by Mark Alker
January 24, 2017
Subscribers of Singletrack may well have heard of the Gstaad Snow Bike Festival as we ran a feature on last year’s event in issue 110 . But for everyone else, this is the third iteration of this very new but quite odd racel concept.
It has been held for the last two years in the extremely exclusive Swiss resort of Gstaad, home to postcard Swiss chalets, cows, mountains, and of course, shops by Louis Vuton, Prada, Cartier and Rolex. The town, with it’s 7000 residents, is more typically known for its posh skiing and in the summer, its role as host to pro tennis tournaments. Bernie Eccleston owns a hotel here too and there’s more Michelin restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Europe. That’s how exclusive this place is.
So, what’s with the mountain biking? Well the tourist board are keen to promote the region as a place for all outdoor activities and not just skiing, so when the opportunity came along to host something as unique (daft?) as racing bikes on snow they grabbed it.
Last year the event attracted a few hundred people but this year, with the surprise endorsement by the UCI as a level 2 stage race event and it’s associated UCI XC ranking points on offer, the field suddenly gained attraction with a reasonable number of pro riders. Maybe it was the location – maybe it was the opportunity to race on snow, or maybe it was the chance to grab some UCI points while no one else was looking. Whatever the reasons there was a a grand turnout and a spectacular start to stage 1 on Friday from the centre of the town. Oh, and Tracy Moseley was giving it a go too. Principally for ‘shits and giggles’ as it turned out – Mark caught up with her after stage 1. check out the interview below.
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The crowds weren’t huge at the finish, but then it’s hard to sell an event that sees the riders vanish out of town on 30km stages in the mountains before suddenly appearing again at the finish two hours later. As an open event it was not just pro’s in the melee – anyone could have a go, and many did. Which was why the finishers took between 2 and 4 hours to dribble in over the finish line. So, not exactly spectator friendly but certainly a very unique event for the riders.
If you want to give it a go, don’t be put off by the exclusive reputation of the resort. There are plenty of more reasonable places to stay and the 3 star hotels outnumber the higher rated places to stay. There’s even a youth hostel in town. And with four days of riding (there’s a prologue on the Thursday) you will get your money’s worth of time in the saddle and get the chance to ride in a part of the world and on a surface that you will rarely ever get the chance to do at any other time.
Race format: Multi stage race over 4 days (including prologue) with night time sprint event on Saturday. Winner has shortest overall time from all stages. Typical stage distance: 30km on hardpack snow. There was even a section that descended a piste completel with skiers and boarders.
If you fancy giving this a go next year then there are early bird offers available on the event website. For 590CHF (About £550) you get four days of stage racing plus lunch and dinner each day and UCI rider accreditation). This includes the night time eliminator race. If you have supporters then there are packages for them so they can join you in the catering each day. Bike rental, if you want to pack light, is available from a number of bike shops in Gstaad.