Åre in northern Sweden is Scandinavia's mountain biking hub. With a bike park, pump tracks and over 100km of natural singletrack to explore, it's one to add to your MTB destination wishlist.
Looking for a bike adventure somewhere a bit different from the usual spots? Åre in northern Sweden is Scandinavia’s mountain biking hub. With one of the largest bike parks in Europe, adventurous trail riding and vibrant bike culture, this little mountain town is a bike destination to put on your bucket list.
Need to know:
- Location: Sweden
- Bike park: Åre Bike Park
- Trails: Natural, manmade and bike park
- Tourist board: Visit Sweden tourist board, Åre Tourist Office
- Events: Åre Bike Festival
Mattias Fredriksson’s midsommar night’s dream
The rubber grips exceptionally well on the granite slabs under my wheels as I try to follow my friend, Åre local Janne Tjärnström, down the mountain.
We are navigating from one slab to the next, and sometimes there is a piece of dirt in between. It’s steep and fast, which makes speed control very difficult. Most of the time, the slabs are smooth as silk, but occasionally loose rocks the size of apples pop up in front of the wheels, which requires quick reactions. This is not a place to ride on a rainy day, that’s for sure.
Slide a grater against your thigh and you’ll understand what it’s like to crash on this surface. Luckily, we manage to stay on the bikes through the steep start, and when the trail eventually flattens out, my arms are shaking, so I stop. Janne laughs.
“Welcome home to Åre, my friend! Something different to that loamy BC dirt, right!?”
After moving to British Columbia about four years ago, I am visiting my old stomping grounds in Sweden. Now I am back for my first summer visit since moving to Canada, and it’s a homecoming precisely to my tastes.
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I moved to Åre at the end of the 90s when I got hired to be an editor for Åka Skidor, one of the oldest ski magazines in the world. I grew up in the south, far from the mountains, but I was a skier and a mountain biker, so my goal was to live in a mountain town. There are not many of them in Sweden; in fact, Åre is pretty much the only one. So, it was an easy decision when the chance came up and even after becoming a freelance photographer and journalist, I kept living there. After 20 years, I moved away in 2017 together with my partner Elle, who is Canadian.
Shortly after I landed in Åre in my early 20s, Janne and I quickly became friends. He introduced me to the local trails and the two of us started to shoot photos together. After a few years of endless rides and many photo shoots together, we began exploring the world with our bikes and always brought home a bit of inspiration from the places we visited. We were especially inspired by our trips to places like Nelson, Squamish, Whistler and Baldface Lodge in British Columbia. So, if you are dropping into a trail named Nelson in Åre Bike Park – you know it’s named after a dog…
A stunning, natural playground
From Åreskutan, the 1,420m-high mountain above town, the views are stunning in all directions. Rolling hills intersected by lakes as far as the eye can see, and, to the west, Jämtland’s highest mountains stack up. Beyond them, higher peaks in Norway are seen on the horizon. In the valley, the river Indalsälven almost looks like a Norwegian fjord. At the 63-parallel north, the tree line is low, which means many bike trails are located in the alpine, where the rocky landscape almost makes you feel like you are riding on the moon.
The raw, natural slab trail called Hällrajd eventually meets a machine-built flow trail called Easy Rider, one of the longest machine-built bike park trails in Europe. With four kilometres of berms, jumps, rollers and slabs, it’s no surprise this is one of Åre’s most popular bike trails.
One of the longest machine-built bike park trails in Europe
After hanging on for dear life at the top, riding on my absolute limit on the slabs, and trying my best not to crash, the flow on Easy Rider feels like a massage. Not that I have a chance to keep up with Janne, who, despite being 57 years old, is still is one of the best and most passionate riders in Åre. But now, I can at least feel comfortable enough to enjoy the beautiful vistas as the fun trail snakes through the rocky, rolling landscape towards the valley.
The epicentre of mountain biking in Sweden
Åre is Sweden’s only real mountain town and the epicentre for the vibrant Swedish ski and outdoor scene. More and more outdoor brands are based there, as are most of Sweden’s many pro athletes in different mountain sports as well as a bunch of photographers, journalists, and other creatives working in outdoor media. As in many mountain towns globally, Åre is also seeing a fast-growing tech company scene. Even Spotify has a hub in Åre nowadays, which has inspired other tech companies to follow.
Åre has been the host for the alpine World Championships three times, and every winter, the alpine World Cup circuit comes to town. With 40,000 guest beds, 42 lifts, almost 100 marked ski runs and over one million skier days, the destination is in a way comparable to Whistler in Canada, Switzerland’s Zermatt or Sölden, Austria. Especially nowadays, when it’s a year-round destination.
Few other mountain towns in Europe have such a solid and deep-rooted bike scene as Åre.
Mountain biking became a natural summer activity in the mid-90s, and like many other ski towns, to begin with it was all about downhill. As one of the first ski resorts globally, Åre started with lift-served mountain biking in 1994. But it would be a lie to say it was a home run right off the bat. It took many years before the sport was taken seriously and got accepted locally.
The next day, Janne and I meet up with Hanna Ovin, another long-time Åre local. Hanna was a promising alpine racer in her teens, and eventually, after a short career as a freeskier, she settled down in Åre. A few friends introduced her to mountain biking during her first summer, and it was an instant love affair.
“It is the perfect sport for me; it complements skiing perfectly”, says the charismatic Hanna, who works as a boot fitter at Åre Skidsport, the oldest ski shop in town. ”I never get bored with biking here. The light is constantly changing, and the quick access to the alpine is so unique”, she explains as we pedal up the mountain from the village square.
We follow a new climbing trail called Husbergsleden, which curls up within an evergreen forest outside the village. The trail is pretty new and not completely settled yet, so it’s a bit tricky to get traction on the steep parts. We struggle for a bit, but soon the terrain gets more mellow, and we find the flow again. After half an hour of climbing in the green room, the trail joins a more established trail, following the remains of an old half pipe.
We are in the heart of the ski area, and on our climb, we ride past snow guns, lift houses and signs for a ski run. Åre is and will always be a ski town, but it has turned into Sweden’s bike capital over time.
Home of the 1996 MTB World Cup
Somehow the most passionate locals pushed hard enough to get the resort to host a World Cup MTB in 1996, which became an essential cornerstone for the future. It was late May when the fastest mountain bikers in the world came to Åre for a legendary downhill race. After a massive snowfall in the weeks prior, the track had to be shovelled out pretty much down to the town square. Incredibly, many spectators skied next to the track.
The UCI was impressed with the organization, the people in Åre were stoked, and three years later, the little Swedish mountain village hosted the 1999 World Championships. After a fantastic event where everything lined up in front of 25,000 spectators, mountain biking got the necessary acceptance in Sweden.
“We had no idea if people would show up at all”, says Janne, who was in charge of the cross-country races during the World Championships. “Mountain biking as a sport was so new back then, especially in Sweden, but almost 25,000 people came, which felt surreal! There were fans from all over Europe and even Brazil; we were blown away!”
Mountain biking as a sport was so new back then, especially in Sweden, but almost 25,000 people came!
The plan with the Worlds in ‘99 was to kickstart mountain biking in Åre. The organization wanted to show off the sport and give a feel for the potential it might have for this little mountain town. “As an organization, we had an assignment to build several trails for a future mountain bike product – so the public could ride and try mountain biking. We did so, but it still took another five years before it started to happen for real. It was a slow process”, remembers Janne.
It was late August when I visited Åre, and it was a special feeling to come back to the place I called home for 20 years. Over the years, I have spent so much time in the mountains around here. I have ridden – and photographed – these trails in all kinds of conditions and seen the development over the years. Now, for the first time being a visitor, it became clearer how Åre has established itself as a world-class bike destination.
A world-class mountain bike destination
Late summer and early fall can be hit or miss in Jämtland county. I was lucky this time; during the two weeks I was in town, it mostly felt like summer, the trails were dry, and I rode my bike almost every day. One particular evening really stands out from my trip.
Together with Hanna and Janne, we climbed past Hummelstugan, a mountain restaurant with a smashing view, and hit the alpine, it was already 6pm. The panorama view from the restaurant was simply astonishing; Lake Åresjön glittering down in the valley; the evening light casting long shadows on the mountains, and the golden hour fast approaching.
We continued our climb for another 30 minutes until we reached Konjak Sten (Swedish for the Cognac rock). This massive rock got its name from old tales saying hikers used to rest here to have a strengthened nip of cognac before continuing to the top of Mount Åreskutan.
Unfortunately, we have no cognac available this evening, so some water and a piece of chocolate to share amongst the group had to suffice.
As we began the ride down, we followed the trail Hjulingen towards the west. This is an old classic, known to be one of the more technical trails around. With 29ers and improved skills, we have no problem tackling the rocks and brake bumps.
It was cold, but the beautiful landscape around us made up for the chilling breeze. Hanna led us down the trail as we rode towards the sunset. When she skidded in the corners, the dust created a yellow trail behind her bike. It looked so cool from my perspective behind her. After a few technical sections in the alpine, the trail became smoother, and our speed accelerated with confidence. We covered a lot of ground quickly, and as many times before, we ended up coming down to the village in the dark. On such a stunning day, it didn’t matter at all.
These days Åre is a world-class mountain bike destination, and even if most of the guests are Scandinavians, the visiting numbers from other parts of Europe are growing, thanks to the impressive terrain on offer; five lifts serve about 35 trails and 40km of designated bike park trails.
Five lifts serve about 35 trails and 40km of designated bike park trails.
Another 20 trails and 100km of singletrack await mountain bikers who prefer to pedal. When trail-riding and mountain biking as a whole has gone viral in the past, trendy Sweden catches on. Slowly mountain biking has become a serious topic on the board meetings for Skistar, the big stock market-listed company that runs the resort. The result is a more significant push for mountain biking than ever before.
“The attitude towards mountain biking has changed so much. The most significant difference is the lift company’s approach and the destination as a whole”, says Janne. “Åre used to be a ski town only, and many businesses and hotels were shut down in the summertime. Nowadays, the town has realized the summer season might be as important as the winter in the long term.”
The latest addition to Åre’s mountain biking portfolio is a trail centre for cross-country and trail riding with wide, flowy trails featuring banked berms and small jumps. With support from European Union funds, the destination company, the local municipality and the lift company are spending about $1.5m US on a huge project to develop mountain biking. This is by far the most significant investment in mountain biking ever in Åre.
Bike parks, trail centres, pump tracks and more
Almost daily on my visit last summer, I rode over to Björnen Trail Center to ride and catch up with friends. With ten trails already in place, the Björnen Trail Center is already a success. Here thrilled kids, happy parents and new mountain bikers getting a feel for the sport in a state-of-the-art venue. Simultaneously, these trails are super fun to ride for experienced riders, which made me return there many times during my visit.
The most remarkable thing was to see some of my old friends, who never even tried the sport before, now mountain biking because their kids got into it. That’s precisely how you get community engagement, which will root the passion for mountain biking in Åre even more.
The increasing local interest in mountain biking has shaped Åre as a mountain bike destination over time among all ages and genders. The local bike club Åre Bergscyklister (ÅBC) now has about 650 members, an impressive number given that the town has just 2,000 inhabitants.
Since 2010, Åre Bergscyklister has put on Åre Bike Festival, a weeklong mountain bike event with everything from grassroot demos to a whip-off competition, enduro races and a photo event that eventually turned into a video challenge. Mainly it’s just a week of riding bikes, with good vibes and a celebration of the two-wheel enigma we call mountain biking.
The annual festival is one of the summer’s highlights, with thousands of people coming from all over Scandinavia to participate. The short movies and photos from the event have created a lot of attention and have helped put Åre on the global mountain bike map.
Besides the bike festival, ÅBC offers group rides and a fast-growing youth program with sessions at the two pump tracks and easy bike park trails several times a week. The general approach in the club is completely inclusive, which balances the town’s highly competitive focus in winter.
Åre has always been known as Scandinavia’s alpine skiing hub, and sometimes it feels like half the town was, or still is, part of a national or regional team of some kind. If it’s not alpine racing or skier-cross it’s slopestyle or freestyle. The strive to reach the top creates high expectations and pressure from an early age. It seems like mountain biking has become the vital counterpoint, reminding everyone of the importance of simply having fun.
In the summertime, almost every other household in Åre has something to do with mountain biking. The bike park and the trail center employ many people between the trail crews, lift staff and administration personnel. There are a handful of bike shops and almost as many guiding companies and bike schools. Even if it doesn’t compare to the hectic winters, the summer business is growing fast, and mountain biking is the driving force.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden my mountain bike in many places around the world during the last 25 years. But, I still rank Åre very highly as a bike destination. Even after moving away , with all of the amazing terrain in British Columbia on my doorstep, I can honestly say Åre is one of my favourite places to ride a bike. The unique bike park trails, the easy access to the alpine and the many possibilities for adventure trail riding in the wilderness make this place very special. And when the sun barely sets in midsummer, the opportunity for riding is almost endless.
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Essential travel information
Fancy recreating this adventure for yourself? If you fancy a bike adventure in Åre, here’s all the essential info you need to get yourself out there.
How to get to Åre
There is a train station in the middle of the village with good connections from Sweden’s capital Stockholm. The closest airport is in Östersund, less than one hour away. If you want to make a road trip and see a bit more of the country, fly to Stockholm and rent a car. Åre is about seven hours north of the airport Arlanda just outside Stockholm.
Where to stay in Åre
Hotel Åregården is classic, modern and exclusive all at the same time. Right at the town square, it’s located in Åre’s oldest building from 1895. In the same building, you find several of their restaurants and a cozy bar. Side note: their breakfast is the best in town, and the library, where the walls are covered with turn-of-the-century paintings, is one of the most pleasant spaces in town.
Hotel Granen is another classic hotel in Åre, and with its location, a bit above the town – just next to the bike trails – it’s in a perfect place for a mountain biker. Granen has been an institution in Åre since 1916, and some people refer to the hotel as “Åre’s living room.” It has a homey feeling, especially in the lounge by the fireplace and the new stellar bar. Granen also has an excellent restaurant.
Where to eat and drink in Åre
Vinbaren at Åregården is a wine bar and restaurant. This place could have been located in Stockholm or New York City and done well, but now it’s a few pedal strokes from the bike trails in the middle of this little Swedish mountain town. Mandatory visit required.
Wersen’s is a brasserie with continental style. They have the best pizza in town and serve traditional Swedish dishes such as reindeer, Arctic char and classic Swedish meatballs.
Parkvillan is Åre’s only gastrobar and located just below the town square in Åre it’s easy to find. Parkvillan has the best beer selection in town. They brew their own beer in the basement and offer all other local beers on tap. If you don’t dig the local beer, Parkvillan also have another 10 beers on tap and about 100 kinds of beer on bottle, so if you like to drink beer, this is the place! They also have the best burgers in town. This is where most locals hang out so pay a visit for the vibes.