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8 secrets to riding the deadly Black Snake

Claudio Caluori’s guide to riding the Black Snake in Val di Sole – the toughest course on the MTB Downhill circuit.

As far as World Cup Downhill MTB courses go, Black Snake in Val di Sole, in the North of Italy, is certainly one with a deadly bite. It’s an incredibly steep and demanding course that favours riders with high skill levels and technical ability. According to 7-time Swiss Champion and MTB-Legend Claudio Caluori, there are 8 things you need to know if you want to avoid getting badly bitten.

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1. Be fit

Prep your body long before you think about riding the Black Snake. Not your legs though as there’s almost no pedalling. It’s four minutes of extreme 25% gradient on bone-shaking surface.

2. Walk it

Walking the course is critical. I need to judge close-up the conditions of the ground, distances between obstacles, space for landings – and commit it to memory. 

3. Bike setup

The deeper those holes get the stiffer you’ll need to run the suspension. You don’t want to bottom out as you’ll lose speed all the way down. Tyre choice depends on the weather. Mud tyres are best when the course is fresh, even if it’s dry, because of all the loose dirt and pine needles making it super slippery.

"The deeper those holes get the stiffer you’ll need to run the suspension. You don’t want to bottom out as you’ll lose speed all the way down."

4. Practice, practice, practice

Normally you can ride the course two days before an event. If it’s a World Cup they usually start three days before. Usually 10 runs in total are enough. It’s a careful balance between practicing and saving your energy.

5. Right lines

There are many lines to choose from and each rider will combine them differently. How you take one section also determines how you’re set up for the next one and so on. It all adds up to significant gains or losses.

6. Jumps

There are some crazy jumps on the course and you have to take them all differently to maximise speed. Keep low on the first ones to maintain speed and control. Mid-way is the Trentino jump, right out of a pretty technical section and suddenly there’s a take off. Hit it right you can clear 10m of technical section. Finally there’s a ski jump, which you can go really high on. They even put marks there to see who can go the furthest. 

7. Survive the middle section

Then we have the middle section. It’s relentless trees, roots and rocks flying at you. This is where the race is won and lost. There is a micro-break in there at El Pont with some boardwalk where you can take a deep breath, before it gets super steep again.

"Then we have the middle section. It’s relentless trees, roots and rocks flying at you. This is where the race is won and lost."

8. Follow the changes

They say you can never step into the same river twice. You also can’t ride the same trail twice. By the time you get up to ride it again, a whole bunch of other riders will have been down, deepening the holes, widening the trail, and revealing new roots and rocks all the time. If it rains, just pray.

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