It's the time of year when all of your riding buddies seem to be in the French Alps, making the most of the seemingly endless network of lift-assisted trails, mainly in the Portes du Soleil region.
This area has the famous resorts of Morzine, Les Gets, Châtel, and Champéry, amongst others, and whilst they are incredible places to ride your MTB, they are just the tip of the iceberg for European big mountain adventures.
One fantastic option for all kinds of mountain bike riders is the picturesque Alpine valley of Livigno. It's situated high in the Italian Alps, with the resort itself at 1,816 meters above sea level, sitting between two steep mountainsides and lifts going up to over 3,000 meters on both sides. Its high altitude and surrounding slopes have meant Livigno has been a popular place for athletes for years, from XC skiers in the winter to pro road and XC cyclists, soccer and tennis players in the summer. Its height, position, and consistent snowfall also mean it's been a very popular winter sports destination, and it's the ski lifts that really open up the area for the gravity obsessed riders amongst us.
Livigno has two distinct chair-lift accessed riding zones: Mottolino Bike Park, which is steeper and gnarlier and on the opposing side of the valley, and Carosello 3000 Mountain Park, which has more mellow flow and all-mountain trails.
There are 3,200km of GPS-mapped routes ready for you to explore in the area – should you want to hire a guide or get some serious climbing in. But the majority of riders take advantage of the ski lifts and marked trails on either side of the valley, as the thinner mountain air makes climbing particularly hard work for most of us not blessed with Tom Pidcock style fitness levels.
Mottolino – the gnarly side of the valley
The motto "mountain is fun" is the tagline used to describe the Mottolino Bike Park, and with 14 different trails, there's plenty of chance to test that out. The routes vary from blue-graded flow trails to double-black super tech descents. With six different black-graded runs, there is more than enough to keep the more adventurous riders busy. As well as the 14 trails, there is a slopestyle course, a North Shore wooded skills area, and even a big airbag should you need to practice your tailwhips and backflips between runs.
While here, you have to check out the Sic58 trail. It's named after the much-loved Italian moto GP star Marco Simoncelli who sadly passed away in 2011. Much like him, the trail is fast and loose, with some big jumps in the open Alpine sections and some steep root-laden sections in the woods. It's the longest black run in the resort at 3.1km in length, so it is a real test of stamina as well as skill and bravery.
Carosello – steep gradients but mellow vibes
On the other side of Livigno is Carosello 3000 Mountain Park. The motto here is "mountain is freedom", and it features an area that exceeds 50km of lift-assisted flow trails. Designed in collaboration with MTB legend Hans “No Way” Rey, it's a vast network of green, blue, and red trails designed to be fun and a good intro into Alpine mountain biking. More experienced riders may be tempted to look past this side of the valley, but having ridden there myself, the endless flowy jump trails are addictive fun, and the breathtaking mountain vistas are much easier to enjoy when you're not riding down a super tech trail.
Although there's a good selection of black runs, Livigno leans more to the flow trail side of Alpine descending, so I'd recommend a more playful trail bike like the Santa Cruz 5010. Although it only has 140mm of rear suspension, it feels like a bike with more travel. It’s also capable enough to handle the steep tech trails, but will be more fun and agile on the flowy red and blue routes that make up the majority of runs here. As with all big mountain trails, it's worth upping brake rotor sizes as the super-long descents can seriously cook brake systems. Robust rubber choices are definitely recommended, as the descending can make short work of lighter-weight sidewall tires.
Obviously, the kit you take with you depends on the kind of riding you plan to do, but as welll as standard riding gear (jerseys, gloves, shoes, etc) we recommend the below so you're covered for all eventualities.
- Enduro helmet: Ideally full-face or convertible
- Protection: Knee pads and elbow pads minimum, consider body armor too
- Tough tires: High grip, reinforced sidewall options, like Maxxis Assegai in EXO+ or DD
- Backpack: Full size hydration pack for big days out
- Eyewear: Tinted goggles or sunglasses
- Suncream: Sweat resistant SPF50
- Nutrition: High calorie bars and gels
- Repair and maintenance: MTB multi-tool, tire plug kit, spare inner tubes
Mottolino BikePark features over 30km of specific graded trails, the longest being the Enduro Natural Trail at 5.6km, which traverses the mountain with an average gradient of 9.9 percent. There are six different black runs, the most challenging being the Sic58 trail, with lots of steep drops, gap jumps, and tech sections over its 3.1km length.
Sleeping and eating
Livigno is a border town between Italy and Switzerland, and for a long time was inhabited by hardy smugglers known locally as contrabandéir who crossed the Alpine passes with sugar, coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol, and the village is still to this day a duty-free area. The region really opened up when the Foscagno Pass became usable year-round in 1952, linking the often inaccessible valley to the towns further down the mountain.
Like most Alpine areas, the local food is a heavy mix of cured meats, cheese, preserved vegetables, potatoes, and buckwheat pasta, all carb and fat-heavy meals that will ensure you've plenty of energy for life in the high mountains. One particular local delicacy to check out is salmì di cervo, which is a slow-cooked stew usually made with venison, red wine, pancetta, and carrots. The recipe can vary but is generally made using whatever seasonal products are available at the time.
Livigno also has you covered when you’re not on the trails with 30 bike hotels and apartments that offer benefits such as bike cleaning, laundry, and bike workshops. There are plenty of things to keep you busy on rest days, whether that's checking out the 250-plus duty-free shops or the various wellness and relaxation hotels and centers situated around the large blue lake. If a mountain hike takes your fancy, there are over 1,500km of walking trails. Taking a lift and walking one of the ridges is something not to be missed, such as the walk up to Crap de La Paré. It's a challenging trek, but you will be rewarded with a stunning view down the valley toward the lake and able to take in all the flora and fauna sometimes missed when you're flying down the trail.
Getting there and prices
As a popular winter destination, Livigno is reasonably easy to get to, being within two to three hours of Bergamo and Innsbruck depending on the season and weather if you wanted to fly. The ideal way would be in a van or camper so you can carry all the kit you need for mountain adventures as well as being able to visit other resorts in the area on the same trip.
The bike park is open from June 10 until September 24 (although with ever warmer summers and less frequent snow, resorts have been open later than in recent years), with lift passes costing £41 / €47 for a day pass to £134 / €156.50 for a five-day pass.