Guiding in the Dolomites
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.