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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.
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?
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.
Pros and cons
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.
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
Mostly intermediate to advanced, though some beginner options are available
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
June to October
12,333 ft (3,759 m)
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
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
Pros and cons
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.
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
Intermediate to advanced
Exploring the trails of Crans-Montana before the tour, especially the two-part Bisse de Lens
June to October
12,320 ft (3755 m)
The Gletschergarten in Grindelwald offers great value for money with lots of seasonal packages at discount prices
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
Pros and cons
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.
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
Beginner to advanced
Chôtatai S1, a blue-rated flowtrail starts from Savoleyres and descends over 240 well-groomed berms
July to October
12,320 ft (3,755 m)
This is considered the most cosmopolitan resort in Valais and there are many chalets, apartments and hotels
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
Pros and cons
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.
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
Beginner to advanced
Giltsteina is an easy, cruising singletrack that starts near the man-made Scheene Bodu and ends at Greicheralp, known for its paragliding
June to October
12,882 ft (3,926 m)
You’ll find ample mountain cottages and a few larger chalet-style hotels
This is a paradise for nature lovers as the trails are almost all natural
Pros and cons
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.
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
Beginner to advanced
Piste Bleue is a twisty turning route with well-shaped berms suited for all abilities
April to late December. Note that most lifts and funiculars operate from May to October
9,366 ft (2,854 m)
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
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