It’s that time of the year when we mountain bikers reconnect with the earth. Face first that is. Although the season started roughly two months ago, we are still lusting over the high mountain peaks from which we could fly down at an incredible speed.
Whenever this time of year is around, every amateur bike rider starts lusting over the true Crème de la crème of downhill riding. The two colossuses, standing on the pinnacle of all races, trails and slopes – Megavalanche and Mountain of Hell. If you are an MTB rider just for the fun of it, trying these races is like wishing to fight in WWII because you enjoy occasionally playing paintball with your friends. To say that these trails are not for anything less than highly experienced riders is an understatement.
There is no doubt that both trials are insane. However, one question remains unanswered. Which track is wilder? Let’s find out from the safety of our homes and not by crushing our skulls on the first turn.
Both races include speeding down a snowy ski slope at speeds more appropriate for an F1 race than a bike one. A velocity of about 50 mph is the norm. Of course, the less experienced bikers who aren’t there for the win but rather for the experience either descend this first sector very slowly or just sit down on the snow and slide to where it is more appropriate for bikes.
Both trails are a mix of snow, mud, sharp rocks, single tracks, downhill sectors, and paved roads. In Mountain of Hell, there is a brief section where all riders go through the beautiful Les Deux Alpes resort and for several years, they even went through a pub, which admittedly was a nice touch. Now, though, riders just flash through the streets.
The most significant difference between the two is the start. Mountain of Hell starts from a glacier, which guarantees the snowy slope at the beginning. The Megavalanche start, although at roughly the same altitude, is known to have had some bаld spots over the years, which makes it far more dangerous and less fun.
The total distance of Megavalanche is 28 kilometres, and the best riders finish it in about 35-40 minutes. The whole descent is 2,580 m from Pic Blanc, towering at 3,330m. The snow part is astonishingly hard since the drop from the start to the first turn is so steep that even sitting down and sliding may result in injuries. One might think that due to this, the first turn will be elegantly smooth. Nope! It’s an almost 90-degree turn with a snow barrier in which to crash.
You might think that’s frightening but that’s only because you don’t know what’s behind this wall: rocks – sharp and unforgiving rocks. It’s not uncommon for mass crashes with dozens of riders to occur at this turn, with many finishing right there and then. The rest of the track is actually pleasantly balanced. It has steep downhill sectors, single-track features, drops, climbs, and wide, relatively flat sectors where actual racing may occur.
On the other hand, the Mountain of Hell track is 20 kilometres long, filled with non-stop knee-bendingly terrifying action kind of adventure. It starts at the formidable 3,400m-high glacier above Les 2 Alpes. The snowy part is steeper but there are barely any turns on it. The speed is higher and, of course, there are crashes and injuries. However, the track is as straightforward as they come. After the first section, the trail is almost entirely a single track, and there are barely any places where you can take over someone if you don’t go outside of the trail. Admittedly, the downhill sections are much more technical than the Megavalanche ones, and many prefer this track for this exact reason.
Megavalanche has a maximum of 2,000 riders on the qualifiers from which only 350 go to the main event. It’s inspiring to watch so many people on bikes trying their best not to create an actual avalanche of people by sweeping away others after a crash. And, oh dear lord, are there mass crashes.
Mountain of Hell has only 1,000 free slots for the qualifiers but 700 will go to the final. Yep, you will have to race 700 people on a steep snowy slope, riding at 50+mph. Sounds safe, right? But let’s be honest, you are not there because it’s safe. You are there because it’s fun as hell, and you can make a damn good YouTube video out of it.
Which one’s better?
That depends on your preferences. If you prefer technical downhill rides with high speed and blood-chilling sharp turns, Mountain of Hell is your cup of tea. If you are there for the race and not just for the ride, try to be one of the first 20 in the qualifiers. Otherwise, your chances of winning are slim to none. As mentioned above, the track barely has any places for takeovers and has a lot of potential for you to get stuck behind a slower rider and melt your brakes as a result. Keeping in mind you will pay a hefty price for this experience (because otherwise, you won’t be able to ride the whole track, just a part of it), not being able to ride at your own pace is a bit frustrating.
Megavalanche, on the other hand, is for the ones that prefer the enduro track experience. The downhills and single tracks are challenging, although, frankly, far less technical than the ones on Mountain of Hell. There is a mixture of climbs and descents and many more places you can pass other riders. Also, the track presents some very tempting wide slopes, where you can flash at terrifying speed.
In the end, it’s all about what you are looking for. Both are thrilling, to say the least, fun to ride and as safe as a crocodile-filled children’s pool. So if you are looking for a way to challenge yourself, conquer your fear of heights and high speeds, or you are just an incorrigible thrill-seeker, no matter which of the two you choose, you won’t regret it.
Check out the full run on both tracks by the amazing Kilian Bron and decide for yourselves if that’s not the most amazing thing you’ve seen.