For a long time, residents and visitors of Niseko have longed for somewhere to ride their mountain bikes in the summer months. With limited trails locally and the bike park closing in 2020, there has been very little for the mountain bike community to get excited about. This is all about to change as the Niseko Mountain Bike Association has teamed with the Swiss company Allegra Tourismus.
NAMTBA – Niseko Area Mountain Bike Association
The newly formed Niseko Area Mountain Bike Association is a non-profit organization that is charging ahead and getting it done. This week has seen the first physical work start on the Twin Peaks Bike Park, Futugoyama. A free-to-use bike park with trails of varying degrees of difficulty in the centre of the resort. Many hours of hard work and commitment have been put in to reach this point and now they have the full force of Allegra Trail Builders to help bring the plan to fruition. Hopefully, this will be the start of something and more investment will flow into summer infrastructure off the back of this project.
Photo credit: Niseko Photography
Allegra Tourismus are a pioneer in the field of mountain-bike tourism and have been developing successful mountain bike destinations since 2003.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Claude Balsiger, Managing director of the Switzerland-based company to talk about the project and the future of mountain biking in Niseko.
Claude, thanks for making the time. Could you please give us a brief background on your journey so far and what has brought you to Hokkaido for this project?
I’ve been involved in MTB tourism since 2007 and have developed MTB tourism destinations with Allegra since 2015. We’ve worked with over 300 clients around the world to systematically develop MTB tourism. I first visited Niseko in 2015 when we were invited by KTA. The connection came through the city partnership between Kutchan and St.Moritz where we are based. That’s when I met Andy (Head of Operations at Rhythm Japan) and we stayed in touch ever since.
Everybody in town is very excited about the Twin Peaks Bike Park project, could you give us a little insight into the work that goes into planning a project like this?
Before we start planning any trails we usually identify the needs of the local community, the restriction from the permitting authority’s site, and the possibilities the terrain offers us. Out of that, we select possible riding experiences that could suit the project well. Only then the planning starts.
In your experience from past projects, what do you think the bike park will bring to the area?
It will be the first freely accessible, high-quality trail park of that size. More people will get into mountain biking because of it. But to make that happen we need to make sure the trails offer entry-level experiences and progress gradually. It would be great if Twin Peaks Bike Park could help paint a new picture of mountain biking; not as something dangerous, but as something safe, fun and playful.
It is very exciting to see you and your team moving into the marking and building phase of the project. What are your thoughts on the terrain and the types of trails that are planned?
The terrain was well chosen by NAMTBA. It’s easy and mellow, not too steep and not too much vertical. One challenge is the thick kumasassa growth in the region makes it very hard to mark out new trails properly. Fortunately, there’s a lot more space inside the area which offers great opportunities to develop trails of all levels in the future.
It’s the most anticipated question but the one everybody wants to ask, when will we all be able to test the tracks?
If the weather holds and there are no big surprises in construction, I would say October 10th.
It has been a tough few years for mountain biking in Niseko with some great trails being built and then the bike park closing due to Covid19, but this is a real light at the end of the tunnel. How optimistic are you about the future of mountain biking and the scene in Niseko?
Working with NAMTBA for the last 6 months I am very optimistic. It’s all about the people – always. I rarely see a project move this fast. And if, like in this case, it is because of the passionate people who restlessly work in permits, funding, admin, and so on. I would say in summer 2024 Niseko will see a lot of positive change in summer tourism. I’ve seen it before in other places.
Any final words for people excited about the project but perhaps never ridden a bike park before?
Get yourself a bike!