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Sölden Trails

The excavator digs into the rocky slope with a grinding steadfastness. For a moment its teeth slip on the rock, but soon after they catch in the reddish brown earth beneath, plunge into the bowels of the mountain and remove its insides: Rocks, roots, sand and grass.
From the cable car we have a wonderful view of the construction site: The walking excavator, spectacularly wedged in the side of the mountain, a few buckets, a wheelbarrow, which serves as an improvised seating opportunity for the workers on break.

There is construction in Sölden. Down in the valley some 1,000 new hotel beds. Up on the mountain a ski run. At the Giggijoch an underground gondola garage plus supply tunnel for the restaurant. Also in between the next MTB trail. The work for this appears relatively harmless compared to the rest.
In the clearing above the cable car tower, the workers have dug an approximately two-meter wide strip. It emerges from the forest as a steeply banked curve and winds merrily away. There are also wooden structures, which surmount a small rock wall and invite jumping, already to be seen.
A first flow trail, called Teäre Line, was opened at the end of June of this year. Several more are to follow, as our guide Christoph from the Ötztal Bike School tells us.

No half measures. That has always been the Ötztaler approach to projects. Whether a ski resort, spa or tunnel: superlatives such as “the most famous,” “the most modern,” or “the highest” always accompany the attractions of the 67-kilometre long valley, flanked by the Stubai and Ötztal Alps, ending at Timmelsjoch, 2,474 meters above sea level. These are joined by natural supremes like Tyrol’s largest waterfall (Umhausen), warmest bathing lake (Lake Piburg) or most famous prehistoric resident (Ötzi).
It was decided years ago to try to make the Ötztal Valley into the best biking region in the country. A trail network covering 1,000 km and 35,000 hm has been stamped into the soil, a world cup team founded, an Hors Catégorie XC competition established. But only with the declaration of the “Bike Republic Sölden” does the goal now appear to be actually coming within reach. Or perhaps the new emphasis on endurance and trail riders, including the organization of a race of that type, is simply coming at just the right time – very early compared to many other MTB regions – who can know?
The fact is that with the recent significant single trail expansion, the new flow trail, the huge rolling pump track including the practice area near the Gaislachkogel base station, and all that is yet to come, Sölden is proving that it knows cyclists, who mainly feel at home going downhill. And we are now plunging straight into the joy of riding downhill.

“The trail is six kilometres long and has 130 turns,” says Christoph, not without pride. We stand at the beginning of the Teäre Line, where a yellow sign with multiple pieces of information indicates several things according to the new guidelines of the Tyrolean MTB model 2.0. First this trail is for cyclists, hikers please go somewhere else. Second difficulty level red, or, as in skiing, moderate (in cyclist code: S2). Third and most important: Single track.
The word “teäre” comes from the Ötztal dialect and means “headstrong, stubborn.” While the dialect itself, which was named in 2010 as a UNESCO world cultural heritage, citing it as the most distinctive element of the local identity, is highly unintelligible to outsiders, the translation of teäre enters the brain rather quickly. Not only because upon first sight of the Flow Trail it becomes immediately clear that its construction demanded a certain amount of stubbornness. The track itself makes clear no later than the second curve: “I go my own way.” And mountain bikers are doing well if they can go with it ...

 Six kilometres, 800 metres elevation change, 130 sharp turns 

The key data of the new Teäre Line

First in wide arcs, then in narrower, sharp curves it winds through meadows, cliffs and woods, finally in the last third going over small obstacles and rocks. There is little of the original soil to be seen at first under the graded bobsled run, with much more in the lower part. So the Wallride at about the halfway point the looms that much more imposingly. For it, as well as for all of the other sections: Anything is possible, nothing mandatory.
Checkers use every one of the perfectly shaped curves to build up speed, and every ripple to push off of. The speed makes the difficulty, which brings on the “whoa!” “wheeee!”, “hot damn!”, and “jeeez!” Fun! The faint of heart hesitate, then start out very cautiously at first, trying out the centrifugal and gravitational forces, concentrating primarily on “for heaven’s sake!” not applying the front brake.
When the ride is over, both types stand – after a change in elevation of 800 meters quite legitimately – panting next to their bikes, shaking out their arms and legs in order to calm the pulse. Many times this also gives an opportunity to watch other riders and learn from them: Stance, direction of gaze, heel position ... with heavier equipment and more protective gear come more tricks to copy. Conversely, however, even for beginners with hardtails and much hesitation at the beginning you can see that they make significant progress and are all wearing a big, fat grin.

Once you arrive at the bottom, the fun can start all over again from the beginning – or continue at the same level. Because right where the Teäre Line spits us out is where Tyrol's largest pump track is located. Of course you can also use the impressive facility beforehand to familiarize yourself with the cycling skills needed in the Bike Republic – pumping, pushing off, coasting. The same goes for the practice course, where cyclists can practice everything from basic skills to coping with hairpin turns, everything that makes up mountain biking.
But it is much more fun to go immediately from the flow trail to take a couple of fast laps in the rolling area. Otherwise no one believes how hard it is not to pedal! And otherwise anyone would call it a measurement error when their pulse reads at values almost at the anaerobic threshold as a daily maximum!
In addition: Socializing, networking, and once again: 
 
 Learning by looking, because you are rarely alone on the pump track, and so connections with like-minded people are quickly made.

With delicious coffee and cake from the Ötztal Bakery you have a chance to come down a bit and plan the rest of your stay. Rain is predicted for the next day, according to Christoph. So he recommends that we tackle the “Leiterberg Trail,” part of the Big II Rallye also launched in 2015, which includes the longest MTB trail in Sölden today, as it may be rather treacherous in the wet. “In addition, there are also a lot of hikers there, so you can ride better in the late afternoon,” says our local expert.
No sooner said than done. This time, instead of the Gaislachkogel we take the Giggijoch lift uphill. Quietly humming it takes us into the world of thin air and high alpine adventure.

The World Cup region was discovered for tourism through one of the most spectacular conceivable occurrences. Swiss Professor Auguste Picard was forced to make an emergency landing on the Gurgler glacier in 1931 after setting an altitude record in his stratospheric balloon. He was seen by a mountain guide and rescued with severe injuries, while journalists rushed to Gurgl from all over Europe to report on the event. However, due to a lack of adequate roadway connections, the journey took so long that they bridged the gap in coverage with enthusiastic descriptions of the beautiful countryside. Soon the valley and its mighty glaciers, its numerous three-thousand-meter peaks, its streams, lakes and waterfalls and its Alpine huts were world famous and the money began to roll in.
The changes that this development brought with it, particularly for Sölden, the main town of the skiing area, are made clear when you disembarking from the Giggijoch lift, and one first lays eyes on Hochsölden. Here grand hotels have long since replaced the old mountain farms, while scattered barns still recall the former prevailing industry

We are all the more surprised when, just a few turns of the crank later, there is nothing more to see and hear of ski runs, lift lines, etc. Only about one percent of the land in the Ötztal Valley is actually built up; the remainder is more or less untouched and large sections are also protected natural landscape. We now find our selfs on the Leiterberg trail with full force.
The category S2-S3 hiking trail would actually require our full attentiveness: interlocked stone passages alternate with exposed sections, stepped gravel sections open directly into tight hairpin turns, nasty oblique roots lead away from high-traction forest floor into slick, slippery undergrowth. But the view! The smell of the hay fields! Also the enchanting flowers by the wayside!
Especially in the upper part, where the narrow gravel strip is carved into the grassy slope like the winner of a competition for the world’s most beautiful panoramic trail, there is still time and opportunity – after the first hairpin turn fright – to look, marvel and enjoy. The three-thousand-meter peaks of the Stubai Alps greet us majestically from the east, at our back lie the no less mighty peaks of the Ötztal Alps, and down in the valley the busy village is nestled surprisingly close to the deceptively charming Ötztaler Ache.
Then the path disappears into the forest, which in between keeps changing to open alpine pasture, and releases us only after what feels like an eternity back to civilization; shaken, stirred and pretty well exhausted, but very, very happy.

 “An engine does not run without fuel.” 

Gampe Thaya innkeeper Daniela Prantl would certainly have given us a farewell schnapps.

The next day goes on with a similar tone, with the added bonus of a midday break in one of the most rustic huts in all of Tyrol. Christoph has prepared a diverse pot-pourri of the most recommended single trails – in Ötztal-speak, this term, in contrast to the constructed flow trails, refers to the only slightly modified, natural paths which we usually also shared with hikers. Surprisingly even the weather plays along.
While it is still raining at breakfast as predicted, the clouds lift and the sun suddenly breaks through just before the start of the tour.
“This is actually quite typical for our area. Now it will hold out until four,” exults the former mountain rail worker, while we again ride the gondolas up the Gaislachkogel and watch in fascination as the rain front releases peak after peak and glacier after glacier from its embrace.

First let us go “schöldern” – Ötztalish for “taking a little stroll.” It is not only the new Teäre Line, the existing trails also have names that come from the local dialect. The combination of Bartig's Bödele-, Rettenbachalm- and Leiterberg Trail takes its name from the many opportunities for rest and refreshment that lurk along this route, which might stand as obstacles in the way of getting home.
Again, the hustle and bustle of the Mittelstation, with the motor skills park, word climbing wall and dumpling workshop, is quickly forgotten when, after a short lead-in on the forest roads, we cruise northwards along the contour line through high alpine terrain. At the beginning of the season you cross a sea of Alpine roses here; now is it a carpet of fruits that we cannot name – are they blueberries, lingonberries, cranberries? Christoph gives a triple no – or is it a yes? Who can tell in this centuries-old language ...
A short uphill section on the Ötztal glacier road gives us the opportunity to admire the Rettenbach Glacier in all its glory. Then we return to the horizontal and back to the flow. Here we share the view with several hikers the crossing through open alpine meadow, a welcome sight admired again and again (panorama!), leading to the Sonnblick Hut. Then we’re off again, because we already know the Schölder finale from the day before, on the no less fun and challenging “Traien trail” back into the valley.

Next stop: Gampe Thaya. This hut quite rightly enjoys a reputation as one of Tyrol’s best. And although cozy deck chairs and modern, red upholstered furniture also decorate their terrace, a visit with Daniela and Jakob Prantl is like a journey back in time to a bygone world. His passion is farming, hers hospitality; both are devoted to the genuine, natural and simple. Most of what is here on the table comes directly from the alpine pasture – show dairy cheeses included – or from the area around Sölden. It is offered without a lot of fanfare, but with a great deal of warmth and taste. We swear: Anyone who has ever enjoyed Schälfelar (baked potatoes) with “Gampe Kaas” (mountain cheese), shredded cabbage with dumplings, or Kaiserschmarrn with “Granten” (lingonberries) here overlooking the mountains comes back!

The only drawback: To make the planned finale of our Ötztal visit, checking off the big III rallye by conquering the Nene trail, we first have a bit of an uphill slog. Not a problem in itself, but with the aforementioned alpine delicacies in our bellies ...
As its name suggests to those in the know, this last trail has already long been trodden by the locals’ grandfathers and probably their grandfathers. The Gaislacher Urweg as it is called in the tourism board’s singlet rail map, has something old, venerable, but also dangerous about it, now that, as Christoph predicted, there is patchy fog with increasingly dense cloud banks coming in. They stretch their wet fingers in the direction of the crystalline stone slabs that here are completely different than on the previous paths. Somehow they are nested and stacked on each other, yet always yield a path. With the overnight dampness also not yet entirely gone from the ground, much of the finale turns into one big hilarious skid.
When, upon reaching the forest road, it begins to rain in earnest, it is like a sign: It is time to put an end to riding around in gondolas and grinning down at the landscape! We have now truly earned a relaxation session in the Längenfeld spa ...

Information

The Ötztal Valley of Tyrol is the longest tributary of the Inn Valley at 67 kilometres. It runs north-south from the 800 m high valley entrance at Ötz to the Italian border at the Timmelsjoch (2,474 m). Flanked by the Ötztal and Stubai Alps to the west and east respectively, the region has an extremely high concentration of natural wonders – in particular 250 three thousand metre peaks.
While winter is the primary tourist season in Sölden, the short summer season (from mid-June to late September) has long been devoted to the sport of mountain biking. A number of single tracks have recently been added to the approximately 1,000 km / 35,000 hm of trails in the Ötztal network. With the declaration of the Bike Republic Sölden, the selection of attractions for endurance and trail riders now seems perfect – and it will be further expanded. Currently, there are approximately 30 km of category S2 and S3 single track available, plus there is the brand new Teäre Line flow trail (6 km / 800 hm), an extensive pump track and a practice course. Events such as the European Enduro Series or scavenger hunt complete the package, and of course all are connected by the cable cars.

Tour info & GPS data
The informative and clearly laid out trail map from the tourist board can be found by the cable cars, info-points and in many lodgings, as well as online.
The Ötztal tourism site provides excellent coverage of the entire selection of activities – from cycle touring to trail biking – including GPS download.
Cable cars & public transport

Five lifts in the Ötztal valley transport bikes; the Gaislachkogel lift I and the Giggijach lift are relevant for the Sölden Trail network. Their season runs from mid- to late June until 10/4 and 9/20, respectively. Subscription cards (valid for 7 days from purchase), good for one half day or up to 5 days (€ 20 – € 112) are available. Also available is a Mountain Lift Unlimited Card (1 day: € 19.00 / 3 days: € 54.00), in addition to the Ötztal (Premium) Card.
Cyclists are also welcome on the Ötztal buses, which have a special trailer to take your wheels.

Lodging recommendations
From vacation apartments to 5-star hotels, there is a wide range of bike-friendly accommodations – here is the tourist board’s overview. We felt very much at home in both of these establishments:
Guides

Service, rental

The tourist board website contains information on service and rental stations (flat-rate).

Refreshment recommendations
Of course the number and variety of refreshment opportunities in a world-famous ski resort town like Sölden is nearly endless. But there are three names we would like to recommend:
Events

Längenfeld Spa

The Aqua Dome is Tyrol’s only spa and offers abundant bathing and comprehensive relaxation opportunities in a futuristic and tasteful ambience. Open daily year-round from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm! www.aqua-dome.at

General information