The Top 10 Bike Parks in the Alps
7 Jun 2014
By David Scorer
There is something really special about the Alps. If you’ve ever spent much time there you’ll understand this. And, if you’ve been fortunate enough to visit other big mountain ranges as well, then you’ll know there’s just something unique about the Alps that you can’t find anywhere else - an atmosphere, a culture, and a lifestyle.
So as the big-mountain resorts in Europe start to kick off their 2014 summer seasons, we profile the top 10 bike park destinations in the Alps. High altitude alpine single track, huge top to bottom verticals, massive trail networks supported by multiple lifts, and scenery that will take your breath away. In alphabetical order, make sure you put in the laps at one of these bike parks at some point in your life. And let us know what you think in the section comments below!
#1 - Alpe d'Huez, France
The finish to one of the most grueling alpine stages of the Tour de France and visited by thousands of Lycra-clad roadies seeking to emulate the pro’s and climb the 21 hairpin bends up to the village, Alpe d’Huez offers so much more for the fat-tire riders amongst us more interested in descent! Home of the famous Megavalanche, every year the bike park hosts nearly 2,500 riders during a single week of craziness in July for the largest mass-start mountain bike event in the world! The main event takes riders from the snow and ice on the Pic Blanc Glacier at 10,925ft, down 30 km of non-stop downhill and enduro trails, to the village of Allemont in the valley below - a non-stop drop of 8,562ft! There is a huge number of epic alpine downhill, cross country and all-mountain trails to explore. And of course, any bike park that can boast 10x World Downhill Champion Nicolas Vouilloz as bike ambassador has got to be pretty damn good!
#2 - Bardonecchia, Italy
Probably not as well known as many of the other locations on the list, Bardonecchia Bike Park has a growing reputation. And if the Atherton clan chooses to hang out there for some training or relaxing in between rounds of the UCI World Cup, then you can be sure it’s got plenty going for it! There are actually 2 separate lift station ‘hubs’, offering over 400 km of trails with over 5,500 ft vertical from top to bottom. With stacks of other activity options and a bustling tourist town, this is one of the more family orientated bike park locations, where it’s easy to strike a balance of laps on the hill and playtime with the kids. As part of the Alpi Bike Resort network there’s scope to explore further afield, although you’ll certainly need a car for this. Sauze d’Oulx Bike Park is only 25 minutes drive down the valley and is pretty awesome in it’s own right.
#3 - Châtel, France
Part of the enormous Portes du Soleil region that spans the French/Swiss border, Châtel Bike Park is a monster all on it’s own. If you want natural all-mountain trails then they are certainly available, as the Portes du Soleil links numerous different resorts with a network of lifts and trails. So there are plenty of options to explore the wider area. But it’s the man-made downhill and freeride trails that Châtel really excels at. If you’re looking for sculpted berms, big drops, gap jumps and northshore, then this is your kind of place, with most trails jam-packed with these features. Be prepared to put in multiple laps at Châtel – it’s not the sort of place you want to check out as you’re passing through on a tour, as there’s just so much in this one spot. Any bike park that stages an event like the Châtel Mountain Style is going to have something about it, so you can expect to go big!
#4 - Flims, Switzerland
With three distinct areas consisting of Flims, Laax and Falera, in total the region offers over 330 km of mountain bike trails and is a true Swiss freerider’s paradise! There are less of the dedicated DH trails, which you would look to lap continuously (for that you need Châtel!) – Flims is more of an all-mountain bike park. But there is genuinely riding for everyone here, with easy cross-country routes to marathon alpine tours and challenging free-ride descents. In autumn 2012 the International Mountain Bicycling Association awarded the TREK Runcatrail at Flims the “Flow Country Trail” label, and at six kilometers long this makes it one of the longest Flow Country Trails in Europe. Graded easy to medium, beginners can ride over simple rollers, while the more experienced can style it out and hit the berms, jumps and rollers at speed. Everybody wins.
#5 - Leogang and Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria
Although 2 separate bike parks, we’ve chosen to combine them as a single ‘destination’ for the top 10 as they’re closely linked with trails and lifts making it super easy to ride both locations on the same day – so many riders do exactly that. Saalbach-Hinterglemm is an incredible destination for mountain bike holidays, with dedicated bike-friendly accommodation in the form of the Bike-n-Soul hotel network, and epic all-mountain trails for beginner to advanced riders. And Leogang Bike Park just over the hill needs no introduction, having hosted the UCI World Championships and numerous rounds of the UCI World Cup. So this combination results in the full spectrum of trail grades all in one awesome area! Get your hands on the Joker Card - a brilliant value-for-money pass which covers your access to the whole lift network (one uplift per day on the Leogang cable car), and also includes numerous other activities and attractions in the wider area. And to make the most out of it, step up to the Big 5 Challenge - a huge freeride tour of the area that utilizes all 5 cable cars to give up 5000m of descending in a day. Another pro endorsement here - mountain bike legend Richie Schley is a huge fan of the region and if it’s good enough for him then it’s good enough for anyone!
#6 - Les Deux Alpes, France
When the legendary Crankworx event came to Europe they chose Les Deux Alps, so that should tell you all you need to know! With a drop in altitude from 10,498 ft on the glacier to 2,362 ft in the valley below that's over 8,000 ft of vertical to play with. As you would expect from any bike park of this size, the trails cater to beginner and intermediate riders as well as experienced ones. There are total of 5 different lifts operating, which will give you an idea of the amount of terrain that you can cover. And a rarity in alpine bike parks; in fact, not that common at many bike parks around the world - the lifts run late in to the evening. The Diable and Venosc gondolas are open until 18:00 and 20:00 respectively, so if you can handle it, you can ride lift-accessed trails from 9 in the morning until 8 at night! If this leaves you exhausted and you need a break from the bike, then hit the slopes, with summer skiing and snowboarding available up on the glacier. And all this leads to an activity level and atmosphere in town that’s much more energized than your average ski resort in the summer months. There is so much else to do off the bike, making it ideal for groups or families where not everyone wants to be on the bike all of the time. Although Les Deux Alpes could change that…
#7 - Les Gets and Mozine, France
Again, these are technically 2 separate bike parks but they are often ridden together as there are trails and lifts linking both hubs for easy transition. So putting in laps at each location on the same day is normal. Les Gets Bike Park is probably the first one that comes to mind when discussing mountain bike destinations in Europe. Steeped in MTB history, Les Gets was the pioneer for lift-accessed bike trails in the Alps, and has been hosting world-class events for nearly 2 decades. There are trails catering for beginners to pros, and an uber-relaxed chilled out atmosphere in town, all contributing to its stellar reputation. Just over the hill is Morzine Bike Park – smaller in terms of the number of trails but no-less challenging; steeper and with infinite line options in the woods thanks to the industrious locals! The town is bigger, with more options for bike-friendly accommodation and a busier nightlife. This produces a near-perfect combination of trails and off-bike activities split between the 2 towns. And as if that wasn’t enough, Les Gets and Morzine are part of the huge Portes du Soleil region, which spans 12 resorts and stretches as far as Champéry in Switzerland! But you’ll be hard pushed to make it there and back in a day, so don’t take it on unless you’re sure you have the legs for it! And all just over an hour from Geneva airport, making it the go-to destination for thousands of British riders looking to get some big mountain lift-accessed trail shredding done each summer.
#8 - Livigno Mottolino, Italy
Located at the southern end of the lake of the same name, Livigno ‘Mottolino’ Bike Park is a self-proclaimed “spectacular playground” for mountain bikers – and they are not wrong! With a wide range of downhill and freeride trails packed with features, a network of cross-country trails throughout the region, and a dedicated kids area, Livigno is ideal for a family trip or group of mixed-standard riders. And now, established as the host resort for the Suzuki Nine Knights MTB event, there’s no shortage of action for the pro’s either. The event brings together the nine strongest riders in the world for an entire week of massive freeride action, captured on film from the air for a unique perspective of riders pushing the boundaries at the front line of mountain bike progression. Livigno town has a great vibe too, and enjoys a special tax status as a duty-free area. The Italian VAT (Value Added Tax) is not paid here so be prepared to do some shopping!
#9 - Tignes-Val d'Isere, France
One huge area of mountain bike heaven – last season Tignes Bike Park joined forces with Val d'Isere to form the Tignes-Val d'Isere Bike Park! This is big-mountain riding at it’s best. Yes, there are the man-made features to the trails that you would expect – large berms, big hits etc. But they also exploit the huge amount of natural terrain in the area, with stacks of natural single-track enduro routes mapped out that transition between the 2 alpine towns and even drop further in to the valley, well below the reach of the chairlifts. There’s a bus that brings riders back up to Tignes, meaning that there’s lift-accessed trails spanning more than 3,300 ft of total vertical! As if this wasn’t enough, Tignes-Val d'Isere Bike Park is the only gravity bike park in the world that is actually free to ride! That's right, there is NO LIFT PASS required, just show up and get on. Take a moment to let that sink in…!
#10 - Verbier-La Tzoumaz, Switzerland
The iconic Swiss resort of Verbier is well known for winter royalty – an elite ski-destination recognized for off-piste excellence and an established community of many of the world’s best skiers. Well things aren’t that much different in the summer. Developed under the guidance of ex-UCI World Cup racer Fabrice “Trifon” Tirefort, Verbier’s motto for their bike park design is quality and diversity, not quantity. So there is not a super-high density of specific DH trails, but what they have certainly supports the stereotype of Swiss craftsmanship, innovation, and a never-ending challenge to offer our riders “simply the best”. The latest addition is the spectacular new Rôdze Trail, which has a total of 65 jumps built to be accessible for all levels of riders with progressive landings from 4 to 5 meters long. And all this with the magnificent views of the Grand Combin Glacier and the famous "Dents du Midi" on the horizon!