Ever dreamed of winding down thousands of vertical feet of ancient alpine singletrack in Switzerland? A country where gondolas, trams, and trains let you access hundreds of legendary peaks… We bring you there with Teton Gravity.
Introducing Singletrack Switzerland, a new Teton Gravity Research mountain bike project produced in partnership with Swiss International Air Lines, Switzerland Tourism, and BMC Switzerland. In this series, two American mountain bikers – Brice Shirbach, and Carston Oliver – tour throughout Switzerland where they experience alpine singletrack on a level and in a landscape unmatched in North America.
In Episode One, Brice and Carston visit the mountain resort town of Zermatt in southern Switzerland’s canton of Valais. The pair join German BMC Factory Trailcrew rider Kerstin Kögler to experience all the region has to offer, including Gornergrat train-assisted descents and the giant Zmutt Glacier.
After landing in Zurich, Brice and Carston make the trek to Zermatt via train where they connect with Kerstin. Unsure of what to expect from their experience in the area, the group found the scale of terrain and landscape to be both humbling and beautiful. “It’s just a completely different world,” commented rider Brice Shirbach “we don’t have this sort of exposure or these high alpine descents and trails at home.”
Riding big open alpine landscapes like this is pretty unheard of in most of North America. Yet in Zermatt, like most of the alpine regions of Switzerland, the Gornergrat (a train) that in 30 minutes, takes riders almost 5,000 vertical feet straight up the mountain dropping them off at the top of the trail system. Emerging from the train, riders are greeted with an endless postcard vista complete with views of the Gorner glacier, the peak of the Brethorn, and a tease of the Italian border. This unfettered access to high alpine areas combined with a long history of trail building creates the perfect scenario for world class riding.
Despite feeling as through they landed on the moon, it doesn’t take long for Brice, Kerstin, and Carston to feel at home on their bikes. The BMC Trailfox and Speedfox Trailcrew were bred for the notoriously long and technical descents of the Alps and feel at right home negotiating both the ancient, rocky high alpine trails and their loamy, soft counterparts below the tree line. While similar in appearance, the bikes’ attitudes compliment nature of their riders; Brice and Kerstin being hard-charging racers, while Carston floats along, playing with the trail.
Almost every day, the group finds itself pedaling down Hinterdorfstrasse, a narrow cobbled street with some of the oldest buildings and barns in Zermatt. The ingenious architects here figured out that they could balance their entire barn above on a series of flat, wide shale rocks that are designed to keep rodents at bay and away from the fresh hay above. Swiss ingenuity is real and shows itself off from old barn-building techniques like this to the incredible public transit system.
On their final day in the Zermatt region, the trio makes the trek out toward the north face of the Matterhorn to visit the Zmutt glacier, the last portion of the Haute Route Glacier Trek. At the mouth of the glacier the riders are able to fill their water bottles pristine glacial run with off-an experience foreign to most riders. Before turning to chase the long shadow of the Matterhorn back into town one last time, Brice, no stranger to exploring the best trails in the world, pauses to remark “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done, this is sick!”
Photo: Grant Gunderson