High alpine mountain backdrop, constantly changing ground, rocky passages merging into flow sections, pushing the pedals, braking, banked curve. Mountain biking downhill into the valley from 2,500 m to 900 m above sea level - the Bike Freeride Trails at the Kitzsteinhorn are a real enduro and freeride wonderland. I am not easy to please when it comes to bike single trails. I am not a pro but I have been mountain biking long enough to know what I want and what makes me happy and cry with joy. In many respects, this is definitely the case at the Kitzsteinhorn and my smile gets bigger and bigger along the route from the Alpincenter to the lower terminus.

Kaprun at the centre of the world's MTB Elite

Kaprun has been putting great emphasis on current bike topics from the start. MTB World Cup races were staged at the Schaufelberg in the late 90s and even the 2002 World Championship was held at the base of the Kitzsteinhorn in Kaprun. The Kaprun mountain bike tradition has been revived at the Kitzsteinhorn since 2012 and the first mountain bike trail close to nature from the Maiskogel to the Klammsee Reservoir has been opened in the meantime. But this was only the beginning. The Kitzsteinhorn now beckons with three mountain bike freeride trails totalling 12 km in length and stretching across 1,500 altitude metres, bringing much joy to freeride bikers from far and wide.

“Local Heroes" for the perfect shape

It is thanks to the top-motivated shaper crew around Martin Liebmann and Wolfgang Hillberger that the waiting time from the planning phase to completion in 2012 was cut short. The team of shapers consists of faces well-known at the Kitzsteinhorn. Their know-how has been used for the snow parks at the Kitzsteinhorn for many years. They are the real experts when it comes to kicker and halfpipe shaping. Martin, Wolfgang and co. have been out and about on their bikes in summer for many years and know the surrounding bike parks a la Leogang, Wagrain and Schladming like the back of their hands. A short while ago, I met Martin while biking at the Kitz and he stopped his work at the trail to answer some of my questions:

Hello Martin, congratulations to the fantastic trails here at the Kitzsteinhorn. Will you join us on a journey to the recent past and tell us how the Kitz trails were created?

Hello Steph, I am glad that you like our trails. They are the real icing on the cake for experienced bikers. The development of our freeride trails is based on a cooperation between the glacier cable car operators, the municipality of Kaprun and the tourist association. Just as it should be: everyone got together and contributed, hence the work on the freeride trails was de facto a bonus.

Cue working on the trails; was there a network of trails before or were the three trails newly created?

Just as well you ask this, it’s an important point. We decided from the start that we do not want to dig, cut and chip just any trails in the landscape. We focused on the already existing trails and tracks and the natural terrain. To us, this was a decision of principle for two reasons: first of all, the impact on nature is much lower if already existing trails are used, and second, the trails created in that way are much better as they integrate perfectly in the landscape. We focussed on the sensible high alpine nature here and developed the routes based on inspirations from the original art of creating trails. This proved to be instrumental in the development of playful lines which are fantastic to ride. The result is that we have freeride trails that do not lead bikers into the valley like on rails; you really need to know what you are doing when you bike at the Kitzsteinhorn. Proper braking, crossing obstacles and manoeuvring through narrow bends: these are the skills you need to have fun at the Kitz.

Let’s take a closer look at the three freeride trails. How were they built and how do existing trails determine the course of the routes?

Long sections of the Geißstein Trail already existed before. We used an existing hiking trail from the turnoff at the piste. We then revitalised, further developed and shaped the original route of this trail. We don’t use diggers; our tools are pickaxe and shovel. Because of this, and because of the high alpine, rocky ground up here, the Geißstein Trail surprises again and again with obstacles, jumps and rocky passages. Simply use your skills and you will get better with every ride.

What about the two other trails? Did you also use existing trails for those?

The Wüstlau Trail runs from the Langwiedboden into the valley to the Wüstlau. The trail is over 7 km long, crosses 1,070 altitude metres and offers different alternating sections. The steep and, sorry for the self-laudation, sensationally to ride banked curves at the start were completely reshaped but an ancient hiking trail existed here before. The trail runs from the Salzburger Hütte along a track which is also used by hikers. Experienced bikers who like to ride on natural hiking trails get here what their heart desires. As for the Bachler Trail, we have a similar setup there. Although much easier to ride than the Wüstlau Trail the route follows a hiking trail which has been left almost entirely unchanged and which is also used by hikers.

How does the dual use of the trails work and are there any challenging contact points between hikers and mountain bikers?

I personally believe in the joint use of the trails at the mountain. We all want to enjoy a good time and exercise our sports with passion and joy – whether on foot or by bike. Information boards are placed at the start of the trails. Those boards inform about the joint use and call for mutual respect. If you want to be taken seriously as a sportsmen or women, surely you feel rather stupid behaving like an idiot on the trail, or?

I agree. One more question about the construction of the trails: where did you gain the know-how for building the freeride trails in alpine, rocky terrain?

As mentioned already, my colleagues and I know the Kitzsteinhorn very well. We have been spending winter in the snow parks  shaping the kickers, obstacles and the superpipe with great dedication for many years now. Through this, we gained great know-how about flow and style, and there is of course a big portion of passion involved. All of us have been passionate bikers for years and are also out and about in many other parks. You see a lot, bike a lot and find out what lines you really prefer. When building the trails, we learned a great amount from the original trail creators. The people who created the hiking trails in the past and who still maintain and look after those trails know exactly what they are doing. This know-how is absolutely necessary for shaping challenging, alpine freeride trails. Of course, we paid in blood, sweat and tears. When a trail section is literally washed away from the mountain by heavy rain, then you develop a feeling of what to do differently the next time.

What happens next at the Kitzsteinhorn? What does the future hold for the freeride trails?

If it were down to us, there would be a lot more trails at the Kitzsteinhorn. But this is difficult to realise because of the terrain and the properties of the ground. However, we continue to work on the network of trails, keeping it attractive and improving it further. There is still room for manoeuvre when it comes to sporty passages and cool spots. The next step will surely be the relocation of the first passage from the Alpincenter into the valley to a cool trail. We are already working on that. One special feature is also that the three current trails will never be boring. For our trails, you need quite some experience to have fun on every section. With this, you will get better with every ride and even improve your performance!

Martin, thank you very much for this informative interview. One last question: What bike do you ride and what category is best for riding at the Kitz?

You surely have the best fun on an enduro bike. A spring deflection of 160 - 180 mm is sufficient. Using an enduro bike, you are more nimble and nippy in banked curves and on short ascents than on a downhill bike. I only use a short spring deflection and ride a 140 All Mountain which is also great fun to use at the Kitzsteinhorn. But you should know what you are doing and display a “sophisticated” riding style (he laughs).

And that we will check out in a minute. Do you still have time for a run together? It would be great if you could show me your favourite spots along “your” freeride trails.

Of course, just try to keep up. As you know, when you build a trail then you know it like the back of your hand ...