Cortina Calling: Bikes, Booze, and Bruises in the Heart of the Dolomites

Getting acquainted with Trek’s latest in style in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy.

By Kevin Rouse
Photos: Sterling Lorence and Dan Milner

With nearly every muscle in my arms on the verge of cramping, there were a lot of thoughts going through my head, none of which the folks at Trek were probably intending, what with Bike having been invited to Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy for the sole purpose of forming some first impressions aboard a few of the stalwarts in their 2013 trail lineup. Yet, there wasn't a whole lot of actual saddle time being racked up as I was portaging a 2013 Rumblefish Pro up a craggy escarpment in the heart of the Dolomites--and frying my spindly cyclist's upper body in the process.

A fair bit of portaging was required between exposed bits and near-vertical scrambles up certain sections of the “trail.” Photo: Milner

After using what little oxygen I could harvest from the thin mountain air to unleash a fusillade of f-bombs and a few other choice snippets, I tried to reassure myself that it would all be worth it. If what we were told the night before actually turned out to be true, the hike-a-bike (and the lung-busting fireroad climb that preceded it) should be more than worth it, for Chris Winters of Big Mountain Adventures--the man appointed by Trek to make sure us journalists had a good time and nary a bit of logistics to worry about, had purportedly leveraged his smooth-talking, softspoken Canadian lexicon with the local authorities to allow us access to some virgin singletrack normally not open to two-wheeled heathen such as ourselves.

Straight up the middle. In this case, the singletrack really was greener on the other side. Photo: Milner

But, my overly-trained skepticism wouldn’t seem to let me believe it. That is, until we finally reached a saddle nesteled int the ridgeline between two particularly imposing peaks. Only then, when we were finally awarded views of a sweeping valley on the other side, almost imperceptibly laced with a ribbon of thin singletrack, did I start to forgive Trek and Mr. Winters for their exercise in sadism--virgin singletrack that looked that damn good should was certainly worth a bit of effort. Plus, supposedly, half the fun is in the chase. Or something like that.

A group of winded journalists catches their breath before the plunge. Photo: Lorence

Our less-than-pleasant courtship over though, it was time to enter into a blissful matrimony of bikes, gravity and pristine singletrack--lots of it. Chunderous scree fields gave way to loamy singletrack as we descended down the valley. While the trail surely wasn’t built with bikes in mind--they’re technically not allowed on it--it offered no shortage of stoke as it criss-crossed the river that meandered down the valley.

Vast rock fields eventually gave way to a fine bit of fast, loamy singletrack and a bevy of ice-cold creek crossings. Photo: Lorence

The fact that Gary Fisher was on hand to watch yours truly almost slide down a waterfall during a poorly executed creek crossing made the whole event just that much more surreal. But it also made it easy to pick his brain on everything from the beer list at Zeitgeist to the intricacies of the G2 geometry he helped dream up for the Rumblefish (and Trek’s other 29ers) we were using to wring out every shred of radness from the stellar singletrack we were riding.

Said singletrack, and burly terrain forced us to get acquainted quite quickly with both the 2013 Rumblefish and the all-new Fuel EX, so look for our First Impressions posts on both in the days to come, but for now, here’s a chance to soak up some of the stunning scenery of the Italian Dolomites for yourself, courtesy of Bike contributing photographer Dan Milner and senior photographer Sterling Lorence.

Tunnels built into the mountainside helped break up the monotony of leg-searing fireroad climbs--and provided a place to catch your breath away from the eyes of those already a few switchbacks higher up the mountain. Photo: Lorence

While the tunnels were a welcome sight, the trenches still left from WWI were much more fun to ride through. While we love our wide bars, thankfully we weren’t running Bontrager’s 820-millimeter-wide Rhythms as clearance was already tight with the 730-millimeter Bontrager Race Lite bars spec’d on the Rumblefish Pro.

An imposing peak sneaks a peek through the clouds. Photo: Lorence

Even the climbs were positively idyllic. Photo: Lorence

Gary Fisher rides one of his own down some hearty Italian singletrack. Photo: Lorence

And back at the refugio he also proved that he has some big style off the bike as well. Photo: Lorence

Beers are at the foundation of every good planning session. Photo: Lorence

However, they may also necessitate a few double checks on the trail. Photo: Lorence

Nothing fuels a hearty exaggeration of the days exploits on the trail like a few carafes of good old Italian vino.

Man soup and a few beers proved to be just the cure for ailing muscles left bruised by inevitable encounters with the rocky terrain.