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Riding in zee Alps, Italian Style

October 4th, 2013
Climbing up the tunnel next to the Mauvoisin Dam

Climbing up the tunnel next to the Mauvoisin Dam

Having recently wrapped up three weeks of guiding Big Mountain Bike Adventures trips in Switzerland, my mind is alight with multiple moments of adventure, almost too many to distill singular experiences from. It’s probably easier to just summarize an entire trip as a whole. And while  I was tempted to do this, there was, indeed, one particular day that stood out amongst all the others.

The stark contrast of this day is not so much about the riding itself. The ride did feature some spectacular singletrack, but the uniqueness of the day was more about how it allowed us to travel with our bikes. Travel in the sense of moving through terrain; achieving numerous objectives over the course of a day while focused on a final destination, one very different from the beginning of the adventure.

The day started cold and clear in Lourtier, our sleepy little homebase tucked into the postcard-perfect Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. I had made the executive decision to postpone this particular outing a couple of days due to a low freezing level and poor weather, and looking out the window at a splitter blue sky, I felt very self congratulatory and guide-like. Taking advantage of this perfect weather window, our group powered back a Swiss breakfast (mostly bread, cheese and meat) and headed out.

The climb begins as quintessentially as a Swiss climb should: in a tunnel. The tunnel bores up through the mountainside next to the Mauvoisin Dam, at 250 meters tall, it is the highest arched dam in Europe. The tunnel is faintly lit, with water seeping through the ceiling. We climb up the narrow dirt track, sporadically sniping sights of the dam and lake below us through small ports in the rock. Finally, the tunnel ends, and we emerge, blinking, into blinding sunlight on the other side, a fantastic view of mountains and water and glaciers and rivers spilling out in front of us. Inspired by the sight we bend into a grinding road climb that eventually gives way to an even more oppressive hike-a-bike that finally relents to a merely painful climb, all of this getting us closer to the Fenetre du Durand, a 2800m col that marks the border between Switzerland and Italy.

Into the merely painful part of the climb. Epic views though!

Into the merely painful part of the climb. Epic views though!

As we climb, the air becomes sharper, distilled by the last few days of freezing temperatures. The crisp air seems to bring out our surroundings in flawless relief. Snow-capped peaks tower above the distinct singletrack that stretches out in front of our tires, and as we crest the col, Italy beckons below, a different landscape perhaps only in perspective, but beckoning us onwards in perfect detail.

Approaching the col, with Mt Gele looming behind.

Approaching the col, with Mt Gele looming behind.

The ride down is a glorious amalgamation of flowy trail, technical rock features, and everything in between. While down is the general direction, we traverse through the valley for a long distance on a perfectly graded “bisse,” or ancient waterway designed to re-direct water from the glaciers to mid-mountain fields and towns. As we descend the air becomes warmer, as one would imagine it would, descending into Italy. It all seems so perfect.

Smooth Italian singletrack.

Smooth Italian singletrack.

The final descent is long and winding, on a rarely visited trail that recently revealed itself thanks to some keen map reading and some valuable local knowledge. We revel in the secrecy of the spot, shredding down the rolling singletrack. At one point the trail points down through a perfectly-spaced group of larch trees, the forest floor nothing but knee-high vibrant green grasses, the trail cutting a straight line through. The afternoon sun dapples the grass, as a light wind creates a wild kaleidoscope of light in front of our tires. Minds blown, we rocket through the trees and exit out on the road far below, coasting down to the Italian town of Aosta for eagerly awaited beers.

After spending the day bundled up in the high mountains, it is an abrupt change to find ourselves in the old town of Aosta. The sun is warm, and as we relax and drink beers we witness a perfect slice of Italian life unfold around us. The striking differences between our morning’s departure and where we are now help to gel the unique experiences of the day together, and we celebrate two-wheeled travel, Italian style.

Story and photos by Joe Schwartz, Osprey Athlete

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Swiss Chalet: Eight Days of the Finest Swiss and French Downhill Mountain Bike Gems

May 22nd, 2012

Head buzzing from wine, stomach full of cheese, meat and bread, I careened haphazardly down the mountain, the Rhone Valley far below and a group of howling bike riders in the exact same boat as I following closely behind.

We were mid-way through an eight-day sampling of some of the finest Swiss and French downhill mountain bike gems. Some days took us to established bike parks, and other days to obscure trails hidden to the general public, and only discovered through a combination of bribing locals, studying maps and some good ‘ol fashioned luck.

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Friday Round Up: Winter Around the Globe With Osprey

March 2nd, 2012

Sven Brunso: late for the train. Heading to the station to catch the last train of the day to Grindelwald, Switzerland.

Unless you’ve been living in a deep, dark cave… You may have noticed that there is a lot of cool stuff going on out there. So, we thought it was high-time we started rounding up some of our faves each week. We call it the Osprey Round Up… Happy Friday!

Our inboxes have been bursting with photos from Osprey friends, athletes and family. From the Selkirks of British Columbia to Mount Washington in New Hampshire to the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, we’ve lived vicariously through some of these adventures across the globe. This Friday we thought it was time we put together a quick photo gallery to stoke the winter wanderlust in all of us… enjoy!

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Alps Adventure: A Forever Ski Bum Chasing the Endless Winter

March 2nd, 2012

Swiss sweetness isn't always wrapped up. Good example of why I like to come to the Alps. This line is a 30-minute skin off a major lift. Murren, Swizterland

Although I am a husband and father, I am forever a ski bum willing to chase after the endless winter. I, like many, sit and stare at looping satellite images trying to determine where to go and when. Sometimes I hit it right, but often times I arrive to the cliché but often true, “Should have been here yesterday.” After the New Year, rumor of epic snow in the Alps started to circulate and some research confirmed that places in the Swiss Alps had indeed received a bounty of goodness from above. Some places had received 10 to 12 feet of snow in just a couple weeks. Europe was off to the races and I didn’t want to miss the boat (plane actually). I combed the internet and came across some screaming, well make that murmuring deals, on flights. I called renown Canadian lensman Henry Georgi and asked is he was interested in a powder feast in the land Toblerone built.

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Learning French in Switzerland

March 27th, 2011

I’ve had the temporary post-finals insomnia, when my brain was just too crammed with information to shut down, but after a few nights, I would reacclimate back to my regular sleeping patterns. But transplanting to Switzerland was a whole different animal, and studying will never seem daunting again.

I arrived in Switzerland with the intentions of revamping my telemark racing technique. During an intensive camp, my brain usually goes into hyperactive mode, so I expected a few sleepless nights. What I didn’t expect was the sleepless nights trying to learn French…

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