Guiding in the Dolomites
We hope this story inspires you and allows you to daydream about your past riding adventures. As riders, we know that spending time on the trails helps us during these times of uncertainty, but we ask that you minimize the risks to yourself and others, and join us in following all local health guidelines as you venture outside.
Story by Julia Hofmann
Photos by Mattias Fredriksson
When I was young and exploring in the garden and woods around my house, I always found the most joy in sharing my discoveries with others; a new hiding spot or some exciting forest treasure. As I’ve gotten older, it’s still a favourite pastime, only now my world extends further, and my discoveries are much bigger.
I’ve spent several years riding my mountain bike through remote, little-known places around the world. Usually, I’m barely back at home before the next wave of wanderlust comes over me and I feel the pull to set off again.
I am fascinated by the people I’ve met, different cultures and landscapes I’ve experienced, and the incredible singletrack I’ve ridden. Each country has had unique trails; in Chile they are deep and dusty, in Canada they are steep and technical tracks through the forest, and in Norway the trails run between the fjords and over stone slabs and tree roots. Kosovo, Albania, France, Spain – each has had a different flavour. In sharing details about my travels, I am able to inspire others to also explore the world with their bikes – and it feels as joyful as sharing my garden hiding spots back in the day.
It was this passion for travel and inclusion that led to my guiding career. I wanted to help other mountain bikers enjoy what I was experiencing; nature, the trails, and the local culture in these special places. So when I was asked if I wanted to do some skills training and guiding in the Dolomites, I couldn’t refuse.
The Dolomites are one of the most unique and impressive rock formations in the world. And although they are just three and a half hours drive from where I live, I had never been to the area. I only knew of the Dolomites through winter sports and road bike racing – every road biker dreams of doing the famous Sellaronda route one day – but I had no idea that a world-class mountain biking paradise was also tucked away there.
When I finally stood in the mountains there I was overwhelmed by impressiveness of the landscape. Whichever way I looked – north, south, east or west – each and every vista was picture-postcard worthy. The sight of these huge, sheer rockfaces rising up out of the pale green undulating meadows is so powerful that it literally takes your breath away. The infrastructure is perfect for mountain bikers too; all the gondolas take bikes and there are plenty of lifts to access the riding zones. I knew instantly that this was one of those big discoveries and I couldn’t wait for the joy of sharing it with others.
For the first few years, I found the layout of the mountains confusing. There are so many different interconnecting valleys in the Dolomites that I would suddenly find myself in the wrong one. Often it would be getting late and I had no idea how to get back to where I was meant to be. (Having an e-bike came in handy in these situations.) I was grateful that my friend, Arno Feichter runs the local bike shop in Sexten and is also a guide. He gave me the lay of the land and also introduced me to all the secret little gems that can only be found with local knowledge.
The natural trails here are steep and technical at the top, often taking you over rugged, rocky slab formations – with no room for error. Further down the valley and below the treeline, the ground gets softer and the trails become more flowy and playful, with a slippery tree root here and a natural berm there. Back down at the bottom, it’s either time for a pizza or another lift to head back up the mountain.
Over the past few years, more and more flow trails have been developed in the Dolomites, allowing even the greenest of mountain bikers to enjoy the high-mountain scenery and creating the perfect environment for my beginners’ skills courses. Combining a guided experience with some skills training – correct position for braking, pushing, and jumping – allows riders to feel more confident and therefore get more enjoyment out of the trails and stunning environment.
Whenever I’m in the area, Arno shows me yet another, even more stunning trail in the Tre Cime region. Last autumn we spent five days together; on E-bike reccies, carrying our regular mountain bikes up technical sections via ferratas, and doing laps on the Helm; the local mountain near the village of Sexten. And even with that, I’ve hardly even covered a quarter of the trails, so there really is plenty experience – and share.
Julia Hofmann has been a part of the Rocky Mountain family for several years. While she spends her time on a myriad of different bikes from us, the ones featured in this article include her Altitude Powerplay, Altitude, and Slayer.
Journey through time
Story by Julia Hofmann
It’s been an excruciating climb, one with as much hike-a-biking as pedalling, but at last, we’ve arrived. Standing atop the highest point of Cronin Pass above Smithers the wind is howling; the air is cold. It’s been ten years since my first trip to Canada. Ten years since my first international mountain bike adventure. And as I stare out at the vast landscape of Northern British Columbia, I can see the long, flowing, epic trail I’m about to ride.
It’s the middle of August and each piercing gust hints that autumn is just around the corner. Despite our early start, the sun is now low. Shadows along the cliff bands lengthen and the colors of our surroundings begin to saturate. Feelings of peace and solitude complete this blissful scene, but I can feel the growing anticipation to drop in. The combination creates a sense of freedom inside me that washes me with happiness. From my extensive travels around the world to mountain bike, British Columbia is still one of the only places that host all the elements I love about riding. Well-built trails, a supportive riding community, and general love and appreciation for spending time in the woods.
When I was young my adventures started small – riding horses through the fields and woods near my childhood home near Lichtenfels, Germany – and grew to be grander over time. With each ride, I pushed myself to go a little further than before. The first true piece of singletrack I rode a bike on was a nice piece of trail, not far away, near my grandparents’ house. The special feeling of moving through the woods on two wheels was like nothing else I had experienced and chasing that feeling has continued to shape my life.
As an adult, I became so familiar with the forests around my home in Upper Franconia that I eventually began to look elsewhere for adventures. I started taking road trips to bike parks throughout Germany, then further on to Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy. I’d read about British Columbia’s North Shore and seen videos of the Whistler Bike Park, but it seemed unattainably far away. It was several years before I’d even considered the possibility of traveling to a riding destination beyond what I could drive to. But the idea of flying to another country was there – somewhere – in the back of my mind and finally, it worked it’s way forward. Before I had thought about what I was committing to, I was standing at the airport ready to check in, heading to Canada.
I’ll never forget the feeling of landing on another continent for the first time, building my bike, and putting the tires into the dirt. Canada will always be a special place in my heart for this reason. The country feels vast with endless forests and mighty mountains, and to top it off there’s perfect singletrack that navigates the dramatic landscapes. The quality of trails is really what sets the riding here apart from the rest of the world. They are made specifically for riding rather than being repurposed old hiking routes. There’s something for everyone and the purpose-built climbs can be as enjoyable as the amazing descents.
As the sun disappears below the horizon line of endless peaks and ridges, the oversaturated filter begins to fade. It’s time to go as we’re losing light, and we have a long descent ahead of us. At the bottom of the mountain, a cozy cabin waits for us where we will stay for the night before moving on to the next incredible location. I lower my seat, start rolling down, and am treated to another unbelievable Canadian descent.
As I continue to travel around the world with my bike, I realize how the famous adage, ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’, rings true in my heart. All these years later, standing on top of a mountain on another continent, and I am still chasing that same feeling I discovered riding my bike through the forests in Lichtenfels as a child.