NAGANO – Faced with dwindling numbers of skiers, a Japanese ski resort is pointing people toward downhill mountain biking.
A nighttime event showcasing the slippery sport on New Year’s Eve at the Togari Onsen ski resort in Iiyama, Nagano Prefecture, drew 55 participants. The spectators ranged in age from children to those in their 60s.
Chizuko Sasaki, a 51-year-old cycling enthusiast from Saitama, said she had “never thought” of riding a bike at a ski resort in winter.
The event featured fat bikes, or off-road bicycles with extra-wide tires suited to riding on snow.
Participants rode a lift for about 10 minutes to the starting point, at an elevation of 650 meters. They then rode down the path, which reached a maximum incline of 19 degrees.
Go carefully, said co-organizer Shusei Matsuyama, 31, as they could reach speeds of up to 50 kph.
Among the participants was Tran Trung Kien, a 24-year-old student from Vietnam, who was thrilled to “ride a bicycle on so much snow.”
Matsuyama, a local sign maker who has enjoyed sports biking since childhood, said he organized the event to “give a boost to my hometown.”
The sport is unlikely to take off swiftly, as government permission is needed to load bicycles on a lift. The is also the cost of building special biking courses on snow slopes.
The Togari resort nonetheless wanted to explore the possibility of holding mountain biking events, said Shigeru Kihara, 48, managing director at the company operating the resort.
The Japan Mountain Bike Association says downhill snow biking began in Hokkaido in the 1990s. The sport has gained popularity since a U.S. bicycle maker began making fat-bikes with tires 10-12 cm wide suited for snow.