Written by Sophie Roberts // Photography by Skyrise Productions
Produced in Partnership with Switzerland Tourism
It’s late September and it feels like the world is in technicolour. The air is crisp and cool, the sun is bright and warm. Everything is breathtakingly beautiful, especially in that beautiful alpine glow that hugs the hours around dawn and dusk. The Stoneman Glaciera mountain biking challenge covers 127km and 4700m of elevation gain. It is surrounded by 4000m peaks and takes in not one, but two jaw-dropping glaciers.
Over breakfast we discuss about our intentions for the challenge and it’s unanimous: to ride our bikes, and have fun. I am cycling with Juliet Elliot, Jenny Graham, and Emily Chappel. Between us we have cycled to all corners of the globe, won races, and broken records. Today we embark on an unforgettable adventure amidst the snow-capped peaks and emerald valleys of Switzerland. We ride as a four taking in the sights and chatting as we go. There’s something so unique about being with other women in the mountains, doing what we love. Everyone has their different strengths and with this group it immediately feels like any ego has been left behind.
Being the least experienced mountain biker of the group, I take my lead from the others and watch in awe as they navigate tricky terrain. ‘How do you do that?’ I exclaim. It’s not just the terrain that’s tricky on this route, it’s the exposure and the risk of what could happen if something goes wrong.
I’m predominantly a road cyclist, but nothing has improved my ability to tolerate risk in adventure sports like mountain biking. My natural urge is to put the brakes on and do whatever I can to stay in complete control. But the truth is, the more you try to be in control the more likely you are to fall. Mountain biking is all about flow and finding that flow state is a huge passion of mine. So much so that I am a certified Flow Coach helping athletes and professionals, to find flow state as it’s here that we can tap into our optimum performance.
As I challenge myself to try cycling down sections of single track that, frankly, scare the bejesus out of me… I remind myself to trust and let go. Trust not just myself, but trust the bike. This is what it is designed and built to do. And it works! We all love to feel like we’re making progress and there’s something so deeply satisfying about cycling down a section that a few hours earlier would have been an absolute no.
Like cycling down steps. The first time I see Juliet and Jenny do it, I am blown away. The second time I see them do it, I want to know how they did it. ‘Imagine you are cycling off a curb, just do that over and over,’ says Juliet. ‘In fact, just lean back and don’t really do anything – let it flow!’ Enthused by her support I decide to give it a go, and I did it! As we cycle on, I can feel the support and strength in our group, like we’ve got each others’ back, and it spurs me on to challenge myself more and more.
The brain and body are incredible at adapting and creating new neural and physiological pathways, often we have to get out of our own way and let it happen. Interspersed with badass biking is storytelling and laughter. All of our different personalities in a melting pot mixed with heady mountain air, jaw-dropping views and endorphins – the best combination!
Finally we arrive at the pièce de resistance, the Stoneman Glacier, which feels like the perfect opportunity to tuck into our packed lunch, before cruising back to our hotel through the stunning Aletsch Arena. By the end of the day I am covered in bruises after my various falls, but proud of how I challenged myself. After 40km of the Stoneman Glaciera we are all absolutely knackered and dreaming of fondue.
We take the bus to Saas Fee, hitching our bikes onto the back of the bus. Somehow, shared adventure opens us up: we create trust and with trust comes vulnerability. Despite being tired, conversation delves into powerful and deep topics around mental health and how we can stay true to ourselves as our lives and identities shift.
Ready for the big fondue feast of dreams, four hungry cyclists tuck into the hotel’s Thai dinner instead. Bellies and hearts, full we go to bed, ready for another day exploring.
Whilst the first day of our trip felt like summer, day two feels much more wintry with low cloud shrouding the mountains surrounding Saas Fee. Today is all about downhill. Exploring Hosaas at 3200m, we find the brand-new Trift Flowtrail and spend the morning there. It’s a chance to practise corners, jumps and really get into flow state, with far less exposure than the big mountain trails of the previous day. We welcome the change in challenge and pace.
The classic Schnitzel and chips I have for lunch is literally a mountain of food and has us in fits of laughter. Back at the hotel, we shower and change to get ready for our final feast, delighted to hear the elusive fondue is on tonight’s menu. Tucking into dripping hot cheese with my new pals, I think how lucky I am to have had this experience with these incredible women.
The following day, Jenny and Juliet have to head back home, but Emily and I venture into the heart of Saas Fee to take on a different challenge: via ferrata. Clipped into metal ropes, pitons, ladders, and bridges we criss-crossed the gorge, navigating zip wires and abseils. From the security of a harness clipped into a wire, it felt like a great way to increase resilience and risk tolerance – whilst still having a great day in the mountains.
The brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. Therefore, by telling myself ‘I can’t do that’, the reality is I won’t be able. What has been so powerful about cycling and climbing with these three remarkable women is that they show me it can be done and how to do it. Our journey through Switzerland was not just about exploring a beautiful country. It was about discovering the strength and resilience of women, the beauty of camaraderie, and the transformative power of adventure.