park in Saint-Luc, with plenty of berms, jumps and rollers. It’s got over 500 meters (1,640 feet) of vertical drop on its three downhill MTB trails.

The village of Zinal is another one of Anniviers’s hidden gems I enjoy coming back to because of the great lift access. There’s just so much stuff to do in the valley. We always like to spend the night here and enjoy ourselves, soak up the scenery as much as possible and explore the area for new trails.

The whole experience is just epic—wherever you go, you’ve got these massive snow-covered peaks following you. I mean, it’s the Alps we’re talking about! Nothing really compares to it.

If you’re looking for that huge adrenaline rush only bombing downhill on steep tracks can give, then Anniviers’s vertical drops, jumps and rollers should be next on your to-do list.

Anniviers - Good to Know

Difficulty:

Beginner to advanced

Best intro trail:

Piste Bleue is a twisty turning route with well-shaped berms suited for all abilities

Season:

April to late December. Note that most lifts and funiculars operate from May to October

Area map:

Val d’Anniviers trail map

Elevation:

9,366 ft (2,854 m)

Where to stay:

Hotel Alpina in Grimentz is one of Switzerland’s best bike hotels and offers everything you could need, from bike storage to tools and e-bike charging

Know before you go:

The valley can be reached by train from the airports of Geneva, Zurich and Bern and you can take the Postbus to the villages from there

About the author

Jamie Carr

Jamie Carr

Local guide, co-founder of Ride the Alps and former pro cyclist

Jamie is a former member of Britain’s MTB racing team. He’s brushed wheels with the best of them across countries and continents while watching the sport grow into what it is today. After discovering his love of guiding, he settled on the French-Swiss border with his partner Mary, where they founded their company Run the Alps.

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