Graubünden landed into collective conscience courtesy of the ‘Home of Trails’ video starring Danny MacAskill and Claudio Caluori. Graubünden itself is not a resort but a canton in south eastern Switzerland sharing a border with Lichtenstein and Italy, containing the bike resorts of Davos Klosters, Arosa Lenzerheide and Laax, Engadin and Scuol.
Watch: Graubünden Home of Trails
Graubünden, from a mountain bike and ski perspective, then exists in a similar way as Portes du Soleil and similar umbrella resorts do, in that the five resorts are connected under one roof as it were. Arguably the most famous for their sheer opulence and abundant skiing are Davos and St Moritz, the latter hosting the Winter Olympics in times gone by. Well known in mountain biking circles, Lenzerheide hosts the downhill mountain bike World Cup and World Championships.
Despite being the largest canton in Switzerland, Graubünden sports a population only double that of the city of Innsbruck, meaning you will only find 28 people per square kilometre in Switzerland’s easternmost district.
Each destination has its own unique style formed long ago when the deep valleys and high passes meant that few ventured beyond the walls of their own city or town, with a blend of Roman, and in some cases courtesy of the skirmishes between the central powers during the Reformation, Italian, Spanish and Austrian architecture blends with the very functional Swiss stylings.
The more modern of these stylings come to a head with the InterContinental Hotel in Davos. A large, pill-shaped structure hosts guests for a minimum of £250 a night and looks much like the lair of an overly polite yet very sinister Bond villain. Contrast that with our actual digs on the opening night in Davos, the Berghaus Stafelalp, a mountain hut of the 250 year vintage that you can stay in for around £67 a night including dinner and breakfast.
As you fuel up in the morning and gaze up the sheer sides of the steep valleys that surround any of the Graubünden resorts, you know that with such a low population density, you’ll be escaping whatever hustle and bustle remains, whether you winch your way to altitude, or make use of the fantastically new and efficient lifts to where the air is rare.
Our six day Graubünden trip (with two days travelling to and from Switzerland) took in Lenzerheide, Davos-Klosters and Laax, with two days being spent at each. At each destination we saw what the local bike park had to offer before venturing away from the groomed, bike-specific trails, to the vast multi-use trails available. Trail restrictions are minimal in Switzerland, and you’ll know fine well when there’s a trail you shouldn’t be riding a bike on.
Trials whizz Ali Clarkson, Scottish enduro pinner Christo Gallagher and myself made our way to Edinburgh airport for the 2hrs20 flight to Zurich. Flights are fairly regular from most major British airports and usually come in just over the 2 hour mark.
Driving here is less of an onerous task that you might think. The quickest and shortest route is through France, with the drive from Calais to Chur being only 553 miles.
Once in Switzerland, we collected the hire van and made the two hour drive to Lenzerheide. Most of this drive is motorway until you get to Chur, then you’ll need to have your Alpine switchback driving skills on point. A train to Chur is also an option with regular buses heading up the hill to Lenzerheide from the train station.
We aimed for the Hotel Revier that is conveniently at the base of the Lenzerheide main chair, that sits in between the villages of Valbella and Vaz/Obervaz. The Revier would be our home for the two nights here and is a modern take on the ski/bike hotel with staff-less check in, keyless entry to rooms and bike storage, as well as a bike wash and a very good restaurant. Our hotel sits as the newest addition to the Lenzerheide setup which includes the PESKO bike rental, Hotel Dieschen where we’d have dinner on the second night, some flats, a hostel and the lift itself.
After inhaling what might be the most succulent spare ribs we’ve ever eaten, we turned in early ahead of what would no doubt be a tough day in the heat and at altitude. Sadly, with some bad weather forecast, our Rothorn sunrise mission planned for 4am the following day, was cancelled. However, we still met our guide Rafi at the lift station early doors and after some brief handshakes, loaded up into the Rothornbahn gondola, a pretty swift affair with room for two bikes on the door and one inside with the seat up.
For our opening laps in Lenzerheide, Rafi led us away from the main lift and across the causeway that intersects the Igl Lai lake to the Tgantieni and Scalottas lifts that make light work of getting to the summit of Piz Scalottas that sits at a 2323m. Met by a lifty that looks more like Father Christmas than most lifties, we were beckoned to leave our bikes so they could load them for us. A very nice change if you’ve ever dealt with less than enthusiastic lift assistants elsewhere in Europe. From here, the entire valley from Chur to Lenz is visible, as are the mountains in all directions.
Rafi gave us the trail options, and we opted for the less severe of the two to ease ourselves into things. We were soon met by some bone dry, pristine singletrack, pockmarked by drainage bars, though very much less severe than the British equivalents. We could see most of the World Cup track from here too. Soon, the gradient steepened and we were joined by walkers, where the surface was no longer baked dirt, but its skidded equivalent, making things fairly hectic. As Ali tried to buzz Rafi’s back tyre, me and Christo turned to talking about the lack of turns in the Alps. Sure, it would take forever to build, but we were already missing dropping a shoulder.
Rafi explained that much of the trail design on this hill has been hammered out in cooperation with local conservation groups to avoid the more sensitive areas of the upper Alpine. Fair enough. We’d content ourselves with enjoying the easy speed and the quick lifts instead. Before we’d blinked we were back at the base of the Scolattas lift having taken a moment to check out the location of some of Danny MacAskill’s ‘Home of Trails’ stunts in a 19th Century mountain hut.
More laps of the open hill in all directions and we would ride what I named ‘The Hire Bike Destroyer’ as the sheer number of rocks vying for your bike’s extremities is overwhelming. Us Brits revelled in the need to pay more attention and Rafi sweated trying to keep pace with Ali and Christo, whose pace was altogether higher than most.
We spent the afternoon on the Rothorn side of the hill, and we were glad to be in the trees as the heat of the day started to spike. We’d be using the same lift as the World Cup riders do, albeit riding at a different pace on different tracks to reach the bottom.
What immediately became apparent about the bike park here is its universal appeal. We saw everything from ‘90s hardtails, primary school XC whippets scrubbing the ‘A-Line’, enduro wannabees and pinners alike; and your fully kitted out downhill lunatics. Then there was us. Laps were quick and the gondola back to the top probably not taking in too much more time than an uninterrupted run. The runs here are super varied and very well built indeed. We opened with a flow trail that urges you to be reckless with your speed and certainly for us riders from the UK, having to work the ground that much had us absolutely wrecked before we were even a third of the way down the hill. It was like 20 pumptrack laps in one run.
From there we kept hammering the runs out until we’d sampled everything the bike park has to offer before jumping back onto the Scalottas lift and taking in a trail that led us all the way to Churwalden for lunch before rejoining some familiar trails back to Lenzerheide.
We would take in jump lines, flow trails and even some North Shore, this place really has it all. Come the afternoon the queue was out the door but that’s to be expected. We had rolled out early to beat the crowds and that paid dividends.
That evening, we headed up the hill to Hotel Dieschen, a hunting lodge that sits somewhat at odds with the rest of the buildings around the lift, and supplies some very different food to the Revier. Unsurprisingly, the food was as good, if not better than the night before and we waddled back to the hotel to try and sleep off half a tonne of prawns, pasta and ice cream.
Day two dawned and the threat of rain had receded with the showers rolling in through the night. For our second day, we took in the meatier parts of the bike park and some trails further afield. All was going well until Ali decided to eat dirt on the same wooden kicker. Twice. He dusted himself off and with Christo leading they cracked on until Christo landed a drop and didn’t sound all that happy. He was confident he wouldn’t be riding for the rest of the Graubünden tour, and as our group was trimmed to three, Christo headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up, asses the damage and look for a flight home. Our day was cut somewhat short by the urgency of getting a flying Scot to an airport and our need to boost then onwards to Davos. Christo used the marvel of Swiss public transport after I deposited him at Chur train station to get to Basel airport.
On to Davos
From Lenzerheide, it was a 45 minute drive east to our second resort of the week, Davos. Davos is renowned for being the playground of the ludicrously wealthy, but Davos looked much like every other town we’d driven through since we left the motorway. With hotels in Davos Klosters and St. Moritz offering free lift passes to those staying, it takes a sizeable chunk off the actual price, making staying and riding better value and less hassle.
Davos has existed since the 13th century, and has long been famed for the cleanliness of its immediate environment, with sanitariums built here to help those with chronic lung illnesses recover. The League of the Ten Jurisdictions was also founded in Davos, a league set up to resist the power of the neighbouring House of Habsburg. More recently, it became a place for natural ice winter sports and continues to be one of the biggest ski resorts in Europe.
Our home for the night was to be Berghaus Stafelalp, an 18th Century mountain hut that was converted into a guest house in the late 1930s. We parked up at the end of the public road and made the short hike to the hut that overlooks the valley in which Davos sits. We were greeted by Maik and Cati the owners who were very attentive as we were the only guests for the night. We were offered some simple yet very tasty food before piling into Ali’s first game of Monopoly. Swiss Monopoly that is, and I was left to translate Chance and Community chest cards with what was left of my GCSE German.
Both myself and Ali opted for an early night, knowing big days at altitude were ahead. We’d battle arguably the thickest duvets ever before being woken to bacon and eggs in the morning, alongside some weapons-grade coffee. We were actually pretty sad to be leaving. The Berghaus Stafelalp definitely captured our imaginations and if we were to return, it’s likely here that we’d stay.
We met our guide Jay at Bike Academy Davos, founders of the Enduro2 race and conveniently right next to Davos Dorf railway station. Jay wasted no time in getting us onto the Jakobshorn lift as both it and the summit gondola above run a tight ship when it comes to the number of riders allowed. This mostly has to do with the number of walkers also wanting on and a balance has to be met.
We were soon well beyond the 2000m mark and for the first time we’d really feeling the altitude. Again, we opted for a slightly easier trail to ease us into things, but being from the UK, any descent from 2300m is going to test the fitness more than anything and even the run to the bottom of the second gondola had us wheezing. No time for the struggle bus though, we were straight into what would be the best flow trail of the week. Running from the top of the Jakobshorn gondola and back into town, this trail certainly sees the most traffic but really doesn’t feel like it does. The trail builders have worked wonders here, carving unrivalled flow into quite a steep hill. The perfect way to wake up.
We wasted no time jumping back to the top to try the trail in the opposite direction from the top of Jakobshorn. This one has some serious exposure and a fierce climb to its summit before rewarding you with a trail that simply doesn’t seem to want to end. Beautiful rocky turns up top slowly gave way to dirt, then sandy soil before diving into the woods and adding off camber rock and root to the equation before root was replaced by yet more rock. Probably a good twenty minutes passed of full concentration, no time to take in the spectacular view, and we were off again. Jay liked to keep moving and we were back in Davos again and about to head up one of the steepest funiculars going…
From the summit of the funicular, we took in a long, shallow traverse that offered spectacular views of the mountains but gave no hint of what was to come. As the hill started to turn back towards Davos, we were treated to singletrack set in shrubbery, just below handlebar depth, and sandy dirt turned to hero dirt by last night’s rain. Natural gaps were urged on by the monumental grip and we forgot about everything else pretty quickly. Switchbacks didn’t feel as awkward as they usually do and every crest was screamed for a pop off the top, regardless of what was on the other side. It was easily the best trail of the week, but it could be a very different beast if that sandy dirt was too dry…
We checked into the Hotel Grischa, tired but happy after some seriously good trails and playing chase with Jay the guide, who was flat out. Our bikes went into the secure bike storage in the basement, shared with a hefty amount of Yetis, as the Tribe meet was in town. Our rooms could not have been more different to the previous night, but that’s fine too. We tucked into a hearty three-course meal while having a chuckle at the badly translated wine menu and turned in for another early night.
An early start. Again.
As we shovelled as much breakfast as we could down ourselves, it was hard to believe we were halfway through the trip already. We knew we’d need the fuel to keep pace with Jay too as we headed further afield from Davos proper on our second day here.
Meeting outside the Hotel Grischa, we headed over the Wolfgangpass to Klosters for some more bike park magic ahead of some more off-piste trails. Each of the different areas make their flow trails in a different way and in Klosters, many of the trails are built in conjunction with local conservationists, which explained the sheer quantity of North Shore here. The thinking is that by leaving much of the forest floor undisturbed, it can be free to grow, and that it does, with plants finding their way through the slats and into the light.
What you don’t get on wood is braking bumps though, so you’ve a level of consistency regardless of the weather and it’s fairly obvious that it rained hard overnight. We cracked on with the laps before heading up to Madrisa for a long descent back to the valley floor from way up above Davos. We were greeted by some classic high alpine singletrack of the very technical variety before some warp speed, rooty trails in the woods with a dangerous amount of steepness off to one side as is customary.
Back in Klosters, we stopped for a bite to eat before taking a gondola that leads from atop the funicular for the return leg to Davos. Bright white limestone is king here and a fall would see you plummet some distance before being eagle food. Punctures are a real worry too so we took our time late in the day. The trail gradually smoothed to dirt and we could charge hard again. Out onto a fire road and then back to the road where Jay informed us we still had one more descent to do.
One handshake later and a van and trailer appeared. Where were we headed, we wondered? Fluelapass, the link to the lower Engadin Valley and a cool 1300m descent to finish the day. I was more stressed about returning my hire bike, but it turned out that Jay had the keys, so the lateness in the day didn’t really matter. Even at over 2300m, the mountains towered above us as we fought our way through the coach load of tourists to the trail head.
Unsurprisingly, Fluelapass was the most testing trail of the week. Sitting higher than anything we’d ridden so far and sitting under snow for most of the year made it far from the flow trails we’d ridden earlier in the day. Tired bodies made it even more testing and every rock seemed to be out to get your average speed down. As the air thickened though, the trail mellowed and the speed rose. We weren’t concerned about how much air was between us, just happy to have enjoyed the warp speed lower sections that were in stark contrast to the upper reaches. And all from a van uplift costing 10 Swiss Francs. Ludicrous value.
Our last night in Davos was spent hoovering up another three-course dinner, soaking aching bodies in roasting hot baths and trying to work out which way is faster to get to Laax. Another glorious day awaited in another new resort.
Laax was an hour and ten minutes drive from Davos and 45 from Lenzerheide and the plan was to arrive there just before lunch before heading out for a half day in Laax with local guide Christian. A short pedal from the Hotel Signina in Laax and we were at the base of the Foppa lift that took us to the Naraus lift. From the top of these lifts we could access the higher trails or session the flow trail that leads immediately from the latter. Laax is very much like the Dolomites, with the dirt being thin atop some very coarse rock. As a result, flow trails didn’t flow quite as well as in Lenzerheide or Davos, but that’s nothing too worrying as the trails elsewhere certainly made up for it. After a brief warm up, Christian could sense we were itching for some high alpine and we grabbed the Grandis lift to a cool 2228m.
As we shrugged off the cool, thin air, my jaw dropped. The valley that contains the upper reaches of the River Flem is one everyone should visit, on a bike or not. We got here at midday and it was superlative enough. Sunset or sunrise would likely have had me in tears. Christian had no intention of us heading into the valley here, but we spent four hours exploring it regardless.
Back on track, Christian lead us to the Maxiavalanche race trails that regularly leads the enduro crowd to Laax. It’s easy to see why. Massive elevation changes, varied terrain and quick lifts all add up to more time on the bike where it matters. Ali and I forgot the aching bodies and just revelled in the sheer abundance of trail on offer.
It didn’t take long for the hour to be late after our mid-afternoon start and we rolled back to the Hotel Signina to dinner with sunset views of Piz Fess and its neighbours. We’d hardly had any time to process what had happened on that day, let alone the rest of the week as we approached the final day’s riding which Christian informed us would up the ante yet again.
Our final day in Graubünden, and our second in Laax took in the same lifts as before but with a hefty pedal afterwards to a cool 2800m and the foot of the Vorab glacier. Lungs and legs were heavy enough without the week of riding on top of them, but with Laax sitting at 1000m above sea level, we knew there was some major fun ahead.
What followed the tricky snow field was the best part of an hour of very little braking, rock slalom and trying to keep up. Eyes are streaming with the speed and I remember thinking that going off-road this fast is illegal in some places. My eyes stung as they caught the dust plumes thrown up by the ever shrinking Ali and Christian ahead. Back at the lift, I felt shattered but utterly content. We refuelled at the Legna Bar with hot dogs and ample soft drinks before taking in a final lap of the tourist spots above the Rhine Valley, including Il Spir, an observation deck that sits high above a sheer cliff overlooking the river below.
With that, it was the final sleep in a Swiss hotel before we collapsed into our own beds. This trip started well and kept getting better. We’ll be back.
Regardless of what you’re looking for from a mountain bike destination, Graubünden can offer a quiet, clean resort with a multitude of trails from machine-built wonders to some serious off-piste gold. With the vast majority of trails in being open to bikes, you can either bang the laps out to your heart’s content in the bike park, or find some excellent lift-assisted singletrack that seems to just go on forever. You don’t have to venture far from the bike park to feel a real sense of adventure in this part of the World.
Four trails stood out for me during the week, and really reflected the kind of riding I enjoy, that being physically and technically demanding both up and down.
The first to really tick all the boxes was a trail that makes up part the final section of the ‘Jakobshorn Trilogie.’ From the top of the Jakobshorn lift, you head east to Bramabuel before taking in one of the most varied descents I’ve enjoyed into the Dimscha Valley. Everything about this trail speaks to me, but the riding and the views really can’t be beaten.
Second was a trail on the other side of the valley, taking in a ferociously steep funicular to a trail that sits underneath the watchful eye of the Salezer Horn. This trail starts fast and easy with an amazing view up the valley before diving into hero dirt turns that seem to go on forever. I could have happily lapped this trail for the full six days.
Lenzerheide has plenty to offer too so third on my list would be the second run we did from the top of the Scolattas lift. Fast and flowy at the top, this soon added some serious bite in the form of a mess of boulders, before returning to flow once more. This could be lapped indefinitely with a short, quick lift back to the summit.
Fourth and finally was the trail down from the Vorab Glacier above Laax. There are few places where trails drop 1800m vertical meters almost exclusively on warp speed singletrack. The climb from the lift really makes you feel like you’ve earned this superlative descent as the air turns very thin, ticking past the 2800m mark. You’ll barely need to turn a pedal to get back to Laax, making this up there with one of my all time favourites.
Lift passes being included in the price of a hotel stay makes many of the hotels very competitive indeed. Switzerland is spotless and everything tends to work. Anyone from the UK will likely weep tears of joy should you happen to use the public transport system.
For further information head to https://www.graubuenden.ch/en/home-trails
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