Eight years ago, Massimo Ferro left a steady job to pursue his dream of mountain bike guiding. His passion for his local mountain bike trails and enthusiasm for his hometown of Aosta in northwestern Italy has come together in one of the Alps’ most successful guiding operations.
The 43-year-old Ferro is a proper Aosta Valley local — born and raised here.
The tall, dark, and handsome Italian has a firm handshake and a constant smile. Like most mountain kids, he got into skiing at a young age. Soon, he fell in love with snowboarding and moved rapidly from sponsorship to world travel and film shoots. “It was a dream life!”
Mountain biking also came into his life early. “In the beginning, I just rode for training, not for the pleasure of riding a bike.”
But his perspective suddenly changed in 2006 when Ferro rode with his friend Fabrizio Troilo, a downhill racer. By the end of the day – he was hooked once again. He’d just found the same adrenaline high that had drawn him to snowboarding.
Massimo and Fabrizio became good friends. In 2008, they started Aosta Valley Freeride, which evolved from a blog they wrote together into organizing weekend rides for family and friends.
Initially, Aosta Valley Freeride was a hobby project, but it grew a bit each year. “We bought our first bike trailer in 2009 – a significant investment, recalls Ferro. “As we got more and more requests for guiding and shuttle services, we slowly realized we might be able to make a living off this one day.”
In the meantime, Ferro bought into a skate and snowboard shop in downtown Aosta. “The shop did well — but I felt limited there. I realized that I needed to be more outdoors and wanted to be a mountain bike guide, which at this point, was not a known profession in Europe — at least not as a full-time job.” Ferro sold his shares in the shop just four years later.
“I figured I would never regret it, so I had to try,” he recalls.
The beautiful Aosta Valley spreads wide on the sunny side of the Mont Blanc massif north of Turin — home to well-known ski resorts, including Champoluc, Gressoney and La Thuile.
About halfway down the valley, the historic town of Aosta boasts 36 000 inhabitants — a sizeable city for the Alps. It’s a “real town” with an industrial backbone, and the blend of people from all walks of life creates a charming, authentic atmosphere, unlike many mountain towns, which tend to be all about tourism.
Ferro channelled all his energy into Aosta Valley Freeride, and it snowballed. “Our clients value our insider perspective — we incorporate the local secrets into trips of any length — for any ability.” Currently, the company has five full-time guides and a couple of additional guides as needed. On top of that, three drivers work full-time to keep up with the demand for shuttle services and airport runs.
But Ferro wanted more. He assembled a group of investors and opened The Place in 2021 — and it’s been a game-changer for Aosta. With a restaurant, bar, and coffee shop — and of course, a high-end bike shop — it’s a natural gathering place for local and international riders. Guests meet their guides here, get set up with rental bikes, then grab an espresso and brioche before climbing into their shuttle van. The lunch menu rocks, the après are packed, there is great gear and clothing, and a top-notch service department.
This attention to detail – the hallmark of a good concierge – sets Aosta Freeride apart from other narrowly-focused MTB guiding operations. The timing couldn’t have been better. By taking the chance when he did, Ferro was well-established before COVID hit. The pandemic was challenging — but last summer, Aosta Freeride had almost recovered to its pre-pandemic level with more than 1500 guests.
But Ferro is driven by something other than money when he considers the future of Aosta Valley Freeride.“I want Aosta Valley Freeride to maintain the personal touch. I want to attract guests that appreciate what we are doing for them, as well as for this region and the local trails.”
Ferro launched Aosta Valley Trail Care a couple of years ago as part of this broader goal. The inspiration came during a holiday in California when Ferro learned a lot about maintenance from local trail builders.
Like many classic destinations in the Alps, the trails surrounding Aosta date from long before anyone thought of the words ‘tourism’ or ‘adventure sports.’ Centuries ago, these trails were built for travel and trade. In the mid-1800s, climbers started to explore the mountains, followed by hikers, and over time, modern outdoor recreational destinations evolved.
Most importantly, European riders have taken advantage of what was already here. Purpose-built mountain bike trails are still uncommon, and the idea that they require continual maintenance has needed to gain traction.
Now Ferro organizes regular work bees where volunteers meet up to do trail maintenance led by his business partner Tom and the crew from Aosta Valley Freeride.
“We work directly with landowners to ensure they know we care about the trails and the tourism dollars they bring to the region. As a result, most of them now accept mountain biking — which is not the case in many parts of Italy.”
True to form, this concierge of mountain biking is investing the time to fine-tune his guest experience on every level – to ensure his clients enjoy the very best that Aosta can provide.