Friday, December 28, 2007

Mitchell Scott's Swiss Bliss story, July 2004

MITCHELL SCOTT uncovers mountain biking 'perfection' in the Swiss Alps, plunging down ancient trails by day and dining on raclette and fine wine in chalets by night

ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND -- In the Valais region of southwestern Switzerland, where gondolas, trains and chairlifts bridge the gaps between river and ridge with uncommon frequency, I stop my mountain bike because I have to. My forearms are pumped from braking, but this isn't the only reason I must pause: The trail ahead of me contours downward through mountains carpeted by tall evergreen forest, providing yet another stunning view.
The path beneath our tires is ancient,and right now, on a bike, it is delivering otherworldly joy. Slightly more than a metre wide, it has been worn by the traffic of civilizations coming and going.
Ten mountain bikers from British Columbia have gathered here to ride "perfection" -- at least that's what we've been told.
With Whistler native Chris Winter and Valais local François Pançhard as guides, our crew will cover 25,000 vertical metres of single track over eight days, dine on raclette and fine wine in Alpine chalets at night, and stop for cappuccinos and pain au chocolat halfway down 2,600-metre descents just because we can.
We are some of the first foreigners to experience Switzerland like this -- the first to blend the modernity of lifts, the technology of full-suspension bikes and the country's historic trails.
Three years ago, Winter, an entrepreneur and avid cyclist, started researching the possibility of guiding downhill bike tours in the Swiss Alps, where he had spent a portion of his childhood skiing. His research fuelled the formation of his tour company, Big Mountain Bike Adventures, and eventually led him to Pançhard.
The son of a mountain climber, Pançhard's green eyes and conniving grin belie a certain imbalance. He is not following the footsteps of his thirty-something peers, taking high-profile jobs in New York and Paris, making heaps of cash in Geneva playing with oil baron cash, driving BMWs and wearing fancy watches.
Instead, Pançhard runs his own CD-ROM trail-mapping business, spending day after day documenting the labyrinth of single track that drapes Switzerland like a giant gill net.
He lives high in the mountains in a tiny little cabin with his beautiful Hungarian wife, and almost every day during the summer explores his homeland by bike.
"The Swiss mountain biker rides up the gravel road and down the gravel road," explains Pançhard. "They don't ride single track and they think lifts are for wimps."
But Pançhard has gone against the traditionalist ways of the Swiss and swallowed his pride. He rides lifts with his bike all the time. Almost all Swiss lifts -- of which there are hundreds -- allow bikes, some on platforms, some on little hooks, and some on which you have to hold them yourself. From the top of each spreads a weave of hiking trail, cow paths and double track that meander through some of the world's most spectacular mountains. Some traverse, some go up, but once you've won an elevation of 2,400 to 3,000 metres, most go down -- for a long, long way.
Worn smooth since the Dark Ages by a perfectionist people confined to a relatively small, rugged land, much of the 67,000-kilometre-long lacework of walking paths links farms, churches, villages and peaks. And just like everything else Swiss, they are of superb quality. This is a country obsessed with time, so it makes sense that everything is built with a timeless quality -- local villages even hire unemployed residents to rake and manicure their proximate trail networks. As a result, they are naturally contoured with drinking fountains and benches in the farthest reaches of every valley.
On one particularly perfect afternoon we find ourselves high above the glitz of Verbier, with the 4,807-metre Mont Blanc massif -- Western Europe's highest peak -- in view just across the Rhône Valley.
Earlier that day we traversed narrow, derailleur-claiming cow paths through Alpine meadows hued by an August dawn, and descended to a decommissioned road through winding, dipping single track as it ran beside a medieval aqueduct. Wandering across a steep forested slope, we then climbed 1,000 metres on gravel roads to a steep path that tops out somewhere near 2,700 metres. Here we sit, with the starting point of our ride -- a quaint stone-and-log lodge near the top of a ski gondola -- barely visible across the valley. We snack on cheese, sausage and chocolate, marvelling at the vertiginous relief leading to the Rhône.
It seems like days go by until we stop again. Steep single track melds into wider trails through sub-Alpine meadows with ground cover that is brick red, mustard and rust. There is a collective tingle when we notice that the patterned vineyards, orchards and roads along the Rhône's banks are still tiny details in the vista before us. We speed into forest, where the trail widens even more, and banked corners and jumps emerge with regularity. With cramped fingers and rattling biceps, the thrilling speed and blurred forest rush in upon me in a wave of sensation.
After 20 kilometres of uninterrupted descent, we whiz through vineyards to a village where we buy beer, cappuccinos and sandwiches. We load our bikes into the trailer, crowd into our van and drive an hour up the mountain-walled Rhône Valley to another little gondola that takes us, two at a time, up to a mountainside village. We spin through narrow streets past stilted houses from the 1300s to a store, where our backpack is stuffed with wine and cheese and more sausage and bottles of weak European beer.
Then it's off to another gondola that carries us up to a modern little hostel tucked above the lift. On a sun-draped deck we sip Löwenbräus and savour views of glaciers, ragged peaks and lush green valleys. We drink and eat and try to recall the thousands of spectacular intricacies of the day, afraid we'll forget because there are so many. Over the course of eight days we ride an average of 40 kilometres a day on our bikes, routinely climbing 600 metres and descending 3,000.
In Zermatt, a picture-perfect ski village in the Upper Valais, we ride the apogee of Swiss ingenuity: The train up to Gornergrat, a lookout at 3,130 metres where a four-star hotel offers views of Europe's highest peaks. The sun begins to set and the hikers and trains have all gone and we ride a path that is more a living, pulsing vein than a trail. We are cells coursing to a preset destination. We travel in unison and only need to react to the subtle turns, dips and switchbacks of hard-packed earth.
We spend the night in another immaculate chalet, this one high above the shimmering opulence of Zermatt. Through a window the Matterhorn fades into dusk, and someone says he feels like a king. Not kings, but raiders that have finally landed on a legendary shore. In Switzerland, or the Land of Perfect Single Track, the trail goes on and on . . . and then on some more.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

xmas vid starring your favorite guides!

This is some funny shit! Sent to us from our favorite San Fran ripper, Miss Chantal. I had no idea Joe danced so well. Thanks Chantal...you rock!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year

Turkey taking over...a few too many glasses of red wine. Life's good.

Thanks to all for riding with us in '07, welcome to the family. Here's to a fantastic year ahead!

When in doubt, ride big. Peace. From your friends Big Mountain.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

smells like more monkeys

Part two of Mr. Smith's adventures in the land of junglee descents, cervezas and summer-time heat. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

smells like monkey

Dave Smith went on our Costa Rica DH trip, Pura Vida, in February. Read about his experiences here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

the best part



really what it all comes down to are the people that you meet and the connections that you forge when you are riding your bike. while partying with Jonny, Wade and Jaimie last Sat night we decided to meet at Wade's on the Shore the next day for a ride. I was thinking that it'd be a mellow spin and it turns out that about 10 or so other friends and friends of friends show up and we climbed up to the snow line and then rode this new loamy secret trail. By the time we rolled back into civilization it was completely dark out. It was so much fun we were all hollering like kids.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

just released: new type of trip!

Big Mountain is launching a new trip in the Alps...winged base jumping! You think you're ballsy? Check this out.

tasty helmet cam clip

check it out.

video

Saturday, December 01, 2007

copper canyon online press...Trek Remedy!

though you might be interested to see some of the play the new Trek Remedy and Big Mountain have been getting. Check it out...UK website Bike Radar and then some news from our friends at NSMB.com in Vancouver and a stellar photo essay from Sterling on bikemag.com.

It's official! The new Trek Remedy is all time and the riding in Mexico with Big Mountain...is too! Come join us in 08!

Pacific to Caribbean in Costa



Hey, how's it going eh? All's well with me, the adventure continues here. I am sitting in one of the nicest hotels that i've ever stayed in near a town called Pacueras somewhere on the way to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. 12 of us are doing a road ride from the Pacific, over a whole bunch of very steep hills and mountains to the other coast. This is our first trip here with our sister company, Cycleventures, but definitely not our last. This trip is going to become an annual classic! Highlights? Where to start...we started the trip in this ridiculous hotel perched on the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean, then we began to pedal... It was hot for the first few days than as we got into the mountains it cooled off nicely. Our biggest day was a climb up 3450 meter Volcan Irazu, the highest active volcano in Costa. Ouch. For me, one of my hardest days on a road bike, but SO worth it. Some head winds, steep sections and altitude. The riding has been unreal on this trip and it's kicking us all into great shape. I will be very ready for powder in Whistler last this week!!! Tomorrow we ride 50 km than hop in a boat up a river for 2 hours to a remote lodge (only accessable by boat or plane) called Tortuego that's tucked up at the Nicaragua border. We are going to relax up there and do some eco boat trips with a guide and check out the wildlife before taking a small plane back to San Jose on Tuesday.

Here's a few shots...Paulo chilling after a climb and then railing a swooping corner on the way down Irazu! Yeehaw!