Gravity trails — just an idea

I’m sure someone has thought of this already, and that they might already exist. But a quick google search came up fairly empty, and so I am going to tell you what I want for my outdoor and recreational activities. Urgently.

You know how ski lifts work: there are thousands of them, all over the Alps of Europe, all over the most beautiful mountain landscapes of the world. They hoist people up to the peaks, from where they can ski down — many minutes of ecstatic fun. Then up and down again.

But there is one problem: These ski lifts run at full capacity for just a few months of the year. In winter they are crowded, with people queuing up for their turn. In summer, by contrast, the lifts are empty. Some even stop operating, while the others take a few people up, for a stroll on the peak. They spend a couple of hours there, walking around, and then take the lift down again. Too strenuous for most to make the return trip on foot.

So why not make greater use of these lifts in the summer? That is when the mountains are most beautiful, with trees and shrubs and flowers and butterflies, and with animals and birds running and flying around. And nobody to see them.

My proposal: make gently sloping trails down the mountain, just like the ones you see in normal forests. There are machines that build and clear the paths — the infrastructure is already available. I have spent countless hours cycling through forests at ground level. There is little that is more enjoyable.

So what to use the mountain paths for? Well, when the ski lift has taken you to the top you find a service there that will rent you a bicycle, one that is optimised for the mountain paths. I call the paths leading down gravity trails, because they allow you to ride for many miles and for many hours without strain or stress. Gravity does all the work. A trail can be twenty miles long and easily handled by untrained holiday makers —city dwellers, elderly visitors, even children. The hours-long excursion through the forests is consistently downhill and requires no athletic training. Anyone can do it.

The bikes: they don’t even need complicated gears, just good brakes. You rent them for the downhill ride, and they are returned to the top by the lift operators. Visitors can use their own bikes, if they like. The ski lift could have a rack on which you can hang and strap on a bike, and take it up with you.

The gravity trails should of course have resting spots, and vantage points where the view is especially beautiful. And refreshment stations, where you can get water, coffee and snacks. And the trails can be used in winter for skiing amateurs — they will be covered with snow and gently sloping.

I know there are some problems: many skiing mountains are too steep and too rocky, but I have been up enough of them to know that many are perfectly suited. You might have to build a wooden bridge or two, but that’s not a difficult task. Even if only every fifth mountain resort lends itself to building a gravity trail, that would mean hundreds of new recreational facilities for people to enjoy, in Europe — and thousands all around the globe.

This is what a gravity trail could look like [from Rocky Mountain Trail games] — the ski lift take you up and you bicycle your way down.

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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