Cycling Alps in Winter - Advice sought

Cycling Alps in Winter - Advice sought

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Posts: 6
2 posts
new member
Oct 16, 2016 - 8:21 PM

Hi there,

I have been cycling for a bit over a year now and am looking to give the Alps in winter a shot. I was hoping to get your advice on which routes/roads/passes that would be open and possible to ride.

My gear is a full 4 season setup, with a 4 season Hilleberg Nammatj tent and clothing to take me to about -30C. I can carry up to 8L of water/Fuel and 10L of food. I ride a fat bike with 4 inch tyres and will be getting winter tyres (5 inches) to gain maximum traction. I rode the rocky mountains in winter and Iceland to the end of winter.

I am aware most of the passes will be closed so I have set my sights on finding routes that will be: open, rideable and with limited traffic (I definitely don't want to be putting myself or others in danger while I'm on the road).

I have been putting a list together of passes in the Alps open all winter. Most of my sources for this list are for motor bikes (not pedal bikes) so I expect the list to be shorter again once I find the ones you can cycle over. I have listed below all the passes.

Would you guys have any tips on particular roads/passes that would be worth a shot. I don't have any particular start or finish point, I just wanted to spend a few months there riding and enjoying immersing myself in it all.



The passes:

  • Kaunertal
  • Otztal
  • Arlberg pass
  • Lautaret
  • Montgenevre
  • Bernina Pass
  • Julier Pass
  • Simplon Pass
  • Foscagno
  • Falzarego
  • Fedaia
  • Gardena
  • Pordoi
  • Sella
  • Valparola
  • Achen Pass
  • Riedberg pass
  • Reschen pass
  • Malojapass
  • Ofen Pass
  • Flüela Pass
  • Julier Pass
  • Ursprung Pass
  • Col de la Forclaz
  • Col des Montets
2558 posts
top member
Oct 17, 2016 - 10:21 PM in reply to Lukems

Hi Luke-

Welcome to my Swiss alps. Your plans, capabilities, and journey(s) are well beyond anything I could manage, and I have never looked into the routes that you seek to travel to learn about their Winter status.

Off hand, I 'm a bit surprised that some of the passes on your list are open, although the Romans did like the Julier.

Since you have experience, it will not surprise you that you may be on icy or slick road surfaces.

I'll keep my eyes open for relevant information, bit Ii suspect that I'm not going to be much help. Llet's see what others come up with.

Probably, somewhere, there are links to Swiss cycling clubs. The Swiss are thoroughly into clubs for everything...

I've asked a Swiss friend to comment.


Last modified on Oct 18, 2016 - 12:50 AM by Slowpoke
7507 posts
expert &
Oct 18, 2016 - 9:47 AM

Hi Luke,

You have impressive plans! Do keep in mind that the major passes like Julier, Maloja and Simplon will be quite busy with traffic. It won't be an occasional car passing by. Unlike Iceland I suppose. Some of these roads also have tunnels. You'll have to assume drivers will not count on bikers on the road so this can be quite dangerous. Smaller roads will be different but I don't know any from personal experience in winter. The website might be helpful.

2558 posts
top member
Oct 18, 2016 - 4:29 PM in reply to Lukems

Hi Luke (and Arno -

I passed the question on to a Swiss friend who is active in hiking and travel throughout Switzerland in all seasons. He is not a cyclist.

Here is his reply, in two parts-

<<"He won’t meet -30°C temperatures in the Alps, at places where there are roads. He will find opportunities to refill his water bottles after having used less than two liters. If he doesn’t want to cycle on high traffic roads, and at the same time wants to do his cycling in the winter, he is running into a contradiction: the few roads that are open are used by trucks and buisses essential to bring food, fuel, school pupils etc. to the last village of remote valleys. On the other hand, if he did his trip between May and November he would have access to small mountain passes, still paved, or maybe unpaved, but with almost no trafic (such as the Sanetsch between Bern and Valais).

So much for good advice. Now, great inventions and discoveries were made by unreasonable people who did not listen to good advice! So:

A list of the Swiss mountain pass roads, their max. slope and whether opened or closed, if so when, can be found on the web pages of the TCS (=Swiss AA). Available in the three Swiss languages, not English, but it is fairly easy to figure out the months names. That’s here: foroute/cols-suisses.php

I have noted on the pass list in your message the finding on Swiss passes, most are open throughout the year. Of course this is an indication only, the police makes decisions based on the actual weather conditions. Sometimes they close the road at the announced time in spite of there being no snow, to carry out road maintenance jobs. I would strongly advice not to go on closed roads, the avalanche protection structures on roads are insufficient to protect against winter avalanches. If you break that rule, at least don’t go alone.

From my motorbike days I know some of the passes in the other countries. No idea about they being open or closed in the winter. I suppose the Reschen Pass (Austria/Italy), which is at a low elevation, would be open throughout the year.">>

<<"He can also check out the site of MeteoSwiss:

www.meteoswiss.admin.c h/home.html?tab=alarm

Also available in English. I suppose that « Slippery Roads » could be useful, but only for short-term information (up to one week). As right now there is no slippery road in all Switzerland, it does not look impressive. MeteoSwiss also has an app for smartphones. Very useful, and rather accurate.">>

Arno- I am recalling my drives through mountain tunnels on the traverses of the passes in the winter (or other seasons). If they are long they stink from exhaust fumes , and have no special provisions for cyclists, if I recall correctly.

I suppose that bicycles have the same status as automobiles on those roads, but I'd not want to be in one of the long uphill tunnels.


2 posts
new member
Oct 21, 2016 - 10:17 AM

Hi All,

My apologies for the slow reply, I have been riding through Northern France the last few days. Overcast, windy, wet, rain on and off all day...plenty of fun to be had :D

First of all, thank you for the detailed and quick replies, it far exceeded my expectations. I really appreciate it.

Arno - Agreed on the busy roads. Iceland was quite the opposite. When summer arrives (June) there is a torrent of tourists, I can't even put into words how many people arrive on that small Island. It's beyond madness riding on the main thoroughfares around the country as there are just so many vehicles on the road. Rewind back 2 months to April and the country outside of Reykjavic is empty! In the remote areas just seeing someone is a relief, it reminds you people actually live on this beautiful but desolate island.

Slowpoke - Thank you for the detailed response (from you and your friend!). I'm totally with you on only a few roads open with plenty of traffic and not expecting a cyclist. I had avalanches on my mind as well and usually stayed well clear of high risk areas, even if that meant simply turning back. I'll check out the links you posted and see what I can learn. Great point on the low elevation passes, I have been moving more towards that as a solution. Stick to the lower elevation passes and instead of crossing some of the big passes, go as far as possible and then turn back and make my way around the mountains in lower elevation areas.

I have also been looking into the dolomites more closely as that may be a good option.

I'll keep you guys posted on what I learn. Hopefully too it will help others considering something similar (if people like that exist :P). It will still be at least a month before I hit the alps so plenty of time to plan from now till then.

7507 posts
expert &
Oct 21, 2016 - 1:52 PM in reply to Lukems

You're welcome Luke! Yes, please do keep us posted. A trip report would be very welcome once you've completed your Alps adventure as you're definitely off the beaten track here. Meanwhile, it might be nice to know there's actually a Snow Bike Festival in Switzerland: www.snowbikefestival.c om.


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