Building Trails and a High Alpine Mountain Bike Destination with Willy Basilico in Canazei, Italy

Willy Basilico is the trail boss credited with organizing many of the builders and maintainers in Val di Fassa, Italy, host of rounds one and two of the 2021 Enduro World Series.
Willy Basilico, trail boss extraordinaire.

For the first time in over a year, I went to fork down some delicious pizza with a crew of friends in Canazei, spending quality chill time between the first and second rounds of the Enduro World Series. We all gave a heartfelt salute to the brilliant scientists who brought us vaccines so we could hear the clink of beer bottles once more. The restaurant was packed with locals, and we figured it must be the right spot to chow. We weren’t wrong. You can often tell who the locals are in mountain towns. They look genuinely relaxed compared to the tourists, with skin that’s kissed by the great outdoors.

Mid meal someone came over and asked us to holler “Team Willy” after he said a certain word. We obliged, and his table of trail builders erupted in joyous laughter after the whole restaurant echoed that phrase. They were celebrating their trail boss, Willy Basilico, and the fact that they managed to run a successful enduro race after shoveling snow and cutting more than 600 trees from the trails. Like a lot of trail builders, Willy’s team works more like a family than a business. The sweat they all pour into the local singletrack doesn’t go unnoticed or uncelebrated.

Willy has skied in Val di Fassa, and above the town of Canazei specifically, for much of his life. He knows some of the steepest freeride lines laced between the skyscraping rocks in the Dolomites. So what’s a powder hound to do in the summer? Mountain bike, of course. In 2007, after several years of sliding down unknown local trails, Willy and a group of friends had the idea to make Canazei more of a mountain bike destination. They started off with the downhill tracks they already had, and it all exploded from there, eventually playing host to Superenduro and EWS races.

Today, the handful of long natural trails around Canazei make up the best riding in the valley — for folks who enjoy the rough stuff. If you look at the map and select your vacation destination based on the largest collection of black-diamond tracks, this place needs to make atop the itinerary. There is a popular MTB tour called Sellaronda in the area that uses ski lifts to pull riders back out of the various valleys over the course of 60km and 3,900 meters of descending. All of the trails on that beautiful tour could be described as “flow,” apart from those in Canazei. I did the Sellaronda with a group of six fast friends, and we all agreed that the Canazei tracks were the most fun by a long shot.

A local brewery made a different beer for each trail that was included in the race.

The catch is, not everyone wants EWS-level natural tracks. Like La Thuile and a few other locations in the Alps, Canazei isn’t currently an MTB destination for everyone. The easiest singletracks above the town are suitable for skilled intermediate riders, and everything else is too steep and technical to suit a lot of tastes and skill levels. Team Willy certainly sees the potential of their beautiful mountain home, and they aim to add some beginner-friendly trails in the near future that they hope will invite a wider variety of riders. With a short season in 2021, the rider numbers were up by 125%, and the need for more trails is evident. Willy says that part of the rise in popularity is thanks to the EWS bringing attention to his backyard descents. Not to worry though, the spirit of natural terrain will remain. The core trails like Titans, Ciasates, Electric Line, 9.09, Tutti Fruitti, Infinity, Animal House, Double U, Zacan, and Viel de Gabia will continue to be maintained by hand.

Similar to the story at Paganella Bike Park, Willy and his crew are looking for the most sustainable methods possible to build these beginner trails. That means adding ample drainage, planting native species alongside the trail to hold the earth in place, and only using an excavator when necessary. Willy says they will use a mini-excavator, taking care to disturb as little of the natural environment as possible. He says that the ecosystem in the Dolomites is fragile, and there is a powerful push from the government to preserve wild spaces in the area.

To keep the singletrack looking and feeling as natural as possible, Team Willy is also hunting for an anti-slip solution to place on any wooden bridges. They currently use fencing, but there are a lot of ideas in the works to rough up the wood and add sand to the surface. We will report on any creative solutions they come up with.

In addition to the new beginner-friendly trails, the team plans to build some climbing trails and loops, as well as trails that will be fun to climb on e-bikes. Tourism is the main income source in Val di Fassa, so they will be designating these trails as mountain-bike-specific to avoid conflicts with other visitors. The area already has a vast network of hiker-only trails, and the Canazei MTB master-plan was designed to leave those for foot traffic alone.

All of the trails, including a massive all-mountain loop that will encompass the existing natural tracks, will be accessible from the other ski areas and valleys, so riders who are on vacation won’t need to hop in the car to have lunch in a different valley. The community governments in Val di Fassa are also working to create better methods for transportation throughout the valley, to reduce smog and noise pollution. Some ideas include a train or a valley-long gondola to move visitors between the towns. The main road up the valley is one of the most popular routes in the Alps for road cyclists, so having fewer cars on the roads will make everyone happier and safer.

We will report on the new trails after next year’s Enduro World Series race in June.