PayDirt Profile: Ridgeline

December 23 — 2020 | Tuscany, Italy

1. Our SCB community doesn’t really know you guys yet. Can you give them a quick intro?

We are Rich and Sandra, joint founders and owners of Ridgeline, which is a mountain bike holiday company operating and based out in the Northern Tuscany region in a place called the Garfagnana. (Pronounced: Gar-fan-yaa-na!).

We set up Ridgeline back in 2015 as we wanted to escape the corporate rat race in England and Germany and had the shared dream of having the adventure of setting up a totally new MTB destination from scratch in an unknown part of the world. We spent years pouring over maps to find our untouched white spot with the perfect mountains and where no one else was operating. And six years later here we are with about 250km of trail network that we have
created, including 98km of hand-built tracks, an incredible team, and amazing guests that return

Rich - one of the Ridgeline founders
Sandra - one of the founders of Ridgeline in Garfagnana

2. What’s the project that you’re working on?

The project is calledGarfagnana Bike. Our aim is to create and manage bike tourism in the area in a way that it benefits the local economy and people, by building an open access trail network, connecting our vast riding region and setting-up a new bike center in collaboration with the local government in the middle of the Orecchiella National Park.

With this project we want to build on what we have achieved with Ridgeline, and build on what we have learned from our journey about the positive impacts mountain biking can have on the local community when done right. We have seen different initiatives from smaller groups of locals and individual communities in the past, but we found that this wasn’t a holistic or sustainable approach. So, we have set up a local non-profit called Garfagnana Bike, to bring a more centralized and collaborative approach to the area. The main goal is to bring all communities together (the Garfagnana consists of 16 different small communities) to jointly work towards developing the area for mountain bike tourism in a responsible way that will create lasting benefits for everyone and the whole area.

A wooden bridge connecting two singletrack dirt trails

3. How does that benefit your community and riders in general?

The local community is benefiting from this project in many ways:

  • The new network of trails and routes we are creating will help to connect the smaller communities and to bring the local riders and bike tourists to the many family run businesses we have out here, such as bars, restaurants, hotels and shops.
  • We also expect to create a new wave of tourism for the area that usually sees very little visitors, by attracting people who come out here specifically for biking. Some of the trails that will be restructured and reopened through this project are ancient paths that connected villages for centuries but hadn’t been used for years as no one was managing them.
  • The project will also create jobs. Already, PayDirt has helped in these challenging times by keeping people paid for trail building during the pandemic months when their other sources of income have been taken away from them.
  • And last but not least, the local bike community and all bike related initiatives will benefit from the new type of trails we will create. For the first time ever, the area will offer dedicated riding solutions for their children and whole families, which will hopefully show the younger generations new, exciting ways of appreciating the environment they live in.
A panting husky - member of the Ridgeline trail crew

4. Do you have a map of the area that we can show people?

A map of Garfagnana

5. You made the trails that we used to launch the new Nomad… what are those trails like? Do they represent the majority of the trails you’ll be making? Or will there be a mix? Can you give us any other info on that area/community?

It was so much fun to do that launch for you guys as it gave us the opportunity to build some crazy stuff that is more in line with our usual style of trails for Ridgeline. The trails we created and used for the event were focused on being demanding, rough and steep -ideal for a Nomad rider. I mean, one of the trails we built is called ‘Bob Gnarly’ which probably says it all!

We have always been aware that the trail network we built and created for Ridgeline has been a passion project that is benefiting mainly advanced enduro riders. The aim of the new project however is to create a much wider scope of trails to suit all abilities and bike disciplines. With the help of Garfagnana Bike we are opening up some of our less crazy trails to the public, but predominantly we will be focusing on building trails that can be enjoyed by a much wider demographic of riders with all levels of ability. We are even building a dedicated mini bike park for kids around the new center in the national park.

Two trail builders moving a couple of logs
Two trailbuilders working on a wooden bridge
Rich and another trail builder working on a singletrack trail

6. People are always looking for new places to travel and ride their bikes. Why should they go to Tuscany? And, if someone came to stay in the Tuscany area, for, let’s say, 2 to 3 days… what’s your advice on where to stay, where to eat, where to ride, etc.

Well when they come here they better not expect rolling hills and vineyards that are typically associated with Tuscany. We are hidden right in the northern part between two diverse mountain ranges that top out at 2121m (~ 7000 feet). This gives us access to very different environments right next door to each other. The coastal Apuan Alps range is rugged and extreme with stunning views of the Mediterranean and littered with world famous marble mines. The opposite mountains of the Apennines are taller but much more gentle and rolling where you can ride high for hours on open alpine meadow single tracks before descending into ancient forests in our valley with rollercoaster flow trails that we hand built.

One of our favorite big backcountry days is around Monte Cusna. We created a route that starts in our valley and takes you down some amazing ancient descents. Then you go up a ski lift to one of our most incredible endless ridgeline runs with a fantastic mountain hut called Battisti at the end waiting for you with a typical local lunch. From there you can climb to the highest point of Tuscany, Monte Prado (2050m),before descending all the way back to our valley whilst enjoying the stunning sunset views.

There are plenty of iconic places to see, eat and stay, on and off the bike. For people coming here for a few days, this place is all about mountains and incredible ancient history. For the more adventurous hikers, heading up to Monte Forato on the coastal Apuan mountains to see the giant natural archway is a must see. Or the climb up to the famous ‘Dead Man’, a range of mountains that looks like a man lying down, that offers spectacular views including some of the islands of the Mediterranean.

La Ceragetta Bar and Restaurant

And let’s not forget the fantastic Italian cuisine! One of our go to places on our rides is the family run restaurant called Ceragetta. We call it the ‘Eagles Nest’ as it is overlooking the mountains and a stunning turquoise lake. The restaurant gives you the proper Italian ‘kilometer zero’ lunch experience where everything you eat is sourced and produced locally. And all meals end with their homemade cherry schnapps ‘Niente’ (Nothing) that gives you some more confidence for the descents afterwards.

One very Italian thing you get here a lot is the concept of the so called agriturismos. These are family run farms that offer accommodation and food to tourists. We collaborate with one of them and have turned it into the main base of Ridgeline where we host all our guests. We recommend that everyone who comes here to stay at one instead of renting a holiday house. It really gives you the opportunity to connect with the area, the locals and experience the Italian country lifestyle.

7. What’s the most exciting part about running a trail organization? What’s the hardest part?

One of the most challenging and sometimes painful parts of this work is definitely the crazy bureaucracy that is happening in the background and that comes with running a non-profit organization in Italy. But let’s not go there as that’s a whole other story!

For sure though, the most exciting part of doing this, which makes all the challenges along the way worth it, is getting to do something that you are passionate about as your daily job. Going through the journey of scoping out a trail when nothing exists there, to marking it out...then spending the weeks digging and building is an amazing experience in itself. But when you get to guide people down the trails that you have created and hear the whoops all the way down the trail and the high fives at the end, it’s just the most incredible feeling.

Two trailbuilders riding Heckler eMTB's with trail building tools in their backpacks