MTB Region Review: Zell-Gerlos Zillertal Arena

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Summer in the Zillertal Valley is most commonly associated with towering mountains, craggy peaks and panoramic views of the Hintertux Glacier. Within Tirol the Zillertal Alps are known first and foremost as a haven for mountaineers in summer and skiers in winter. However, there is also plenty to keep mountain bikers busy in the Zillertal-Arena, stretching from Zell am Ziller to the Gerlos Pass. Many of the trails and sections of singletrack can be accessed using the region’s cable cars. Time to load the bike into the car and head for the Zillertal Valley!

Rene

Rene is an ardent mountain bike enthusiast and travel agent from... View author

My adventure starts with a tricky question: which bike? In the end I decide to take my enduro bike with 160mm of travel. Most of the trails in the Zillertal-Arena are rated between easy and intermediate. The one difficult option on the Isskogel mountain is only short, so there is no need for a full downhill set-up. This decision to opt for the lighter and more nimble enduro bike proves to be the right one.

Descent with panoramic views on the Iss Flow Trail.

Riding the trails on the Isskogel mountain.

Getting there

The Zillertal Valley is one of the many side valleys branching off the main Inntal Valley, so it is easy to reach via the A12 Inntal-Autobahn motorway. It takes its name from the Ziller river which flows through the valley from south to north and meets the Inn river near the village of Strass im Zillertal. The further you head south into the valley, the higher the mountains become. Shortly before Mayrhofen, where the first mountains over 3,000m can be found in the Zillertal Alps Nature Park, lies Zell am Ziller. This village is the ideal starting point for accessing the Zillertal-Arena and the Wiesenalm Singletrack.

The weather is hot, so we decide to turn off and climb up into the cooler air near the Gerlos Pass. This mountain pass, which is also known as the Pinzgauer Höhe, lies at 1,531 metres above sea level and connects the province of Tirol with neighbouring Salzburg. We follow the route once negotiated by traders travelling by horse and cart. As we climb higher and higher, the temperature drops and signs of civilization become increasingly rare. It is not until we reach the resort of Gerlos at 1,247m that we return to the world of tourism.

At the eastern end of the village is the Isskogelbahn cable car with a large carpark which. We are lucky enough to have chosen a weekend when access to the cable cars is free of charge. Time to hit the mountains!

Accommodation & Service

Driving through Gerlos we notice many impressive inns and guesthouses. The village has managed to retain its traditional charm. Despite a few closed après-ski bars, there is still plenty going on here in summer. Visitors who wish to spend the night should try one of the quality-approved mountain bike hotels in Gmünd and Gerlos. The Kinderhotel Almhof in Gmünd is perfect for family holidays and the Hotel Alpenherz in Gerlos is just a short walk from the bottom of the Isskogelbahn cable car – the ideal basecamp for action-hungry bikers.

Here, close to the Gerlos Pass, there is a large network of singletrack trails on the Isskogel mountain as well as cross-country trails catering for all fitness levels and abilities. The friendly staff at the bike hotels and inns, which are regularly inspected to ensure top quality accommodation and bike-friendly facilities, know all the best places for riding and will be happy to give riders tips and advice. Services include bike washes, repair stations, maps, healthy food – and, of course, a glass of the local schnapps to welcome visitors!

The very clear signposts make it easy to find the start of the Isskogel Trails.

At the bottom of the Isskogelbahn cable car there is also a bike wash. Bikes must be transported in the cable cars, so in wet and muddy conditions it is a good idea to rinse off the dirt before heading back up to the top. Hermann, the friendly cable car assistant, welcomes us with a smile and helps us put our bikes into the gondola. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

Bike wash facilities for mountain bikes can be found at the bottom of the Isskogelbahn and Rosenalmbahn cable cars.

Down in the valley in Zell am Ziller there is a huge range of hotels, inns, restaurants and shops. At the bottom of the Rosenalmbahn stands the Intersport Strasser sports shop with its own workshop and bike rental service. Bikers will appreciate the easy access without steps to the cable car itself. There is no need to carry your bike – instead you can just wheel it straight into the gondola. There is another bike wash, this time under a roof, on the ground floor as well as a restaurant on the first floor – the perfect place to round off a fun day in the Zillertal-Arena.

On the website tyrol.com you will find a good overview of the trails and accommodation options in Zell-Gerlos Zillertal Arena. Those looking for a little action in the evenings should visit Mayrhofen, the most well-known village in the valley, where there is plenty of nightlife even in summer as well as good riding during the day.

Trails

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking moments when I go to a new bike park or trail centre is when I stand up at the top of the mountain for the first time. Where do I have to go? Are the trails easy to access? My verdict for the Isskogel Singletrails is that they are both easy to find and easy to access. When you leave the cable car at around 1,900m you immediately see a large info board with an overview of all the trails in the region. There is a large arrow pointing you towards the access point – and then it is time to ride! It is almost impossible to get lost here. And the restaurant in the ARENA-Center is a great place to stop off for a drink on hot days.

Full of excitement, we push our bikes up onto the start ramp and stare down the first few hundred metres of the Iss Flow Trail. We decide to increase the difficulty level run by run, starting with the easier Iss Flow option.

Iss-Flow

Flow by name, flow by nature. This trail has a smooth surface with few stones or ruts and is full of wide open corners and easy rollers – definitely the right way to get into the flow at the start of the day! The first few corners wind their way down underneath the cable car, meaning that curious hikers and other bikers making their way up the mountain can watch us as we whizz our way down into the valley.

There are lots of banked corners on the trail.

After the first section there is the option of branching off onto the Iss Tough trail. However, we decide to go with the flow and ride the main trail all the way to the bottom. The next section winds its way down the ski piste – much more challenging than the rest of the trail. In fact, to me this section seems to have been a kind of last-minute solution to connect the other two sections of the trail together. There is not a long of love and attention that has gone into it.

Thankfully it is not long before we are back in the forest. This section is relatively flat and ideal for cruising. The rollers can be used by advanced riders for jumps and other tricks.

This section of the Iss Flow trail is relatively flat.

Just before we reach the Rösslalm hut at 1,580m the flow experience comes to an end and the trail finishes on a dirt road in the forest. Wow, what a ride! We are impressed by the 2.5km trail and think that the terrain around the cable car has been put to good use. We continue along a connecting trail to the Rösslalm hut and then sharp left to the Iss Shore trail. The signposts here could be a little clearer – often you don’t see them until it’s too late.

Iss Shore: Biking like in Canada

Signs warn riders of the wooden features ahead.

After passing over a cattle grid, we are surprised to see many cow pats dotting the pastures. Are we heading through a cow field? Yes. And just a few metres later we meet the first of many cows. At first we are a little confused – have they escaped? It turns out that we, in fact, have intruded on their territory, but they are very patient as we slalom our way through. Here in the Zillertal Valley the lines between humans and nature are not as strictly defined as elsewhere. We respect the cows, and they respect us. And, even if we do end up riding through a few cowpats, there is always the bike wash at the bottom of the cable car!

Canada feeling on the Iss Shore trail.

After a few berms at the top of the trail we reach the long-awaited wooden bridges and North Shore elements. Here in the thick forest it is easy to imagine yourself riding in Canada. All that is missing is a lumberjack shirt and a chainsaw! The corners are designed for both beginners and advanced riders – and those who dare can make the most of the wooden elements by taking them at top speed. Before we reach the end of the trail area there is a final section of natural, earthy terrain and a somewhat complicated fence to negotiate before reaching the road down in the valley.

The tricky fence to be negotiated before reaching the bottom.

Iss Tough, Iss Natural and Iss Vertical: three for the price of one.

Today the trails are bone-dry, so there is no need to wash any dirt off before we get into the cable car and head back up to the top. For our next descent we decide to try the intermediate variation of the Iss Tough trail. After completing the first section of the Iss Flow trail we turn off and follow a connecting trail. Above Seppis Restaurant there are a number of signs directing us to the start of the trail. After just a few corners it becomes clear that this trail is more demanding from a bike-handling point of view.

There are plenty of obstacles which can be ridden over or around.

The trail becomes tighter, faster and steeper. Steps, roots and rocks make for interesting and challenging riding. We all enjoy the trail and take the time to ride several sections more than once. Underneath the cable car the trail merges into the Iss Flow trail. However, before we can “flow” our way to the bottom there is the option of a small jump – or for those who don’t dare, the chicken line. The run-in is along a wooden banked corner with a sign. “Drop it like it’s hot”, we say, and are happy to have 160mm of travel for a soft landing.

The Iss Vertical trail has plenty of technical sections. We like!

Having tasted blood, we rush back up to the top and through the cow slalom. In the middle section of the Iss Flow trail there is the option of turning off to the Iss Vertical and Iss Natural trails – natural trails with bridges over swampland and a few very steep and technical passages. Both are great but almost a bit too short for our liking. These kinds of natural and technical trails are particularly good for alpine trailriders, but we also enjoy them as they make a nice change. We decide to ride the Iss Flow trail one more time before heading back to Zell am Ziller. After a final dose of friendly service from Hermann we say our goodbyes and head back up onto the mountain for a final fling. We will be back!

Back to the Iss Flow trail or on to the difficult Iss Vertical option.

Wiesenalm in Zell am Ziller: The RideAble Project

Inside our car, which has been parked in the sun all day, the air temperature feels hotter than the sun. We clamber in and can hardly wait to reach the road taking us down the mountain pass: window open, hand out and fresh air in! After a short break we head to the Rosenalmbahn cable car to make the most of the free cable car travel laid on in the Zillertal Valley this weekend.

Quiz question: Where does the Wiesenalmtrail get its name from?

Tired from riding – and slightly befuddled by the heat – we almost miss our stop at the mid-way station. Thankfully someone in our group spots the huge sign saying “To the trail” and we manage to hop out of the gondola in time. We had planned to have lunch at the restaurant on the mountain, but when we get there it is closed. Instead, we decide to wait until later and head for the trail. After a short ride we reach the start of the Wiesenalm Singletrail. Despite the fact you have to pedal a bit, the trail is definitely reachable on a downhill bike. However, after all the riding we have already done, we are happy that we have our lighter enduro bikes with us.

Go with the flow – a trail for bikers only. There are plenty of boards with emergency information at points which can be reached by car.

The goal of the RideAble Project Wiesenalm Trail is to create a varied and fun trail which can be ridden by anyone. The top section in particular meets these expectations and can be described in three simple words: “pump it down”. There are countless rollers and banked corners which give us a bit of alpine pumptrack feeling high in the mountains. This is an excellent area for young and old, beginners and experts.

“Pump it down” is the name of the game on the Wiesenalm Singletrail.

We are surprised by how long this section is and can feel the many rollers taking their toll on the arm muscles – not least because we have skipped lunch and are a little short on energy. Generally it is a good idea for beginners to take plenty of breaks here. The trail is more than 5.2 kilometres in length and shouldn’t be underestimated. In the middle section the banked corners are steeper and underneath the power masts there is a very fast and steep section. The long traverses and North Shore bridges invite riders to hit them at top speed, though at regular intervals the trail heads uphill and through corners which reduce speed. This makes it good for riders of all abilities.

However, for the steep corners in the middle section you need god bike-handling skills and a fair bit of courage. Riders who feel uncomfortable here can push their bikes down this section and ride the rest.

Prices

On the day when we visited the cable cars could be used free of charge. If you are not as lucky as we were then the price for a day ticket (with guestcard) is €26.10 per region. A single journey costs around €9. Children pay half price.

With the restaurant terrace in our sights, it is time to let it roll. We are hungry!

It would be nice to have a combined ticket for the Isskogelbahn and the Rosenalmbahn cable cars. Motivated riders can use the network of trails which connect the two areas. However, lift tickets have to be bought separately for each – and that can be expensive.

The trails on the Isskogel mountain are enough to keep riders busy for a whole day. But if you are in the area then it is definitely worth checking out the Wiesenalm Singletrail.

Conclusion

Hot, flowy, dusty, technical and in some places pretty steep. The Isskogel trails and the Wiesenalm-Trail near Zell are great fun. Although there are not that many different trails to choose from, they are all full of different elements and suitable for all kinds of riders: simple and flowy trails, medium trails with jumps and obstacles as well as technical variations with steps and steep corners.

All in all a really fun day of riding in the Zillertal Valley! We will definitely be back. In combination with the many cross-country rides in the Zillertal Arena, it is an excellent destination not only for a day but also for a long weekend.

Photos: Rene Sendlhofer-Schag/www.bikefex.at

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