Way back at the start of the year I got an email from a bloke called Barry.
Barry told me he was packing his downhill bike into a van and going on a Euro road trip this summer and would send some words and pics.
I forgot all about Barry until I got an email from him the other day in Italy.
Here’s his story.
(Actually this is part three, there are two missing parts in cyberweb somewhere.)
Round Three, Italy
I’ve had quite an eventful month in Italy and even now I still can’t work out whether I love it or hate it, its quite a strange predicament to be in really. I guess its kind of like a marmite love it or hate it situation; I love marmite on toast but on anything else its just not quite right, as with Italy on certain aspects such as weather, water parks and Pila it’s spot on but yet in other areas such as driving, making roads wide enough and toilets it’s really not quit so great! Anyways I digress, have a read on and maybe you’ll sympathise with my dilemma.
So, Val di Fassa what a proper let down that was, after driving for a good few hours down from a somewhat soggy Schladming we arrived in Val di Fassa or Canazei to be precise. The last part of the journey was a little frustrating to say the least, I had the postcode of the campsite dialled in to the old tomtom so plain sailing I thought…… not quite, turns out that the restaurant and the top of the next mountain has the same postcode as the campsite at the foot of the valley in the centre of town??? So that was a fun detour and to add to my first impressions of Italy, whilst checking in at reception I noticed a poster for the bike park stating it didn’t open for another week!! Not a happy bunny! I could understand if it was early in the season but it was the 22nd June. In a little town like Canazei there’s bugger all else to do unless your 60 and like admiring Bavarian artwork painted on the side of houses (this area of northern Italy used to be Austrian before ze Germans stuck their noses in (see your learning).
The lift station is right in the centre of town opposite the campsite which would have been ideal, the posters for the bike park label the two tracks as freeride and the photos looked crap, I know that’s not much of an analysis, for which I apologise, but that’s all I got as like fuck I was gonna sit around for a week with nothing to do but develop an unhealthy obsession for water colours and lederhosen clad farmers. So with regards to the marmite, this was very much an ‘on something other than toast’ situation.
So we headed to Livigno, the trusty tomtom took me through Switzerland and in order to get back on to Italian soil in Livigno (bordered by Switzerland on three sides) you have to drive through this mental tunnel, its one lane, cut straight through the rock and straight as hell, it felt like something out of world war II and I was half expecting to meet a panzer tank blocking my escape. It was bloody 15 Euros to get through though; I mean it was kinda cool but certainly not 15 Euros cool. After a run in with the fuzz (apparently the town centre is pedestrianised??), a campsite and a chat with Hans Ray (legend) I finally got on the bike in Italy! The ‘Mottolino Fun Mountain’ boasts five tracks, one of which the world champs track from 2005 and a jump park all for 16euros so happy days I thought. Naturally I was most excited about the world champs downhill so much so I watched super8 the night before to get me in the mood.
Upon arrival at the lift station there was a big old sign saying world champs downhill closed! For fucks sake not again! All the cool stuff jumps etc from the top are gone and the track starts three quarters of the way down, it was closed but I risked my lift pass and rode it anyway, the top of this part has become a water run off and was littered with lose rocks and boulders then some fallen tress make the lower part un-rideable, so another disappointment there. It does look like their building a road gap at the bottom so who knows maybe later in the season they might finally get the trail open!
The other tracks at the top are really quite straight forward; flowy berms and tables then there’s a few other options further down the hill which are techier, steeper single track lines which are relatively good fun. There’s also a pair of jump parks offering tables of various sizes and the obligatory northshore area but two days riding here was more than enough to be honest, it only entertained me this long as the misses was riding, she’s a beginner and it was a good place for her to learn. She nearly knocked herself out over-clearing a tabletop which was quite impressive! Livigno; marmite on bread, close but no tomato!!
The real fun started on the drive from Livigno, after telling tomtom to avoid the 15e toll tunnel it decided to take me up the side of a massive mountain on a single lane road and back down the other side via a little village clinging to the side of the hill. The roads started to get narrow which was a little concerning, after a turn into a little residential street things took a serious turn for the worst. To cut a long story short, I squeezed…. Well more like scraped the van through some walls I in hindsight shouldn’t have and on turning the next corner reaching a point of no return. I finally some how got the van turned round after an impressive 100 point turn and some engine overheating but couldn’t get back through the gap which now had some nice new blue paint on it and I was stuck, the walls had a slight bend and it wasn’t going back through this way round. By this point i’d attracted quite a lot of attention and was feeling like a right prize knob end, pretty much the whole village was now out. It was kind of surreal really, no one was pissed I’d scrapped the walls or blocked the road, they were just happy to help. I had old boys getting their tool boxes out (not a euphemism) across the street, little old ladies peering down from balconies, people offering to drive, one lady even opened her front door to find she was blocked in by some dumbass English blokes van and she just laughed!
We had the back end jacked up and the mirrors off and after some precision revving and shunting we were home and dry. The old chaps even helped me put the mirrors back on, bless them. I speak little to no Italian and they didn’t speak a word of English, it was quite an achievement really. These people were legends and it was a real enlightenment, it made me think how hard nosed and self obsessed we are back home. Imagine this scenario in England, like fuck it would have been such a pleasant experience. I’d rather have not got stuck don’t get me wrong but the memory of this kind hearted act of selflessness puts a smile on my face and I will be forever grateful to these random Italians. Back to the marmite; love it situation!
In need of some heavy ‘Woosaaa’ time I got the map out and decided Lake Garda would be a good call, and it well was! 34º in the shade, swimming, beers good times, oh and the best water park ever, its called Aquaparadiso in Lazise and as well as the Oakley’s being on A LOT (if you know what I mean choamone) , there’s a lot of airtime on their slides, I’ve never jumped a double seater rubber ring before, it was wicked. A welcome fight back from Italy and definitely right on the toast.
Pila is mint and well worth a visit if you like your downhill. Pila is a tiny little ski resort high up on the hill, there really is nothing there in the summer so I recommend seeking out accommodation in the main town at the base of the hill, Aosta. Plus this means in order to get home you can ride the 8km Pila to Aosta run which is a single track route that takes you from the bottom of the Pila lift right to the bottom of the Aosta lift which is rather convenient and has a height loss of 1170 metres! Its pretty good fun with lots to keep you on your toes, the dust made it more than lively on some of the steeper sections. Near the top is the drop offs you see in the photos for the bike park which seem a little out of place on a singletrack route. However they look nothing like the photos as there’s stinging nettles 5 foot high under the drops and the landing for the bigger drop is completely blown out and it looked like it had been that way for some time. But that’s really the only complaint I have about the place other than the bike park being really crap with an abandoned 4x.
Naturally the world cup downhill was again the main attraction but all the other 4 or 5 runs are pretty good fun too. They’re labelled as freeride but strangely they work quite well, mainly because they’re good downhill trails of the singletrack variety. Some steeper and more technical than others but all worth a bash or two. The world cup downhill track was awesome; untouched since the races it would seem, literally as it’s a lot rougher and rockier than the race footage I’ve seen.
The whole place was super dry and dusty it didn’t look like it had seen a drop of rain for some time which made for some tricky riding. I’ve never actually prayed for rain on a biking holiday before! The top section is rough as hell with minefields of rocks and roots which leads you into a short but steep rooty section before spitting you out to traverse across the ski piste. A nice step up hip puts you back into the trees for some more steep dusty rooty turns all at high speed to get you nicely warmed up for the infamous steep wooden berm section (you’ll know the one from the videos, with the big crash net behind it). It was sooo dusty it was really tricky to ride and admittedly I bottled the high fast line which is clearly going to be faster but it seemed my balls were on holiday and I regrettably opted for the safer slower route to the right.
Again it’s really rough and rutted up making things a whole lot trickier as you head down back out into the open. Some fast switch backs and another steep wooded section brings you at some speed into some really loose and drifty turns towards the bottom before dropping you into a steep switchback section and a fast singletrack sprint to the finish at the lift station and restaurant. Its one of the most fun tracks I’ve ridden so far and one of the most enjoyable all round resorts plus there are enough trails here to keep you entertained for at least four or five days. 16 Euros per day and that gets you on both the Pila and Aosta lifts. The trails were quiet, the weather was spot on and my campsite had a pool….slapping the black stuff on both sides of the damn toast!!
Regrettably I had to leave Pila to take the misses to Turin airport after just three days riding and I’m hungry for more….next year maybe?? I then headed over to Bardonecchia right on the French border but upon arrival it looked really crap, one out of three lifts running only accessing one dh track, the bike park looked budget to say the least and it was full of beginners on cheap hardtails so I thought better of it. So with mixed emotions about Italy I decided to head over to see what the Frenchies have got to offer.
Bon Voyage for now folks
(a.k.a the Europikey)
Euro adventures with Big Bad Barry