Home / World According to Don / Europe, a Different World


   As some of you know I just returned from a trip to Switzerland with my good friends from Scotland. Kevin organized this trip and when he said “let’s go to Switzerland,” I imediately thought,
“yes this will be good.”

Kathy and I moved this summer so finances were tight, but after the move and things had settled down I realized this was an opportunity not to be missed. I was correct. Riding in Verbier, Switzerland is amazing, scenic, difficult and exhilarating. I brought my knee and elbow pads as suggested and my cautious guardian angel so I would not attempt any thing I was not 100% sure I could ride. Only one minor crash and lots of walking kept me injury free.

I could write about so many things about this trip, like our wonderful hosts, Bike Verbier (do not confuse this with Mountain Bike Verbier, another company), who were amazing, I could go on about the scenery which is, well, just as beautiful as the photos of Switzerland show. Instead I am going to write about what really impressed me most is how different it is riding in the Alps and many other parts of Europe than in the USA. I want to emphasize the word different as opposed to better.

One is the combination lift, shuttle and plain hard riding uphill. In my experience in Oregon shuttles and lifts are to eliminate most of the climbs so riders can enjoy the downhills more. On our trip the combination of lifts and shuttles are to get to the best single track. We might get a shuttle from our starting elevation of 2600 ft to to 4 or 5 thousand but then we would have a 2 hour climb to 8000 feet, do a traverse go back up and then descend into a neighboring valley to be picked up again. One of our rides consisted of a shuttle, a grueling downhill to a train, an hour long train ride, a long 2 hour climb up a very difficult ascent, and the a shuttle home. We could still do unassisted rides from the Chalet we stayed in, but as we only had 6 days of riding we wanted to sample the best.

This kind of riding requires the best of the modern bike, I guess we call the Enduro bikes. Five to 6 inches of travel and really good uphill pedaling is a requirement, as are bigger wheels to help get over all the rock gardens, and the maneuverability to do the 100s of switchbacks on these trails. I rode more switchbacks in 6 days then I have ridden total in my 30 years of mountain biking. My Ibis Ripley was great.

The other major difference in Europe is access. I need to preface this by saying I am a 50 year member the Sierra Club. I believe in what they do, but as an avid Mountain Biker I also feel there is room for a different approach to trail access. In Scotland hikers and mountain bikers are allowed access to all trails, whether on public or private land unless one can show a reason to limit access. In the US we have a blanket ban on all trails in Designated Wilderness, whether it is shown to be harmful or not. Compromise and sharing are not things that we do well over here. I do not know the exact laws in Switzerland but we rode trails, very old trails up very high into the mountains. We shared these trails with hill walkers and even a class of School children.  All were friendly and willing to share. If you look at the above photos you will see a building on a ridge. This is a cafe in what I would call a wilderness. It’s only access is a two hour walk. If you look at the map it is located where the blue dot is. This would be similar to a cafe at Green Lakes. I am not advocating a cafe at Green Lakes, but it was sure nice to have a bowl of hot soup and a coffee at 8500 ft. In Europe this is allowed because they are not concerned about McDonalds putting hamburger stands at every hill top. That’s not allowed. Over here we would have a difficult time coming up with a law that would allow a small discreet cafe without opening up a fast food invasion of our most sacred and valued wilderness. I have mixed feeling but, again, it sure was nice to get out of the cold and wind and enjoy a hot beverage.

Enough for now, thanks for reading. If you have a question leave a comment.

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