Wisconsin’s Newest Downhill Park A Winner

Matt cleaning the “whale tail” feature at Little Switz.

Bike Fed’s Resident Dirt Tester Matt Gissibl can confirm that gravity remains in full effect in Wisconsin after yesterday’s tour of the mountain bike trails at Alpine Valley and Little Switzerland. Matt ended an awesome day with only one fully functional arm, but a little ibruprofin and I’m sure he will be back out there arguing with gravity in a couple days. Wednesday was Matt’s “Hank Aaron” birthday (he’s 44), so he and I decided to make a day of riding and photographing the cross country trails at Alpine Valley and the new lift-served downhill/free ride trails at Little Switzerland we had not visited yet. Tough day of work, I know, but someone’s got to do it.

Joel from Fyxation adding a little style to his exit off the whale tale.

We invited the crew from Fyxation to come along to do some product testing with their new Blackhawk Carbon fat bike. It didn’t take much arm twisting to get Nick and Joel to agree to meet us at Little Switzerland around 4 PM. We rolled up and Little Switz owner Mike Schmitz took us out to the trails to meet the brains and brawn behind the cool new mountain bike park. Gavin MacLeod and Chad Kempf told us they wanted to build some of the trails that they like to ride so they don’t have to drive up to Marquette and Copper Harbor every other weekend. The two have spent the last three summers building along with some dedicated volunteers. While the mountain bike park at Little Switz is not finished, they have enough cool runs and features that they started up the lift and opened the trails to the public for a day recently in September, and plan to have another day October 11th.

Gavin MacLoed makes the road gap look easy, but you could drive a truck under him!

I think you can see by these photographs that these guys really got it right! There are some seriously big features at Little Switzerland. While all of them are well designed, constructed and tested, Gavin and crew are still dialing in the gaps and lines and building some new stuff. These purpose-built trails offer fast and flowy runs that were fun for me to ride, even though I am not a big hit downhill rider, but the park is really built for people who like to get both wheels in the air as much as possible. The park recommends people ride with long-travel full suspension bikes and body armor.

The crew at Little Switzerland is maximizing their acreage and building trails and features everywhere they can.

While the trails and features at Little Switz are amazing, the other thing that stood out to me was the positive vibe and passion for mountain biking that permeates the place. This is a little different from other professionally built mountain bike parks that I have been to where the contractor hands over their creation to the park management. While a well run mountain bike park is always fun, the enthusiasm at Little Switz is contagious because the guys who build and maintain the trails at Little Switzerland are out there riding along side the park visitors every day.

Dave Barnett, who you may recognize from Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park, gaps the Cannon with no trouble. He credits his off hours at Rays for all his skills.

Even big drops like this one are so well designed that they are easier to clean than they look. Joel was nervous about taking this one without any rear suspension other than the cushion offered by the Maxxis Mammoth on his Fyxation Blackhawk, but he rolled this line with no problem on his first attempt.

About 90 people turned out for Little Switzerland’s first lift serviced freeride day, and the response was so positive that they are going to run the lifts and open the trails one more day this year before they switch gears to prepare for their bread and butter ski season.  If you have any interest in downhill, freeride or fast flowy gravity runs, you won’t want to miss the chance to ride there Oct. 11th, from 10AM to 4PM. If you go, remember to ride within your limits, maybe bring some body armor, and thank Gavin, Chad and the rest of the crew at Little Switz for helping to take Wisconsin mountain biking to that next level!

Before Matt and I got to Little Switzerland, we warmed up on the cross-country trails at Alpine Valley. It is no wonder that the same positive vibe pervades the riding at Alpine because the Jamison Stachel, assistant manager, and the other guys at Alpine ride what they build. They are often out there on their days off, just to ride and tweak their trails. In fact the reason they don’t print a map for the 7 miles or so of single track they have is because they are constantly building more trail and modifying the lines they have to make them better.

Matt carving one of the berms at Alpine.

The riding through the old growth forest at Alpine is beautiful right not, but I can’t wait to get back out there when the leaves change.

What sets Alpine apart from other cross-country trails in southeastern Wisconsin is the climbing. Even fit riders are going to feel worked after a couple of loops around the mountain trails. Put in three loops and you can call me cooked, and crack open a beer! The other nice thing about riding at Alpine is that it only costs $2! Sign the waiver and kick in two bucks and you can ride until your legs give out.

Despite having the potential to be another downhill/freeride destination, for now Alpine only offers buffed out XC trails.  Jamo definitely has ideas about harnessing gravity outside the ski season, and even adding more berms and flow trails, but it will take some time before we see any of that out there. Today, Alpine Valley remains a diamond in the rough, but it is still a diamond, so I highly encourage you to ride the trails there.

Why not try the upcoming WEMS Championship race, Oct. 4th? Although snow is where the money is at Alpine, Jamison told me we can expect a groomed fat bike trail this winter too! I can’t wait for it to snow!


About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

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