Tread Ze Alps

Years ago I hiked around Mont Blanc. The trail network in the Alps is incredible—there are trails everywhere you look. One afternoon, as I topped out on the border between Italy and Switzerland, I met a group of British bikers. As I surveyed the multi-hour descent in front of me and my heavy pack, I knew who was going to have more fun on the down.

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While watching them rally through naturally bermed turns, I knew that my time as a hiker was limited. Last summer my wife Louise and I headed to Switzerland to bike it for ourselves.

We chose the ski stations of Verbier and Zermatt as our home bases. Verbier was definitely the burlier of the two, featuring long, hard double-track climbs that, without a shuttle bump, would have been nearly 6,000 vertical feet.

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The trails in Verbier were amazing—tight, twisty, steep, and littered with rock gardens that made me want a full-face helmet and raked-out double-crown fork. With our five-inch trail bikes, we spent a lot of time pushing up steep climbs and even down some of the gnarlier descents.

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Zermatt should definitely be on every mountain biker’s life list. The valley features a ski lift and train system that will put you on top of every mountain in sight that isn’t glaciated (and if you want get on top of those with skis, that’s an option too). The marquee ride is to take the Gornergrat train to the top and spend the day shredding up high in the alpine—there are a lot of hikers during the busy summer, so get a bell or get used to saying “Excuse me” in German, French, English, and Japanese.

At the end of the day pick any trail that winds down through the woods and into town. Watch out, though—there are lots of bars along the way that make for pretty tempting stops. Bring extra brake pads with you, too. You’re going to need them. [words+photos] Dana Allen

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BIKE-TRIP BETA

Bike Verbier: Phil and Lucy are the owners and they are THE source for info in Verbier. They'll lodge you, shuttle you, guide you, or just sit down over coffee and give you trail-beta (and if you take the last option, you should definitely buy the coffee, or a few bottles of wine). They're great and know the best trails in the area, which is tough 'cause there are trails EVERYWHERE and it's easy to choose poorly.

My Switzerland: Official tourism site of the country that's actually helpful if you're looking for trains, hotels, basic info, etc. They're well funded, 'cause they're Swiss, and they deliver.

Hotel Bahnhof: Located next to the train station in Zermatt; cheap, with a kitchen, and right next door to the Gornergrat train. Couldn't ask for much more.