Issue Forty Five

Trailbuilding In The Alps

A Disposable Hero's Story

WORDS & PHOTOS x Leslie Kehmeier

24 October 2018
Part One

The Story

At 7 am the whir of giant cables fills the air while six gondola cars clank their way forward to the opening of the lift station. At the same time, a cadre of trail builders gathers and make their way through the side entrance of the Hörnli Express, one of two gondolas on the Arosa side of the Arosa-Lenzerheide mountain resort.

The crew is a mix of people from Allegra Tourismus, a mountain bike destination development team, and the Bergbahnen, the staff responsible for mountain operations. Together the crew is working to build two trails, giving each side of the resort completely new mountain bike experiences. When all is said and done, the Arosa side will have a seven-kilometer flow trail and Lenzerheide will boast a two-kilometer “enduro” style route.

They hang their bikes on the outside of the gondola car and hop in for the morning commute, a fifteen-minute ride into the alpine landscape of the Swiss Alps. This is not your typical ride to work. While the enclosed cars carry them up the mountain, they review the fruits of the previous day’s labor from an aerial perspective. At the top, they clip on their helmets, hoist their heavy packs onto their shoulders and ride the existing parts of the trail to their assigned sections to begin another day of trail building in one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes.

Located deep in the heart of the Alps, in the southeast part of Switzerland, Arosa-Lenzerheide is a three-hour train ride from Zürich. Surrounded by rugged gray peaks, flanked by colorful wildflower-laden grasses, one could not imagine a dreamier place to work and ride bikes. And while it is a setting that looks much like paradise, it was made that way by a combination of elements including environmental regulations, weather, and of course, the resident cows. The crew, comprised of both machine operators (maschinsts) and hand builders (handarbeiters), are extremely dedicated to their craft and have to keep these things in mind from the first cut of sod on a new segment to the final pass of the vibrating plate compactor that compresses the route into its final shape.

Above the flow trail, a smaller, two-person team works at the top of the Rothornbahn on the Lenzerheide side of the resort, creating a mountain bike experience that is truly unique for the Alps. They are above the verdant hillsides in a landscape dominated by rocks, ranging from marble-sized scree to boulders on par with the dimensions of a small car. The character of the trail does not fit any particular label or category. It is not a flow trail or anything you might see in a bike park. It is not a traditional Alps style trail with relentless downhill grades. It is actually a mixture of the best elements that natural singletrack and flow-based riding can provide, wrapped into a mystic and rocky landscape. We North Americans might call it “flow-gnar”. For the team, it is a chance to help Arosa-Lenzerheide stand out with a trail that is the first of its kind, something not found anywhere else across the Alps.

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The End
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