Shortly after the snow liquefies, the Italian Alps become overrun with humans wanting to escape their overpopulated and loud lives for some fresh mountain air. That first lung-full of crisp alpine oxygen is often followed by a flood of memories from seasons past — and a requisite sneeze or three.
The summer and winter recreational migration can be a hectic milieu to manage for resort staff, and the folks who run three connected bike parks on Italy’s Paganella mountain are doing all they can to spread out users and avoid conflicts. Paganella towers above the northern city of Trento, with a full 2,125m of earth between its highest peak and the sea.
Fai della Paganella is a classic downhill-inspired bike park, located on the mountain’s northeastern flank. Nine trails descend toward Fai, wrapping under the single chairlift that brings riders back to the top. The longest track drops more than 1,000 meters from top to bottom, and the trail surfaces range from buff machine grades to singletrack that’s so tight and rough you might wonder how it’s rideable at first glance.
A quick left turn on that longest natural track will point you toward the main Dolomiti Paganella Bike Park in Andalo, where the flowier mix of nine tracks offer challenges for a broad range of riders. From there, you can take the lift to the top and drop into Molveno, with six easier trails that are great for family spins or learning new skills. All three of the parks are accessible with the same lift pass, and each offers its own lift and trails back to the other. If you’re up for a longer day, massive loops like the Bear Trails can be pedaled between the parks for a true all-mountain tour. There are also three pump tracks and a few skills areas to check out between rides.
This MTB paradise has become an example for other Italian trail centers, with its collective management, well signed and maintained tracks, and a clear focus on all versions of trail fun. All three parks work together on various MTB projects to remain connected and provide riders a solid idea of what each of them has to offer.
The number of riders and hikers has climbed dramatically since the pandemic hit, and that trend looks to be continuing in 2021, so the staff has agreed on a few ways to make the riding experience even better while reducing the chance of user conflicts. Park director Luca D’Angelo says that a top priority is to add trails between the three areas where riders are currently taking mixed-use paths, or occasionally the main roads, to reach different trail zones. This fall the trail team will begin construction on a bike-specific path between the town of Andalo and the lower lift in Moleveno. At the moment, the only way to traverse the two is via some fairly technical tracks above or the footpath along the main road. D’Angelo can see the potential issues with mixed-use paths once the tourist season ramps up, and wants to make sure that all users can enjoy their time on the mountain — not only riders.
Another fundamental new dig project will connect the top of Paganella, which riders reach with a lift from Andalo, to the trails in Fai. There are trails available to make the transfer now, but they are far more natural and technical than a lot of folks would prefer. The new track will maintain a lot of the peak’s natural rocky character, with some smoother sections and berms to mix it up. This dig should make more regions of the mountain accessible to a wider range of riders.
The final project that will kick off this fall is a long set of parallel trails that will be accessible by the Molveno lifts. Riders will be able to rip right alongside one another down the slope, providing all sorts of friendly racing and video opportunities. This will be one of the longest and most expensive trails on the mountain, fitting with D’Angelo’s desire to continue adding new and unique elements to the park.
With all of this new building, the park’s management is also studying various ways to make trails more sustainable. In tandem with proper drainage and well-sloped tracks, they will plant various vegetation alongside the trail to see what holds up best. That vegetation, and their building style more generally, will also discourage riders from rolling off track and widening the path through the forest.
In 2019, around 30,000 riders visited Paganella. In 2020 the lifts opened a month and a half late, the autumn rains came in early and strong, and the mountain still served nearly 31,000. With a regular opening date in 2021, and a lot of vaccinated shredders looking to get back to the fun, there’s no question the three parks will be packed.
D’Angelo doesn’t want things to plateau in terms of the product Paganella offers guests. That means new trails, no long lines, and a massive amount of regular maintenance. The natural tracks alone cost roughly €50,000 to maintain, while upkeep on the flowier park-style tracks is closer to €150,000 annually. As long as folks keep coming, the team will keep building. If you have a trip to the Alps coming up, Paganella should definitely be on the list of stops.