No lifts opening? Here’s one solution!
Hokkaido snow bikes deliver serious snow fun on half or full day adventures slashing legendary Japow with more grunt than the best pair of legs can supply.
Snow Action’s Snowboard Editor & resident Big Boys Toys Tester, Peter Wunder checked them out.
Photos Hisashi Haruki and Peter Wunder.
You will go to bed re-living the awesome day you just had, do it all again in your dreams and wake up wanting to do it again.
I have done many different tours in my life, from Heli tours and cat skiing in Alaska, New Zealand and Canada, to car rallies, drag racing and sky diving.
I’ve often walked away a little disappointed with the amount of talk and standing around that goes on rather than the activity which is the reason you’re there.
Usually people who are above the normal skill level are not well catered for and the tours seem a little lame. I’m not saying I’m the best at all sports, but these types of adrenalin sports are my life, and I’ve spent over 30 years doing them. I like to go hard and give it my all, and most tours leave me feeling like I didn’t get to do that.
I’m sure there are people out there who totally understand what I’m saying. I like a tour that makes you feel like you went out for a day with good mates and used top of the line machines, not old and tired average grade tour equipment.
This is exactly what it felt like today when I went out on an Hokkaido Snow Bike Rental & Tour. They understand the needs of people like me and put together an action packed adventure day with no mucking around or endless safety lectures. They still provided a great day for those in the group who had a lower skill level. They supplied the best KTM SXF 450 race bikes available with the best Timber Sled system.
How do Hokkaido snow bikes work?
You take a normal trail bike, in this case a KTM SXF 450, remove the front wheel and replace it with a specially designed Timber Sled ski which is shaped to deal with the deep powder of Japan.
Then remove the rear swing arm and wheel, and add the rear Timber Sled track system and you’re ready to go.
The best thing is when summer rolls around you can change it back within a day and have your normal trail bike back ready for dirt riding. The whole system is truly amazing.
Our day with the Hokkaido Snow Bike crew started at 9.30am. We drooled over the bikes for a bit then got ourselves kitted up. They supply helmets and safety gear if you don’t have your own.
We had a little practice with a five minute run on a small field, then it was time to leave for the real adventure.
I’ve ridden snow bikes before, but my mate Adam who came along had never ridden them. He’s an ex motor-cross rider with loads of experience on bikes. Plus he snowboards around 100 days a year. To combine the two sports took him about 5 seconds and he was ripping it up.
Snow bikes aren’t easy to ride but the challenge is part of the fun and Adam was loving it.
If you have never ridden a trail bike before or are not very confident on one, this probably isn’t the right tour for you. The guides will accommodate to match your skill level and the better rider you are, the more you will get out of it. We had a Japanese girl with us for the day who rides road bikes and trail bikes. She did really well and it was actually her second day in a row on the tour because she loved it so much the day before.
We started up a normal tarred summer road, not that you would know it was because it was covered by three meters of snow. The road goes for 2 km and it feels a little strange because the snow bike is made for powder not a flat road. It was like riding a motor bike with a 40cm square tyre on the back. Once we reached the end of the road, it opened up to beautiful smooth fields which are actually snow covered summer potato farms. The snow was glistening like diamonds in the sun calling us to destroy it… which we did. These machines are ridiculously fun. It’s a blend of skiing, snowboarding and riding a motor bike at the same time. Short sharp turns or stretched out arcs, whatever takes your fancy. I was lifting the front ski off every bump and the bike was throwing me into wheelies, or should I say skiilies.
We climbed up a long hill to around 1000 meters above sea level and were rewarded with stunning views of Lake Toya and the Pacific Ocean in one direction and Rusutsu Resort, Mt Shirabetsu and Mt Yotei in the other.
We dropped into pine and birch tree forests, zigzagging between the trees and through the open glades into snow covered creeks that become half pipes to test our skill levels. We were down to around 400 meters above sea level, then making our way back to base for lunch. The break in the heated lunch room was smiles from ear to ear on every face looking at photos of our morning, having a good laugh and getting stuck into the great feed supplied.
One of the guides, Atsushi Genji, is a Japanese ex-Super Cross and Enduro racer who competed in the USA and New Zealand.
He rides hard and after lunch he wanted to test out my mate and I to see how far he could push our limits. We split from the rest of the group and headed up into some steep tight tree areas where he put us through our paces. Every time he turned around he was not expecting us to be there but we were loving what he was throwing at us.
He was testing us to see what we could do without getting stuck. I think we passed because we went off into some gnarly places, from the very top of Mt Takayama down to the valley floor and every twist, turn and obstacle in-between.
There were great jumps, drop-offs, banked berms, and hills where you had to give the bike everything you could to make it to the top. It felt like a bunch of mates pushing each other to hit everything and anything.
There were no boring sections, just flat out crazy riding.
I was more than impressed with the traction of the bikes. I hadn’t imagined being able to ride a trail bike up something you would normally ski down. I would second guess riding my dirt bike in summer up some of the hills we rode up. The track system is remarkable.
If you have the chance to go on one of these tours, it will be the highlight of your ski trip and a lasting memory. You might remember a few great ski runs, but you won’t forget the day out on the snow bike tour.
You can take home photos that will be the envy of your mates and boost your Instagram and Facebook profile to new heights.
Better add an extra day on your trip because after you ride these bikes you’ll go to bed re-living the awesome day you just had, do it all again in your dreams and wake up wanting to do it again.
Hisashi Haruki san, from Hokkaido Snow Bike Rental & Tour, writes and speaks in English and he will reply promptly to your enquiry.
He will put together a package that suits your group on any day you like weather permitting. Be sure to mention you found out about the tour through Snow Action and they will look after you!
My tip: definitely try to do more than one day on the bikes if you can. One day will leave you wanting more, and two days will give you enough time to get a good understanding of the bike so you can rip your hardest on it.
Talk to Hisashi Haruki san about a package deal to suit.
Snow Bike Hokkaido information
Season – January to end of March
Place – Big Bear OHV Park Rusutsu Hokkaido
All day : 59,800 JPY / 1
Half day : 30,000 JPY / 1
Sales tax : 8%
09:00 – 10:00 Briefing and Preparation
10:00 – 12:00 AM Riding
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch time
13:00 – 15:00 PM Riding
Half day AM
09:00 – 10:00 Briefing and Preparation
10:00 – 11:30 Riding
Half day PM
12:00 – 13:00 Briefing and Preparation
13:00 – 14:30 Riding
Timber sled KTM 450 SXF MY2017～2018 × 5
• Included avalanche beacon for personal use
• For the bikes there is a possibility to change to Husqvarna or Enduro models
• All bikes fitted with Electric Starter
• Rental Helmet and boots provided for free