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Winterberg advertises itself as the biggest and most versatile bike park in Germany. It posts 9 trails and has maximum vertical descent of around 175 meters. We spent a few days in Bike Park Winterberg on May 1-5.

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[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]

Culinary dreams
This trip was not about culinary aspects of a good life, but we still found some decent basic food in ordinary local restaurants. Upon arrival, we went to a pizzeria. Unfortunately, we don't recall the name of the restaurant but it was located next to Eiscafe Rialto on Untere Pforte. Their pizzas received our thumbs up. Actually, the same pizzeria was later on recommended to us by a fellow rider in the bike park. We also got some decent stakes at Blackwater, an Irish pub in the downtown. Naturally, we made sure not to miss daily schnizels in two restaurant in the bike park: Panorama Cafe and at Restaurant Bobhaus both of which have nice views over the valley. And of course, when in Germany you shouldn’t forget to enjoy some tasty wurst with sauerkraut and some great German beer.

What to make of it?
Overall, we feel that our trip to Winterberg was a good kick-off for this year's season. Riding in a bike park gave the maximum exposure to vertical within a given time. While we ended up riding mostly only two trails in the bike park, they were in a good condition and fun to ride. The park's bike repair shop was service minded and reasonably priced when we needed a change of brake pads. The only major negative was the riding on Saturday, when the bike park was packed and lift queues almost unbearable for our taste. Maybe it was because of the season had just started or maybe it is equally frustrating every weekend during the season, we don't know.

While happy with the trip, it is always interesting to ride in new locations. Therefore, for the season opening 2014 we will again be looking for other alternatives.

This was the final instalment of our travel report to Bike Park Winterberg.


[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]

Let's go to sauna!
As a Finn, you like a sauna. In Winter because it feels great after a chilly day. And in summer... well, because it feels equally great. Even those days when it happens to be warm outside. Finns's obsession to the sauna can be described by noting that it is common that even small (50-60 m2) newly built apartments have their own electric saunas. In each and every apartment, that is. For foreigners that is quite difficult to understand. But what about the sauna at its best? A traditional sauna with a fireplace (i.e. not electric) at your own summer house next to one of Finland's 188 thousand lakes. With preferably no neighbours within a perimeter of 1km. As a comparison, in neighbouring Sweden saunas are extremely rare in apartments (except for some newly build, large, luxury ones). And in houses saunas are usually used as a storage space for crappy stuff that you want to throw away.

Acknowledging certain similarities between the Finns and Germans, we hoped to find a good sauna in even Winterberg. After some searching on the web, the most potential was at Landhotel Grimmeblick, located some 7km from our apartment. After a hard day’s riding on Friday, we took our car and headed to Grimmeblick with cautious hopes. As a pleasant surprise, Grimmeblick had both steam and Finnish (electric) saunas available for a negligible admission of EUR 10 / person for a 4 hour sauna and pool session. After some two hours, we were satisfied and ready for a dinner. We decided to came back again on Friday.

On our visit on Friday, we found and became curious about an exiting looking hut standing on Grimmeblick’s backyard, just behind the outdoor pool. Checking it out we founds some really serious stuff: a traditional Finnish sauna with a proper fireplace (not electric)! We felt ridiculously happy when we put on the fire and heated the sauna to some 80C, in the meantime enjoying a cold beer or two. Overall, we can warmly recommended a visit to Landhotel Grimmeblick for all sauna lowers when in Winterberg.

[Part 1]
[Part 2]

May 2-4 - Riding in Bike Park Winterberg
Due to the late spring, we the season opening in Winterberg was postponed at least by two weeks. The bike park had just opened on April 27. Upon our arrival, all trails were not open.

According to Winterberg’s trail map, the bike park has a total of 9 trails. Our Suunto Ambit indicated that the vertical descent from the top to the bottom of the hill was 175m. Not huge in absolute terms but clearly more than an around 100-120m vertical in bike parks of the Southern Finland. More than the vertical, we were impressed by the good profile of the hill which did not involve flat parts as many hills in FInland, for example.

We started by riding “Giro Free Cross”, a 1300m long track with 33 banked turns (according to the trail map) and a few tables. This trail utilised very effectively every meter of the 175m descent with no speed-killing flat sections except in the very beginning. We found this track very effective for training high speed cornering on a smooth and hard surface. This trail is very accessible also for beginners.

Another nice trail was “iXS Downhill”, a natural trail with the same 175m decent and a length of 1000m. We found this trail very entertaining with number of gaps, rock gardens and banked turns. All more difficult sections had chicken ways for beginners, making the track accessible also for less experienced riders.

While some some other tracks were open as well, some were still closed at this time. We ride almost solely the two already mentioned trails. We would have liked to spend some time on “4X” track but it was unfortunately closed expect on the day of our arrival, when we didn’t ride.

At the time of our visit, there were two lifts running, a chair and a drag lift. May 2 and 3 (Thursday and Friday) were great days for riding with practically no queues at all. On Saturday, the park started to get packed after 11 am. By noon, waiting times to the chair lift were easily 15min. This felt really depressing considering that tracks themselves are relatively short and fast to ride from top to bottom. While we spent loads of time in the bike park on Thursday and Friday, we didn’t tolerate waiting times on Saturday for more than two or three hours worth of riding.

[Part 1]

May 1 - Arrival to Winterberg

We are travelling quite extensively (mostly not MTB related) and usually like to minimise our time at the airport. However, traveling with a special package we decided to be at the Helsinki airport in good time ahead of our flight and thankfully so. There was not single parking lot available for a van at the airport area and we had to leave the van further away outside the airport. Thankfully we had time for the extra 20 minutes that it took. After the check-in and the security control we enjoyed a breakfast at the Finnair lounge while watching our bags to be loaded to an Embraer 190 just opposite the lounge. Funnily, the lady at the check-in desk had asked us to confirm with the flight crew that our bike boxes have been indeed loaded to the plane. Well, we got that visually confirmed. Our flight landed in Dusseldorf some 20 minutes behind the schedule at 9.30 am on May 1. That was fine considering that we had booked a rental car at the airport at 10 am.

Our car was a VW Caddy that was just large enough to accommodate our bike boxes and other luggege. Everything was made easier by the car being just wide enough to take our bike boxes from the side door leaving the cargo space at the back of the car for other stuff.

Picturesque villages of Sauerland
From the Dusseldorf airport it took some two hours to drive via Dortmund to Winterberg. This was the first time for us in this part of Germany and we were kind of surprised how nice the scenery was. Small villages were scattered in valleys and looked nice from a distance from the autobahn. Almost all houses were white with brown roofs and corners. We had been expecting a much more flat scenery in this part of Germany. Those better educated in geography probably know that Winterberg is located in the rural, hilly area of Sauerland and is one of the major ski resort in central Germany.

Approaching to Winterberg a smaller road took us through one or two picturesque villages confirming our earlier observations. Everything was nice and clean and houses looked like as they were taken from postcards.

In Winterberg, GPS guided us to an address near the main square where we picked up the keys to our rental apartment. While we had planned to do some riding already on May 1, we decided to spend the afternoon mounting and adjusting our bikes and equipment as a preparation the the season's first ride next morning.

Our apartment was very conveniently located just 150m away from the bike park. Strangely, while there were sheets for beds, some essential like towels, shower gel and toilet paper were missing. What’s the logic behind that?

The Scandinavian biking season tends to start late in the spring. This year, start of the riding season has been further delayed by the spring arriving even later than usual. In Scandinavia, most bike parks don’t open before late-May or June.

Keen on starting the season earlier than what is possible here up north, we decided to kick off this year's season in Winterberg, Germany. We booked flights and accommodation already some time in February/March for May 1-5. In fact, season's premiere even in Bike Park Winterberg was delayed until April 27, which according to our understanding is a few weeks later than their usual early-April opening. After all, we were lucky that the park finally opened just a few days ahead of our scheduled May 1 arrival.

Why Winterberg?
We wanted find a place that is accessible from Stockholm and Helsinki in terms of flight schedules considering that we had a possibility to spend four nights at the destination. To maximise the amount of vertical and in order to make most out of the trip we preferred to consider only lift assisted riding for this particular trip. With these criteria we found Bike Park Winterberg an interesting alternative. Its location in less than a two-hour ride by a car from the Dusseldorf international airport and flight schedules that were suitable for us made it a quite ideal choice for this year's season premiere.

April 30 - May Day Eve in Helsinki
Our flight from Helsinki to Dusseldorf was scheduled to depart very early in the morning on May 1. We arrived from Stockholm to Helsinki a night before, on the May Day Eve. May Day’s Eve really is a very special for Finns. You may have heard stories about serious party in streets of downtown Helsinki. Indeed, it can be a very involving experience for foreigners to see the downtown crowded by people from early teens to pensioners. Behaviour of usually quite reserved Finns on May Day’s Even tends to be heavily influenced by a very liberal use booze. Some streets in the downtown area on that day are blocked from cars for partying. This really is a big event, probably the biggest party of the Finnish calendar year. Many university students start their celebrations already a week in advance, rendering the whole event a real endurance test. Most teenagers probably start early in the afternoon while some odd late-comers may wait until the early evening before getting drunk in public. Depending on the weather, streets in the downtown area may be occupied by tens of thousands of drunken and unpredictable locals. For foreigners, it is recommended to watch out for locals who may have a tendency to turn aggressive later at night as the alcohol content in the blood rises. Beware also that this is one of those days when leaking the beer overdose of all over the pavements is considered fine by the police.

With these thoughts in mind, we were quite excited but also slightly concerned when we were sitting in a cab and finally arriving to our hotel in the downtown sometime at around 20 CET in what appeared to be a quite chilly evening. To our surprise, everything seemed strangely calm when we arrived. Honestly, we had been expecting more people, more action and more the sense on danger. It remains open for a debate if the Finns have learned some of the more civilised European drinking habits over the past years or whether it was a result of the chilly weather that we didn't witness what we really had expected. After checking in at our hotel, we felt comfortable to take a walk outside for a quick dinner before an early bedtime ahead of a 05:30 CET wake up the next morning for an early flight to Germany.

A word about Helsinki hotels
Speaking of Helsinki downtown hotels, there are several quite nice alternatives nowadays. We stayed at Hotel Glo Kluuvi, located at Kluuvikatu street at the very heart of the city, just next to the city’s most upmarket hotel Kämp. Hotel Glo Kluuvi opened its doors a few years ago and has since been one of our favourites when visiting Helsinki. Despite being already a few years old, it is still in a pretty nice condition. Unfortunately, for some reason they re-built the reception and lounge area of the hotel earlier this year. Gone is the previous lounge bar that we regarded as one of the nicest lounge bars among Helsinki hotels. The new setup has a quite fresh Scandinavian design compared to the previously cozy, Spanish inspired style. Design aside, there is not much bar to talk about anymore. Most of the previous bar estate has been taken over by a restaurant which was previously located in the second floor of the building. The old restaurant premises heve been converted to a conference center. While none of this is a big thing for us, especially considering this trip, we were still disappointed to see the nice and lively lounge bar gone. However, this hotel still remains one of our Helsinki favourites, even though much less so now than before. For those looking for a quality but not too pretentious accommodation in a downtown Helsinki, we can recommend Hotel Haven which is slightly fancier with an almost as good location than Hotel Glo Kluuvi.

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