Saalbach Hinterglemm on mountain bikes – The valley of endless opportunities
At the end of the season, these are the moments that will etch themselves into your memory. The sunrise on a mountain peak, that time you ripped through those mystical woods enveloped in mist, or the euphoria when you nailed that massive jump you thought was beyond your ability. These moments might be drip-fed throughout the season – unless you come to Austria’s Saalbach Hinterglemm, where we got them all crammed into one day.
Almost every European rider has at least heard of Saalbach Hinterglemm, and rightly so. While many regions clamp down with ‘Keep Out’ signs directed at what they deem to be renegade mountain bikers, Saalbach has gone to the other extreme and acknowledged that it’s worth investing in the sport and extended a hand of welcome to riders of all forms. In terms of popularity, the number of riders here has grown year on year. Saalbach’s trails – like the Pro line, X line and the Hacklberg trail – have become classics. The BIG 5 Challenge that includes an assault in Bikepark Leogang is now a veritable must-do. The Spielberghaus mountain hut that’s tucked onto the track has taken on cult status, not least because it’s the familial home of rising downhiller Valentina ‘Vali’ Höll, who despite still being just a teenager is quickly becoming Austria’s most impressive downhiller. But even for those who are less interested in scoring run after run down the mountainside and prefer to explore at their leisure, Saalbach has just the thing.
At the dastardly hour of five am, I find myself scratching my head at my stupidity – did it really only take three beers for me to agree to such a hair-brained idea? The suggestion of “Let’s watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain” was said with such conviction that it sounded too good to miss. But as the alarm continues to drill through my head, doubt has entered my mind. It’s too late to protest and just a few moments later we’re hauling the bikes onto the street from the bike’n soul hotel. We – that’s me, Kathi Kypers and Rob Heran – start pedalling up towards the access road. You could say we’re veterans of Saalbach, as we’ve all ridden in the Glemmtal Valley many times before. Rob set up the Premium Bike Camp some years earlier, which now hosts around 100 children for weeklong camps on the local trails each summer. Kathi’s face is familiar here too, whether it’s for photo-shoots, the GlemmRide Bike Festival, or just chilled weekends spent riding with friends. You might know her as a TREK Gravity Girl – she’s big into airtime and flow and the Pro line is her second home. Then there’s me, I usually come for a couple of days to get my fill of the classics like the Hacklberg or Bergstadl trail.
But today is going to be completely different. On the opposite side of the Schattberg, we ride up to the top of the Hochalm trail. No cable cars are running at this hour – clearly the staff forgot to set their alarms. It’s an 800-metre climb, but usually you can rely on the Reiterkogelbahn cable car to do half the work by whisking you up to the mid-station. However, on this mellow ride up, we’re in awe of the stillness of the still-sleeping landscape that’s slowly being illuminated in the glow of an earthy red light. We worry that we’re too late, that we’ll arrive mere minutes after the sunrise, that we would have been better staying in bed. But fortunately, our fears are unfounded. Just before the sun creeps up to the summit from the east, we reach the official trailhead of the Hochalm trail and the sight that greets us as the landscape opens out is so incredibly beautiful that we are momentarily silenced. The sky, bathed in every shade of red, welcomes the sun’s rays warmly. Below us, there’s still low-hanging mist over the valley floor and it’s markedly different to the sunshine that we’re basking in up here.
Just a bike park? Saalbach has much more to offer than your usual fare.
If the effort to get up the climb hadn’t fully woken us up, the first few metres of the descent definitely do the job. The rocks beneath our tires are wet from the dew, adding extra spice to this flow trail. Even though we’re not in a hurry, we end up hurtling downhill, each turn bringing us closer to the mist and breakfast. We let off the brakes and carve through the final few bends before coming to a stop in town for a coffee that warms our fingers back up.
For most, the day is just getting going but we’ve already achieved a lot. There’s more to come though. Our Joker Card is going to be just the ticket. It’s essentially a benefits card that’s given to every guest who chooses to stay at one of the participating hotels in the area. It allows free use of the lifts and a tonne of other discounts. After breakfast, we head over to the Kohlmais cable car, keen to ride the Wurzel trail. Unlike most of the other trails here, this gem, true to its name (‘Root trail’), offers an additional challenge thanks to its carpet of roots. Don’t go in expecting sublime flow around berms, but go for the thrill of picking the right line through the roots. The stoke is high after this one and we pedal around to the Milka line next. The clouds that had lined the valley floor are now creeping higher up the mountainside, setting the stage for the day’s second unforgettable moment.
We still haven’t had our fill for today – after all, all good things should come in threes. We grab a snack and make our way up the Schattberg on the Schattberg Express cable car. From here, we are faced with the choice of going straight down the X Line or continuing to climb before taking either the legendary Hacklberg or the Bergstadl trails. We opt for the third option, dropping into what must surely be the most diverse and grin-inducing trail in the region. First it throws a string of flow and berms at you, then a series of jumps, before upping the ante with roots and rocks. An absolute highlight for us, the Bergstadl is the very essence of Saalbach’s diversity. The trail spits you out at the Bergstadl mountain hut and we round off the day with a tasty Kaiserschmarrn dessert. What a day!
Like new – the Hacklberg trail has seen a few modifications ahead of the 2019 season!
The route we picked is just one way you could spend the ultimate day in Saalbach Hinterglemm. Add to that all the perks of the Joker Card, four cable cars, Bikepark Leogang next door, and so many other outdoor activities to pick from, from hiking routes, the Flying Fox, outdoor pools, play parks, canyoning, zip wires, to adventure parks – the options for filling your time (be it for a rider or your non-riding entourage) are pretty much limitless. It’s one of those places where there’s little doubt when you say ‘there’s something for everyone.’
Go by car or hire a car from an airport. Saalbach is approximately 2.5 hours from Munich, or fly to Innsbruck or Salzburg.
Where to stay
Countless hotels and holiday apartments can be found in Saalbach Hinterglemm to suit all budgets. We can recommend the bike’n soul hotels. Not only do they cater specifically for riders, but they also have excellent service and are great hosts.
When to go
May–October (Expect most lifts to be running during Summer and a full programme of events)