Val di Sole is well known as a classic ski destination in the Italian Alps, though mountain bikers connect with the place thanks to one special trail: The Black Snake. The famous World Cup downhill track was originally had dug by Pippo Marini, who kept the tread as natural and challenging as possible. It’s often regarded by racers as the most difficult descent on the World Cup circuit, and according to the bike park managers that won’t be changing any time soon.
As you can see in the above video with Troy Brosnan and Kye A’Hern, the trail kicks off with some smooth park flow before dumping into steep roots and loose soil. The plunges and root-rugs go from top to bottom, and athletes will be assuming all the risk to gap them this coming Sunday. In an interview with RedBull, Marini said that the track is named after the unending roots that turn black with rain. It’s also characterized by deep sand sections that surprise riders with speed-zapping sluggishness. The World Champs event last took place on this track in 2016, so some riders will have memories to suppress and surpass.
We recently chatted with Cristian Vender, who has been managing the trails in Val di Sole Bike Park since 2015. Apparently Vender has a reputation of working solo in the woods, and his coworkers call him Grizzlian because he rolls solitary like a bear. He said that the main change to the track this year is the addition of a new rock garden that was built with an excavator. Wile Vender aims to maintain the natural and rough character that the Black Snake is known for, machines have helped to create some tricky features that weren’t possible under mere human power.
Just off a track-walk with UCI officials, Vender said that there are a few segments of track where the officials asked for wider taping to create more line choices, and some that they wanted tightened to keep the track in check. Vender was also discussing a wall-ride segment with the UCI that may or may not make it into the final taped run on Sunday after further deliberation.
The UCI officials understand that the track is designed for top-level athletes, and that it needs to be extremely difficult to ride at speed, but they want to make sure that it’s also rideable if a storm hits on race day. Vender and the trail crew started working to improve drainage on the trail last November, and they’ve also filled in some of the larger holes that would become impassible with a heavy rain. Storms arrive suddenly and forcefully in the Alps, and they want to be ready. Additionally, the track is open to the public when the isn’t a race happening, and improving its overall sustainability is important for the bike park as a whole.
Vender has also consulted with athletes like Greg Minnaar and Loïc Bruni leading up to the event, taking some of their advice around course taping and potential improvements. He says that the track should be running a little faster than in years past, while serving up all of the technical challenges that it’s known for.
You can watch all of the World Champs XC and DH action this year on Flowbikes.com.