Innsbruck Guide | 3 Summer Days Mountain Biking in Austria's Famous Winter Paradise
We head to Innsbruck to ride the winter city-haven becoming known as a summer hotspot...
Words by Stuart Kenny | Photography by Jay French
Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice. The majority of the 120,000 inhabitants of the city are either keen skiers or snowboarders.
Innsbruck has one ski pass that gives you access to 300km of snow-sure pistes, including a bunch of snowboard parks, an abundance of beautiful tree-runs and one of the steepest ski runs in the world.
You’ll drive past the huge Bergisel Ski Jump as you drive into Innsbruck. And as you drive out of Innsbruck too. It’s a landmark; a constant reminder that Innsbruck, by and large, is a winter city.
Now forget everything we just told you about the Austrian city.
We’re here in summer, pointing the front wheel of our mountain bike down a lovely piece of trail. It’s over 30 degrees Celsius. We’ve just jumped off the gondola, having been happily ferried up to the top of Bikepark Innsbruck on the edge of the city, in a town called Mutters.
There are sharp grey mountain peaks to our left. Hikers head up to the summit, a few hundred feet up from the gondola station we’ve just departed. Below them is a meadow of green, stretching forest on one side and a fire road which leads to a lake and city views currently beyond our reach. At our feet is the entrance to the trail.
With Crankworx Innsbruck on the same week we’re in town there are no lack of riding buddies.
It’s the first time Crankworx has taken place in Innsbruck and a clear sign of intent from the city. The other stops on the Crankworx circuit; Les Gets, Rotorua and, of course, Whistler are already destinations renowned for their riding.
We’re on the bikes with the Mons Royale crew, geared out in merino wool to wick away the inevitable sweat of riding in 30+ degrees heat. Kiwi freerider and Mons pro rider Connor MacFarlane is at the front of the pack. At least in terms of talent. He has competed at Red Bull Rampage, after all, and is a regular feature at Crankworx.
“You know how you’re an idiot?" says my inside voice. “Please don’t try and keep up with him."
“There’s no chance of that," laughs common sense. “He’s a professional mountain biker and you eat Doritos for breakfast".
“That was once," I snap back. Though I know that doesn’t make it any better.
We stop to snap a few photographs before stepping on the pedals. The view over Innsbruck is mesmerising; the river Inn twisting and turning through the historic city streets below, walled-in on every side by enormous mountains.
The bike park itself is still a recent addition to the city. There are not a whole lot of trails there just yet, but what is there is fun - and one look at the surrounding area tells you that if they’re able to get the permission, there are no end to the trail network they could build.
Our first run starts with natural stuff - steep and rooty. It takes us into the quick corners and muddy off-camber banks of the forest. The turns demand your concentration but there’s a lot of opportunities for acceleration, and in the end we come back out at the cable car grinning.
Much like many winter destinations famed for their winter offering Innsbruck has been working hard to bring in mountain bikers recently. Hence the bike park (and Crankworx).
Innsbruck is in a particularly strong position to make the change, as well. It’s no ghost-town in the summer, it’s incredibly easy to get to and it’s got a lot more than just one ski resort-turned-bike park when it comes to mountain biking.
We had been riding the naturally-formed trails on the outskirts of town earlier that morning. They’re super nice, and thanks to the quick rising mountains you don’t have to pant through too much uphill to earn yourself a decent run back down.
You’ll find yourself rising and falling through dusty, dirty roots with plenty of drops and riding a whole lot of off-camber with beautiful forest green around you. The trails eventually lead out to the centre of town as well, which is handy, and there are spaces for bikes on the buses so that you can get a cheap ferry halfway back up to the trails.
We headed up to the aforementioned Bikepark Innsbruck after lunch for the full uplift experience though. After lunch, and a beer or two, being exactly the time when an uplift is particularly appreciated, of course.
The second trail we rode in the bike park was almost entirely manmade. They’d grabbed some forests, a big clearing, kept the rooty connecting sections and added in a whole heap of switchbacks and a jump line. It flowed real nice.
We dove into more switchbacks, bermy corners and dusty fun before being thrown again into steep, loose forest. A few members of the riding crew ended up picking their bikes out of bushes here on the steep corners, but each of them with a smile on their face.
Innsbruck had some tasty riding. Add in the history of the town centre and extensive nightlife (almost one fifth of the population are students), and it was starting to look like the complete package.
Connor MacFarlane was having fun. “I’ve ridden all of the trails up here," he said of the bike park. “There isn’t heaps but it’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of potential.
“I love coming to places like this where there’s a lot of history and you can get up the mountain tops pretty easy. There’s still a bit of work to go on the bike track side of things here but this is an awesome foundation to start upon."
I ask whether the scenery, a city set in the midst of the mountains feels a little like home for Connor - who is based in the similarly stunning Queenstown in New Zealand.
“Where I’m from is pretty similar," he says. “We would never have a city this big in the mountains though and our mountains back home are nothing on the size of the mountains you get in Europe."
And his suggestions for the future of the bike park? “I think for starters more tracks on the hill here. It would be cool if there’s a network of trails, but that’s something that takes time with any city.
“I think I’ve ridden everything in the bike park now. But I’ve heard there’s some good trails over there which I’d like to ride as well. Hopefully I’ll get to ride them before I go."
He’s pointing at the spectacular Nordkette mountains as he concludes his sentence, on the other side of the city. It’s where I find myself a few days later.
The Nordkette is nearly 8000ft high, but it’s incredibly easy to access thanks to an uplift system that takes hikers and bikers from the city centre almost to the top in roughly 20 minutes.
The entrance to the Nordkette singletrail has a skull and crossbones on it. That should tell you everything you need to know.
It’s outrageously twisty, technical, steep and laden with rocks. There are alternative gravel roads around the toughest sections, but if you fancy a challenge, you’re in the right place. I quietly jump off my bike for a few of the early switchbacks, which came a little too fast and steep to quell the shouts of common sense.
The trail levels out quickly after the opening section and becomes a lot more rideable. I reach the end with screaming arms, but nothing a riverside beer can’t fix. And the trip is worth it for the views alone.
On top of the mountain you’ve got endless rigid mountains - complete wilderness - on one side and the entirety of Innsbruck on the other.
If the brutal singletrail isn’t to your tasting though, the bike park will be, and if that’s not your style, the local trail riding at town level is great stuff too.
There’s a lot to get excited about in Innsbruck (not least the fact that you can drink your post-ride beer in an actual bar rather than shacking up in an Alpine hut playing 00’s Euro-Pop). Natural downhill. Man-made fun. Loose steeps. Flowing berms. Rocks, roots and beer spots good enough to match the town ambience.
There’s something for everyone in Innsbruck - and that statement is most certainly not limited to the colder months of the year.
Do It Yourself
We flew from Edinburgh to Munich and then grabbed a train to Innsbruck, which took roughly two hours. We stayed in Hotel Seppl in Mutters, and later at the Absteige hotel in Innsbruck, making the most of passes for both Bikepark Innsbruck and a day trip up the Nordkette gondola.
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