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IN THE VALLEY OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGS | AOSTA, ITALY

Holger Meyer and his crew go in search of giant mountains and endless singletrack descents (amongst other things) in Italy’s amazing Aosta Valley.

DIRT ISSUE 148 – JUNE 2014

Words by Holger Meyer. Photos by Mattias Fredriksson

My hands feel numb, this trail is too long. My fingers start cramping, I can’t hold the handlebar anymore, we have to stop. Karen (Eller) and photographer Mattias (Fredriksson) are happy. Time to cool off the brake discs. Fabrizio (Charruaz, our guide) is smiling. He is used to this never–ending singletrack, which takes place in his own backyard. We enjoy the great panoramic view towards the glaciers of the Gran Paradiso, whilst stretching our forearms.

Yesterday we arrived from Switzerland rolling into this hidden valley over the Grand St Bernard Pass, going by the monastery/refuge, which is still in use for travellers passing this high alpine mountain pass in need of shelter for the night. With the last rays of the sun our group dropped into the dark valley below, not exactly knowing what to expect for the upcoming days. After a warm welcome and great Italian food in our cosy mountain hotel we awoke in Pila. With the spectacular view of Mont Blanc and the Grand Combin on the other side of the valley we had our first cappuccino and waited for our local guide, Fabrizio. Our host Natascia is the boss of this great hotel and also the boss of the mountainbike association of Aosta. She knows all the bike enthusiasts throughout the valley. And what she says will be done, will be done. She knows who to ask and where to go… and there are many places to go. We stared at the map Fabrizio threw out on the table. Out of the many options we decided to explore Pila and the bikepark this first morning.

To do so we met up with long time World Cup DH Racer Corrado Herin, he lives and works here in Pila. He does a lot of trail building for the bikepark and teaches kids to ride… and he loves to fly his airplane around the Mont Blanc! He is fascinated by the possibility of landing his plane on every glacier that he wants to.

He gave us a quick ride in the park, so we knew the terrain a little. We mixed up some loops with the chairlifts and then we experienced a real trail highlight; Corrado and Fabrizio took us down 2000 metres of vertical descent to the valley floor, all handbuilt, super flowy singletrack with some steep sections, and a lot of bikepark options to choose from. I tried hard to keep up with the speed of the former World Cup champ on my Genius long travel bike, only to see that after the dust had settled that Corrado was using his dirt jump hardtail because his other bike was in the shop for repair!

Corrado and Fabrizio led us through the vineyards to downtown Aosta. A quick coffee stop and soon we took the gondola, which starts right in town, back up the mountain. With the valley floor at 576 metres above sea level, Pila sits at 1800 metres as a little ski station in the winter, offering the perfect environment for the superb bikepark with all the lift infrastructure in place. But the Aosta Valley has much more to offer. Of course there are more bikeparks around, like in Cervinia on the foothills of the Matterhorn, but the real cool thing about the valley is the high alpine trail riding. After a quick pasta stop on top of the mountain Fabrizio took us all the way up to the peak of Pila. From here we had the full 360º mountain view to all the 4000m the peaks of the region: Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn and the Gran Paradiso. After a one hour hike–a–bike section on a pretty exposed ridge to the east, we saw fantastic views with great photo opportunities. Mattias was screaming, yelling, talking and shooting all at the same time. As the light started to flatten and the shadows grew longer he got into the mood. After the last shot we decided to pin it down the mountain. And this was only the beginning…>>

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