You can’t get much more central in the Alps than Andermatt, but for me it’s often been a place of passing through rather than a destination in itself. At the point where many of the main Swiss passes meets it’s easy to overlook Andermatt as a bike destination in it’s own right. A quick spin over the Furka Pass and you are in Wallis, over the Gotthard and you are in Ticino and over the Oberalp and you are in Graubünden. Each of those locations is well known amongst Swiss Mountain Bikers, but Andermatt itself can quite often get a little overlooked.
I think it’s exactly this location that provides Andermatt with so much possibility. Road riders flock to the area due to the high density of passes for them to suffer their way up one pedal stroke at a time, but the mountain biker who prefers to work with gravity rather than try to fight one of natures strongest forces can also find something quite special hidden in these mountains.
|The fun bus.|
In 2012 we spent some time exploring these passes for an Article in Singletrack Magazine, Issue 78. We found some fun trails and really enjoyed the novelty of using the yellow Post Buses to shuttle us to the top of the passes where we rode further into the mountains to see what they had in store for us. Now, two years later I’ve been invited as an “Opinion Leader” by Andermatt tourism to be shown some of the secrets of the region.
I arrived in Andermatt on a wet Monday evening to meet the group I would be riding with for the next two days. As usual when I attend such events my own doubts of if I am a good enough rider to be here or if I will have problems with the language started to fill me with a certain amount of nerves. After a brief introduction and explanation of what we would be doing for the next two days it was time to mingle with my new riding buddies, enjoy the buffet provided and then return to my hotel to get some sleep for the 8am start in the morning.
Under blue skies we loaded our bikes onto the shuttle that would take us to the top of the Gotthardpass. Here our guide briefed us and we set off to pedal another 150m higher into the mountains to the Pass Scimfuss – which to me sounded like it would be a perfect location for a “Bond Villain” to call his home! A brief stop to look down over Ticino and we continued descending first on paved then unpaved roads towards Pontino.
|Riding up to Passo Scrimfuss|
Suddenly the relaxed nature of descending on fireroad was gone as the trail went from a 2m wide gravel road to a 30cm wide ribbon of loam set into an uncomfortably steep hillside. Within the first 20m of trail it demanded my full focus as we encountered our first small rock-garden which left absolutely no room for error. Safely through the first obstacle I began to relax into the trail and feel the flow as we surfed our way down the mountain one after the other. The more I got used to the trail and following unknown riders down it, it started to sink in just how nice the trail we were riding was. Swooping in and out of gullies set into the hillside suddenly you can see a good distance down the trail and your braking fingers gets some time to recover before coming sharply back into action to reduce speed in time for the rapidly approaching switchback. This trail was a mountain bikers wet dream.
We stop to regroup at a small alp and Adrian our guide starts to point to the surrounding mountains and telling us where the other secrets of this area lie. I remember to make mental notes of each location to go back and check them on my maps as soon as I get home. Within no time the rest of the group is there and we are off again whooping our way down the mountain. With huge smiles we arrive in Airolo in time to enjoy a coffee before our shuttle once again whisks us to the top of the Gotthardpass to descend back to Hospental and lunch in the Smallest Town in Switzerland (Zum Dorf).
I already knew the descent we did from Gotthard having already done it a few times in the past. The last time we were here it was the last descent in our three pass Enduro day using the Post Bus as our shuttle. I grinned to myself remembering back to that trip and the fact that my GPS had shown 666m of on the bike ascent in an area well known for it’s legends regarding Lucifer himself.
|Descending the old military road of the Gotthardpass|
After lunch our guides had once again something special in store for us, unfortunately the weather had other ideas. On stepping out of the bus above Tiefenbach on the Furkapass the rain started coming down in droves. Waterproofs were quickly dragged out of backpacks and we must have made quite a miserable impression as we climbed the short distance to the high point of this afternoons tour.
|Everything a mountain biker could wish for. Great scenery and fun trails.|
This time we had a bit more warning before dropping into the a relatively steep trail that descended pretty close to the fall line towards Realp. Soon the rain was forgotten and we were back in the terrain we had come here to enjoy. As we dropped into the tree line the trail got less steep and more flowy.
|Flow with a capital “F” above Realp|
This was the kind of trail that flattered you. Corners were the perfect distance apart and the perfect radius to make you start to think what it must be like to actually be a talented mountain biker. One after another our river of mountain bikers flowed down the mountain completely oblivious to the rain. From Realp it was a nice ride along the Reuss back to Andermatt where bikes and people were hosed off and 20 hungry and happy mountain bikers enjoyed a superb meal in the River House Hotel in the centre of town.
|All smiles arriving back in Andermatt after a great day on the bikes.|
The next morning dawned sunny as we rode down the into the Urseren Valley. Today we were starting with a descent on a mixture of fire road and single trail. We rode past Russia (yes, there is actually some Russian territory in Andermatt) on top of the motorway galleries – bringing people to and from the Gotthard tunnel -and past an unassuming looking factory which apparently manufactured parts for NASA, until we got to the town of Gurtnellen where we were given a choice of a 700m climb or a ride in a cable car.
With nice weather and the expectation of some nice scenery I chose to use my own leg power to climb up to the Arnisee. One of our guides Leo had told us the gradient would be quite pleasant, but as I set off with the first group of riders I found myself struggling a little after about 150m of ascent. I dropped back to enjoy the views at my own pace and take in the scenery for myself. Eventually the climb was over and we arrived at the picture postcard Arnisee.
With a little time to spare we enjoyed the sunshine and set by the lake taking in the views and generally being happy with life. Soon we were called to enjoy a traditional plate of local cheeses and meats at the local Alp before heading off down to the valley on another superb woodland trail that lived up to the expectations that we had developed from the day before. All too soon we arrived in the town of Intschi to say our good byes and return to our respective homes and digest the impressions we had of two days riding deep in the Alps around Andermatt.
|Local goodies for lunch at Arnisee|
For many of us it wasn’t our first time here, but the two days had ensured that it would definitely not be our last. Whether it’s Maighelspass, the Urschner Höhenweg, a tour from the Oberalppass to Disentis or a round tour over Furka, Nufenen and Gotthard passes or just using Andermatt as a starting point for day trips to Obergoms or Ticino the possibilities in the area are as broad as your imagination.
On my return home I dragged out the maps and looked over suggestions for routes from our local experts plans are afoot to return at the next possible opportunity to sort out the finer details for our first Swiss Alpine Adventure weekend in the region.
A huge thanks to Andermatt Tourism for putting us up for the two days and showing us the potential of the area and to Andrea and Patricia from Bike Agentur for the invitation.