At Home With Our Local Guides: Dave Spielmann, Switzerland
We continue our story series ‘At Home with our Local Guides’, this time Dave Spielmann is in the spotlight in Switzerland.
In the heart of Graubünden
The landlocked country of Switzerland is small in size but packs a punch when it comes to mountain biking. The Alps contain some of the world’s finest riding and Switzerland could well have the lion’s share of it. We first met Dave in a bar in Pontresina, where the idea of starting a Swiss tour was born. It didn’t take long after that discussion for things to start happening, thanks to a little helping of Swiss efficiency of course.
Dave lives in the Engadin Valley which runs right through the heart of Graubünden, the perfect location to access a huge network of trails on his doorstep.
It’s the end of summer and autumn is beginning to flirt with the Swiss Alps, there’s already a little dusting of snow on the jagged peaks. We pile into the van and drive along the valley floor for a short while, parking up next to a gondola which is busy carting both two feet and two wheels skyward.
Gondolas and chairlifts are very much a guilty pleasure of mine. In a matter of minutes we’ve already gained hundreds of metres in altitude, reaching the top station we unload bikes and begin to pedal out on a singletrack climb cutting through the alpine pasture.
This is a perfect example of how good the Swiss lift infrastructure is and how it can be used for so much more than just smashing in bike park or flow trail laps. Having used the lift to get us into the mountains we immediately started climbing and traversing further away from the crowds, it’s only then you start to discover the true flavour of Swiss mountain biking.
Having pedalled for just over an hour we come across a blockage on the trail which we can’t manage to move… We dismount and gingerly begin to push, the herd of munching cows barely batting an eyelid as we pass through them. Not long after, we roll into a mountain refuge to refuel, feasting on a simple but tasty spread of cheese, pickles, tomatoes, and bread.
Now at the top of the descent we can hear distant rumbles of thunder reverberating around the mountains which is as good a sign as any to get stuck into the downhill. Dropping into the tree-line we are met with a flowing and undulating ribbon of singletrack which ebbs and flows perfectly to the contours of the hillside.
Passing over roots and weaving through perfectly shaped turns we brush shoulders against the bark of the pine trees, hands and rotors are screaming but we certainly ain’t stopping! I’m trying desperately to keep on the tyre tracks of Dave who knows all the hot lines and what’s coming up. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the town of Pontresina coming into view through the gaps in the trees and sure enough we soon plop onto the tarmac and begin to pedal through the quaint streets.
No sooner are we back at the van than the first spits of rain begin to fall, a few at first then a deluge. “That’s what I call good timing” says Spielmann with a smile before following up with the mutter of “beer?” That goes without saying.
“I have been riding bikes ever since I was a young boy growing up in Davos, a village high in the mountains of Switzerland. Although I used the mountain bike more for getting from A to B, going to school, parties in teenage times… It was freedom and I wasn’t really into it as a sport. We did it as training in summer, but I didn’t get much pleasure from going hard up and shakily back down. At 20 I had a severe accident which almost cut my lower-arm off – which would have made me the Captain Hook of Switzerland! After that I was on a mountain bike, but taking my dog easy up and easy down, the equipment and technology with brakes and forks wasn’t where I needed it with my recovering arm. After living and working in the big city of Zürich I moved back to the mountains and the Engadin Valley where I remain to this today, nearly 10 years down the line. I remember needing to get my car from another village which was 15 kilometres away after a night out, it was spring and the snow was beginning to melt, it was a beautiful day so I decided to walk. After 6 kilometres I stopped outside a bike shop and thought, now I’m back in the mountains, I need a proper mountain bike. I walked in with a big hangover and bought one. I caught the bug and found my passion. The rest is history.”
“I made my passion my job. I haven’t done much beside riding and guiding in the last three years. I really like to be outside or to work out. I have to move my body – I believe human beings are not made to sit in a office and stare into a screen for nine hours a day, five days a week. I know how it feels. I do a lot of yoga, work outs, and in winter I try to enjoy nature as much as possible whether that is by skis or e-bike. But what has been very important in the last couple of years when I was not travelling somewhere in the world was my active search for inner peace and the ability to relax. Lots of books, podcasts, talks with friends and music later – I’m at a point where I love to enjoy the easy times and chill out.”
“My area is Graubünden, I grew up in Davos in the Engadin. I know all the best bike spots like the back of my hand. I spent the last decade exploring the whole area and what blows me away is that every year I find new trails, stuff which challenges me or just new areas. The mountains are giving me what I need – they are making me happy and grateful. I feel blessed to live here and to have all the benefits of a high alpine location, all the benefits which Switzerland and the Swiss standards have to offer. Yes, it is more expensive than in other countries, but when you know where to go it isn’t that bad. Nothing in life is free.”
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