Located in the Tirolean Unterland, surrounded by the rolling green foothills of the Kitzbühel Alps, lies Kirchberg. This region is well-known among trailriding enthusiasts in Tirol, not least thanks to Kurt Exenberger‘s Bikeacademy and the fact that World Cup winner Lisi Osl lives here and trains on the trails around Kirchberg. Reason enough, then, to take a closer look.
My plans to ride the trails around Kirchberg were delayed by a few weeks by rainy weather and the relatively late opening of the Fleckalmbahn cable car. However, on a Monday in late June – after what felt like months of rain – the weather forecast was finally good and it was time to see what Kirchberg has to offer. One of the most difficult choices I faced was selecting the right bike to take. Kirchberg is home to two mountains which could hardly be more different. Bringing my downhill bike seemed a bit over the top, so instead I opted for my all-mountain fully with 150mm of travel and a singlecrown fork. It turned out to be the perfect choice.
Kirchberg is very easy to reach. It is just an hour an a half on the motorway from Munich via Wörgl. The drive from Innsbruck to Kirchberg takes around an hour. Those who prefer to travel on public transport can take the train from Munich (change in Wörgl) in around two hours or the train from Innsbruck in just over one hour. Both cable cars in Kirchberg can be easily accessed on a downhill bike from the railway station – albeit with a little bit of pedalling.
There are plenty of hotels in Kirchberg, but a word of warning: the region is not famous for its cheap accommodation. After all, the ritzy resort of Kitzbühel is just down the road. Nevertheless, the local tourism board’s homepage offers a good overview of the accommodation options available, including a number of specialist bike hotels. Camping in the car parks at the bottom of the cable cars is not permitted, but there are campsites just a few minutes’ drive away in Brixen and next to the Schwarzsee lake near Kitzbühel (www.camping-brixen.at and www.bruggerhof-camping.at)
Right next to the bottom of the Fleckalmbahn is the Bikeacademy, a legendary bike school which has been at the forefront of guiding and technique training since it was founded 16 years ago. It is also an official Ghost Test Centre and offers top-quality bikes for hire, from full-suspension downhill bikes to fatbikes and 20” children’s mountainbikes. The prices are very fair – a solid enduro bike costs around €50 per day. The Bikeacademy also offers guiding and a range of bike-handling courses. Founder and owner Kurt Exenberger coaches the Austrian national mountainbike team.
As I mentioned at the start, Kirchberg has two mountains with three trails: the Fleckalm Trail, the Gaisberg Trail and the Lisi Osl Trail. Each is very different, so choosing the right bike is decisive.
Lisi Osl Trail: perfect for warming up
I decided to start the day on the Gaisberg mountain, which can be accessed via a four-man chairlift. Up at the top you have a choice to make. To the right there is the Lisi Osl Trail, named after Kirchberg native Lisi Osl, who is the only woman from Austria to have won the Mountainbike World Cup. Osl is a cross-country specialist, so it is little wonder that the 2.3km trail descending 450 vertical metres is first and foremost designed as a playground for cross-country enthusiasts.
According to the website the Lisi Osl Trail is designed “for real downhill enthusiasts to get the pulse racing”. That might sound good, but the reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype. The Lisi Osl Trail is good fun, yet there is certainly no need for a full-on downhill set-up. In fact, an agile full-suspension bike with a singlecrown fork or even a XC hardtail is in my opinion the weapon of choice here.
Nevertheless, it is a great trail for beginners wishing to try riding on easy berms, steps and roots for the first time. Steeper sections can be avoided by taking the forest road. The trail has been designed for all weather conditions, keeping mud to a minimum even after heavy rainfall. Personally, one ride on the Lisi Osl Trail was enough for me – the perfect warm-up for the downhill track on the left-hand side of the Gaisberg mountain.
Gaisberg Trail: nice downhill trail
The Gaisberg Trail is the only true downhill trail in the region. It has small wooden features that give enough but never too much airtime. The steep sections are not for the faint-hearted, though on my visit conditions were particularly tricky because of the heavy rainfall in the weeks before. I have been to this trail several times in drier conditions, but even then there are generally still a few patches that remain damp more or less all the time.
All in all the downhill trail on the Gaisberg mountain is nice but not spectacular. Though I have ridden it several times, there is no one section which has really stuck in my mind. If you wanted to be harsh, I suppose you could call it the “Trail Without Qualities”. I have the impression that this trail was not designed to be as good as possible, but instead to be as unobtrusive as possible. However, I don’t want to be overly critical. The Gaisberg Trail certainly has everything a downhill trail should have – indeed, it has even hosted the national championships. But for me there is still something missing. And one trail alone is not enough – especially as the Lisi Osl Trail is of little interest for experienced downhill riders. Next up, the Flecklalm Trail!
Fleckalm Trail: great fun!
After my runs on the Gaisberg mountain, I switched to the other mountain and travelled up to the top on the Fleckalmbahn. The two mountains are just a few minutes apart, so you can either pack your bike back in the car or simply ride there. The ride in the charming old gondola seems to go on forever, though the friendly lift assistant told us that it will be replaced next year with a new eight-man gondola. The Flecklalm Trail measures 7.7 kilometres in length and is Tirol’s longest singletrack with a vertical drop of more than 1,000 metres from top to bottom.
After hearing about the race that had taken place here the previous weekend, our expectations were not exactly sky high. What would a natural trail look like after being ridden by more than 800 bikers – especially after such a period of wet weather? It was my first time riding the Fleckalm Trail and, if I’m honest, I had a few problems finding the start. Some more signs are definitely needed! Eventually I found out that you have to ride along a forest path for a few minutes to access the trail. I followed the tyre tracks left by the competitors who had taken part in the race the weekend before. Once I got to the start of the trail itself, the signs were excellent from top to bottom. In fact, right from the word go I was pleasantly surprised by what Kurt Exenberger and his team have created here.
The first section leads through a high forest next to a ski piste. In wet conditions the tree roots can be a challenge, but the trail is definitely rideable even when wet if you keep your speed under control. After a short transfer via a forest road and ski piste, the trail continues through alpine meadows – an eye-catching strip of brown winding its way down through the lush green of the pastures. To the left riders can enjoy fantastic views of the Wilder Kaiser Mountains. On this section you can really let the bike run and whizz down at the speed of sound. The wooden bridges over the fences are cool kickers providing some decent airtime. But a word of warning: the landings are flat – and if you are unlucky you might touch down in a cowpat!
At the end of this meadow section there are a few berms and a small table. Then it is time to head from the sun into the dark and damp forest. In the forest the trail winds its way down, both on and above the ground. When I was there the sections on the forest floor were a mudbath, but they were still a lot of fun to ride. The roots are challenging but will bring a smile to the face of every trailrider. Downhill riders will also have a good time, even if there are a few uphill sections where pedalling is a must. For this reason I think that an all-mountain or enduro bike is definitely the best choice for the Fleckalm Trail. Half way down, just before you pass the Fleckalm hut, there is a fast section great for speed freaks.
The Fleckalm hut is a good place to stop for a break. The food is fantastic and the prices reasonable – I paid €15 for “Kasspatzeln”, a salad and a wheat beer. And the owner is very friendly, even to mud-caked trailriders! After filling up on energy, the next section comprises a series of berms and jumps where you can really get into the flow. In dry conditions you could ride this bit faster than I was able to in the wet, but even at lower speeds this section is great fun. From here on, the terrain becomes more forested – at some points you could be forgiven for thinking that you are on the west coast of Canada: twisted old trees, thick moss carpets and lush green forest floors.
The trail becomes better the further you descend, and even the most introverted rider may find himself or herself letting out a cry of joy into the cool forest air. However, a word of warning: those who don’t like riding wet and muddy root sections should check the weather forecast before heading out onto Fleckalm Trail. The areas in the forest often need a few days of sunshine to dry out. On average it takes around half an hour to ride the trail. After 1,100 vertical metres of descending you will definitely feel it in your arms and legs, but the smile on your face will stay for days. Seldom have I ridden a more diverse and fun trail. Respect to the team responsible for maintaining it – after two weekends of racing it was neither bombed out nor washed out.
My conclusion on the three trails in Kirchberg: The Lisi Osl Trail is good for beginners but not that exciting for experienced riders. The Gaisberg Trail is okay for downhill riders, but for me it is the Fleckalm Trail which is without a doubt the best of them all. I have ridden few natural sections of singletrack as good as this. You can really see that the designers thought about what riders want and what makes riding a trail fun.
A four-hour ticket for Gaisberg and Fleckalm – the two mountains where all three trails are located – costs €37, with a day ticket for both lifts costing €44. I think that is pretty expensive if you consider what is on offer. A day ticket just for the Fleckalm Trail is not much cheaper at €38.50. It is great fun to ride, but the price is definitely on the high side. Therefore, those who plan to come back and ride in Kirchberg several times throughout the season should think about buying a season ticket (€199 in 2017).
Thanks to the Bikeacademy there is plenty going on in Kirchberg. Throughout the summer there are courses, camps and events held in the region. For an overview, please visit the Bikeacademy website. An annual highlight is the KitzalpBike Festival . In 2015 Kirchberg hosted the first ever MTB Enduro European Championships.
Kirchberg offers fabulous scenery and a warm welcome – all the people I met, both on the lifts and in the huts and restaurants, were very friendly. Although there are only three trails on offer at the moment, there is something for everyone from beginners to experienced enduro riders. It is no coincidence that the first MTB Enduro European Championships were held here. The jewel in the crown is the Fleckalm Trail, which is personally one of my top five trails in Tirol and definitely worth coming for.
All photos, unless otherwise indicated: Tirol Werbung, Michael Werlberger