Travel Guide: ITALY-SAUZE D’OULX
Sauze, situated at one end of the infamous ‘Milky Way’ in Italy, is a popular and rowdy ski resort in the winter months and has long been one of the resorts for Shedonistic Brit skiers seeking out the lively après ski. It was massive during the 60’s and 70’s when it was the Alpine equivalent of modern day Ibiza (or should that be Magaluf?), in fact if the current fad of naming kids where they were conceived was in effect back then, I’d put money on the fact that more than a couple of you reading this would be called Sauze…
Nowadays all the major tour companies offer cheap package deals to the resort and it is packed full of Brits when the snow is here. Hard to imagine it when you’re in the resort in summertime, as although there are people about, they tend to be young children or grandparents, so as the evening falls the streets begin to become deserted. The resort wants to put pay to this, and see’s mountain biking as the ideal way to do it. They have the entire infrastructure there waiting to kick into life and they have employed the help of some skilled trail builders to sculpt out some fine runs up on the hill, and what a hill it is.
Meeting the guys at the resort it soon became apparent that in Sauze, more so than anywhere else I had visited this summer, they had a good team that understood the market and what they could do with their hill. They really want it to succeed and if they continue the way they have started I have no doubt that they will. Riding the smaller bikes on these trails was awesome fun, or at least it was for Zeb up until his bike gave up the ghost riding through a compression with the back end sheering in half, so don’t be tricked into thinking it’s all tame!
We met with Enrico from 4 Guipe, the company behind the design of the trails, and we chatted over the ideas behind the construction of the tracks and where he saw it heading in the future. It was good talking with Enrico, we were likeminded in our thoughts on how trails should be and how they should be built, and I think they have done a great job in Sauze. Even the town mayor came out to meet us for aperitifs to get some feedback on the trails and let us know that they are serious about making Sauze a successful bike resort. This is so refreshing, and we told him that that we didn’t think they needed to worry, they just need to expand on what they have and get the word out there.
Sauze d’Oulx is located in the Susa Valley within the Piedmont region of the north–western Italian Alps, very close to the border with France. The village is a traditional ski resort in every sense of the word, but it retains part of its history with some of the old mountain architecture surviving around the heart of the town. While the resort has a large number of bed spaces it still feels quite compact and easy to navigate around this centre. The main pedestrianised road runs up the hill quite steeply to the lift station, and the bulk of the restaurants, bars and hotels are along this street. This resort is part of the ambitious Alpi bike project, which aims to link nine resorts together as they do in the
winter time by constructing more trails, opening up more lifts and putting on shuttle buses. If you have a hire car it is easy to head to the nearby resorts of Bardonecchia, Sestriere or Montgenevre, which are all part of the project.
If this plan makes it to fruition this place is going to become the new Portes de Soleil and will go through the roof. These things take time, so at the moment they aim to start small and expand at a manageable rate. The development of youth riders is really important to the resort and they see their inclusion as a fundamental part of the development of mountain biking in Sauze. They feel that if all the local kids have a passion for biking as they would already have for skiing in the winter that they will soon help drive on the continued development of biking in Sauze into the future. They are often coached by Bibo, he is the bikepark manager here, and you will see him out on the trails coaching riders or looking after the tracks. In fact when we rode down one trail with him he noticed a revetment had blown out. Next time we rode it a couple of hrs later he had already fixed it! Sauze is a fun resort, with massive potential, great trails and is driven by passionate people, the future here is bright.
They have one hell of a natural playground to work with in Sauze, the hill has so many dips, rises, gullies, bowls and plateaus that it’s perfect to work with and the trails that are in place now do a great job of utilising this natural shape. The trail area is called ‘Freeride Sauze’ and it definitely isn’t out and out race style, the trails are more flowing using natural shapes and working across the slopes. That said, if you’re confident and let it run then in places you are absolutely hauling! The Patriot was a great bike for out here, small enough to whip around the tight turns and pump along the flatter parts and strong enough for the steeper sections and hits.
There is a blue graded trail called ‘Easy Clotes’ which runs under the lower Clotes lift, and we were loving that… smooth, flowing and with some great switchback turns. The rest of the trails are graded red and black and between them they have enough variety to keep you busy for a long weekend or even a week. Best thing is the lack of berms here, they are only used where absolutely necessary, otherwise the corners follow the natural lay of the land, be it banked, flat or slightly off camber, which I think is a welcome change from the usual bobsleigh run. The same is true of jumps and drops, they are seldom in the trail for the sake of it they usually are there if needed or necessary, most of the trail maintains a natural feel. For the ‘09 season there they are adding either a new downhill race trail or an A Line style run with berms and jumps. Hopefully the lift up to Rocce Nerre will be running too as the views and terrain here are stunning, and the Rocce Nerre trail is a great singletrack descent.
At present it only seems to be used by the Italians, but I’m sure its popularity will increase as the word spreads. I would try and head to Suaze early next season before it becomes popular and the natural feel of the trails is lost as they start to wear out. We did talk about this element too and the resort realise that as the numbers increase they will have to invest In more people and time into looking after the trails and keeping them buff. We did meet one group of riders from the UK, they had never been riding abroad before and had only ever ridden Llandegla trail centre. I could see that this place was way beyond what they expected and had really opened their eyes and raised the bar; they were having crashes but loving every minute of it and already talking about coming back. Sauze really is for everyone.
The Hotel Florida Prata (www.hotelfloridaprata. it) is located bang in the heart of town just down from the lift station and right by all the bars and restaurants. They will allow valuable bikes to be stored in your room which is always a worry off your mind. They will also arrange transfers and excursions for non riding friends or family.
During the day grab some lunch up at the top of the Sportinia lift in the restaurant there, in the evening you can eat in the hotel or try any of the number of decent restaurants. Try Del Borgo on Via Assietta 30, it is one of the larger pizzerias with a good selection and regular specials, and nearby Le Meizoun Ed La Pata Eisutte on Via Assietta 34 is one of the best places for pasta.
Head to the Lounge Bar, it’s well furnished and one of the livelier bars in the summer (though still pretty quiet). Alternatively there is Moncrons Cocktail Bar where they play snowboard and mountain bike films.
Besson Sports are your best bet for any bike parts, but their stock is very limited, so carry any specialist spares with you.
There is a trail map available from the lift station and also online at www.sauzefreeride.net.
There is a total of three lifts that they have been running for bikes over the past couple of years, however at present they can only afford to have two operating at a time until the number of riders increases. The bottom Clotes lift takes riders up over the green easy trail, half way down that you cut across to the second chair the Sportinia express. If they are running the top Rocce Nere chair it starts directly at the top of this second chair.
Lift passes are 10 Euros per day or free if you have been here skiing in the winter and bought a season pass.
Generally the climate is good, its geographical position and orientation makes the town one of the sunniest mountain resorts in Europe. After rain the trails can be quite slick, but they soon dry or cut through.
Turin is the nearest airport and is just one hour away, Ryanair fly there from London Stanstead. Geneva offers more choice of carriers and UK airports but is further away, with a three hour transfer time.
I would choose to use a 6” or 7” travel bike in Sauze, they seem perfect on the trails here. A downhill bike will be fine too, but for better riders something smaller adds to the enjoyment of the trails.
IS THIS HOLIDAY FOR ME?
I can’t really think of anyone that Sauze wouldn’t appeal to, the trails are thoughtfully designed and laid out. They are challenging enough to be fun, but there is nothing there that is at all extreme, and the runs are pretty long. I guess it’s kind of freeride/downhill, that is most of the runs are a bit mellower than a full on downhill track, and that means you can let it go a little more. z