Japan is an island nation and not very large, but it still has a healthy snowmobile culture. In this edition of My Yamaha we introduce Mr. Yuzuru Narita. He has been riding snowmobiles for two years, which may make him a relative beginner compared to some, but already he is full of praises for that culture. With the right riding field, friends and his FXNytro M-TX 162, he is enjoying snowmobiling to his heart's content. And he already has the look of a true snowmobiler.
Two fateful encounters
Narita gets his FXNytro M-TX 162 out of the garage and prepares for the day's ride with anticipation
The duckling sticker in the photo is the mark of the novice group on the Nytrows team. Narita looks forward to the day he can graduate from duckling group. Again today he will be riding hard to prove himself and be recognized as a senior member
It is February 2011, the temperature is 8 degrees below zero Celsius and there are blue skies above. Cars are arriving one after another, pulling trailers with FXNytro snowmobiles on board. The men greet each other and begin to unload their machines, suit up and start their engines with practiced skill. These are the members of the "Nytrows" snowmobile team, formed by a group of avid customers the Moto Space Windy Yamaha snowmobile dealership in northern Japan's Iwate prefecture.
Yuzuru Narita is one of the Nytrows. Among the snowmobile teams in Iwate prefecture, the Nytrows are a unique bunch. That's because they are a group of mountain riders that is in to tough eight-hour rides through deep fresh snow, covering a 100 km of trails in a day. That is a tough order for beginners, but Narita has been one of the team since last year.
"I happened to meet members of the Nytrows at the Moto Space Windy dealership and heard lots of stories about their brave exploits in the mountains. I have had experience riding trial motorcycles in the mountains, so I felt a sense of kinship that excited me and led me to buy a snowmobile. That enthusiasm was all well and good, but when I stopped to think about what that kind of riding actually involved, I began to have my doubts. The winter mountains were a world that I knew nothing about. But everyone accepted me despite my lack of experience and gave me lots of advice and pointers. Now, I am really glad I chose the Nytrows. They have taught me how to really enjoy snowmobiling," says Mr. Narita.
The team members are all gathered at the foot of the mountain. Although you can't see their expressions behind their goggles, you can sense that their anticipation and concentration is mounding as surely as their engines are warming up. With a call from the lead rider, the Nytrows set out all at once. Narita is riding in a position near the middle of the pack. It looks as if the veteran members are keeping an eye on their novice teammate as they run.
Eager as Siberian huskies
Running free across vast snowfields. "This is just a warm-up. The real fun is up ahead!"
A brief stop to enjoy the magnificent view. "Usually we don't stop like this, we keep on running. But today we'll make an exception."
Gradually the air that was bitingly cold at first begins to feel good. The body inside the riding wear has warm up. It is time to pick up the speed and cool it off. Following the trail up above the tree line the vista suddenly opens up. At that moment, the snowmobiles that had been riding in a line up to that point are now spread out across a field of pure white snow.
"It may sound like a strange metaphor, but the members of the Nytrows are all like Siberian huskies. True to their Siberian origins, huskies can stand the cold, and as proven in the dogsled races, they have plenty of stamina too. They are active in nature, full of curiosity and a bit frisky too. In all those ways they are a lot like our team members. But, for us to be as active as huskies in the snow takes a bit of know-how and technique. That's why we are all working to improve our skills all the time. But, some member's riding already seems superhuman to me."
At the advice of the veteran members of the team, the first snowmobile Narita bought was a short tracked VMAX. At first he had doubts about this advice, because it is usually said that long tracked snowmobiles are best for mountain riding. But he decided to take their advice and began his first riding attempts on the VMAX.
"The first ten or twenty times I went into the mountains with them I was getting stuck in the snow all the time and beginning to think that they had deceived me (laughs). But at the end of each ride they would tell me that the basic snowmobile is the short tracked machine, and if I really wanted to master mountain riding I must learn the basics of short track machine riding. It continued to be hard for a while, but now I realize that I'm able to really enjoy riding now because of what I learned about throttle work and how to use the body back then. That may mean that I'm coming closer to becoming a Siberian husky myself (laughs)."
Watching this pack, they are one with their machines as they run through the trees, through the valleys, and before you know it they have reached the top of mountain they were looking up at just minutes before, now looking down at the world below. Without even stopping to rest or savor the beautiful view for long, they are off again in search of the next field to explore. Soon they arrive on a field virgin snow, which sets them off again, each on their own course through the snow, Indeed, they are like a pack of huskies eager to run, on and on at will.
"It was like flying through the clouds! How can you stop when it's this much fun," said Narita short of breath but exhilarated. Then he was off running again. "I want to become a better rider. If I do, I'm sure there are even more exciting things to discover."
The snowmobile, it's excitement on skis
His first attack on the climb is a failure. One of the veterans advises him to use his body more and think about the line he wants to take up the hill. Now he's ready for a second try
His second run is a successful one. But, it looks like it will still be a while before they remove his duckling sticker
The sun is high in the sky now. It's lunchtime and everyone is back together again after a long morning of fun. It's good to take off the riding suits that are now soaked with sweat and snow. And, as always, it's good to know that everyone has made it here.
"since we ride mainly in the mountains, one of the worst things that can happen is to have your machine break down out on the slopes. It's a shame to have your day ruined by trouble with the machine. That's why we need a snowmobile that we can go into the mountains and ride hard on with assurance. For years, the veteran members have ridden all the makes in search of the snowmobile that can meet this tough standard, and the brand they eventually chose is Yamaha. Although I've only been riding for two years now, I've never seen one of our team members suffer a breakdown with their Yamahas.
As for performance, the Nytrows basic philosophy is that we don't want to rely on the machine's performance. The real meaning lies in using our riding technique to conquer difficult sections in the mountains. But, one of our veteran riders tells me that Yamaha snowmobiles are made to handle well. He says that Yamahas are designed meticulously down to the fine details that we riders don't even think about. That discovery that there are things beyond performance specs built into the Nytro made me even happier that I own one. It excites me just to know that I am riding a machine with such great potential. I'm still not experienced enough to realize it as fully as our veteran riders do, however. But I do believe that the reason I have become so absorbed in snowmobiling is because of the Nytro."
After lunch, the men are back on their faithful mounts and heading out again. The trail they have chosen this time is different from the morning course, and much tougher. Suddenly the lead rider steers off onto a side trail. He has found an interesting looking uphill path. The skilled veterans clear the climb with one try, but it takes Narita two tries to reach the top. Everyone cheers his success. He pulls off his helmet and shows a big, contented smile.
What these mountain men wish…
In the last rest stop of the day there is still not much resting going on. The members are already thinking about their next hill attack
Many of the members of the Nytrows are veterans with up to 20 years of snowmobile experience. When they line up it is a display of 4-stroke Yamaha FXNyro, RX-1 and Phazer models
The afternoon tour of several hours is coming to an end. "You've still got things to learn if you are getting stuck in a climb like that one earlier," one of the team members says to Narita. Even after they are all down from the mountain and off their machines, the conversation is still about snowmobiling. "Next time let's try that climb over there. I've heard that no one has been able to clear it yet." And their obsession with mountain courses is not the only thing that sets the Nytrows apart from other clubs. They all truly love snowmobiles from the bottom of their hearts.
"I'm satisfied with the Nytro I'm riding now, but I can't help but looking forward to seeing what Yamaha will do with the next model. But at the same time, I'm also worried somewhat. The vehicle world today is shifting toward hybrids and electric vehicles, so I wonder what will happen to snowmobiles in the future. I'm worried that they might even disappear. We are just enjoying riding them, and part of me feels that in itself is good enough for us.
What we want to say to Yamaha is that we hope they will continue making snowmobiles. There are just about a dozen of us in the Nytrows club but we can still continue to buy Yamahas. That is our way of making a small contribution to Yamaha, and we hope it helps," says Narita.
After finishing their preparation, the team wastes no time in heading back. The reason is that there is a "cool-down meeting" scheduled at a local restaurant to discuss the day's events, and the snowmobile talk is sure to go on late into the night.
"It's back to work tomorrow morning, and I'm sure to be sore from all the riding today. But that's OK. For the next two months we'll be able to enjoy this every weekend as long as the snow lasts. What do we do when spring comes? We work hard and look forward to next winter," concludes Narita.
The blue skies of midday have given way to clouds and now snow is starting to fall. Today's tour has just ended but it seems like the mountains are already preparing to receive the Nytrows with next weekend. We can imagine Narita riding again next time on a field of fresh snow feeling like he is riding on a cloud.
The riding location
Japan / Iwate Pref.
Japan is made up of four main islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Iwate prefecture is located in the northern region of the largest of the four islands, Honshu. It is Japan's second largest prefecture. Its western interior region is mountainous and in the east it has a Pacific coastline. The riding area featured this time is in the Ou Mountains of the interior that range in altitude from 1,000 to 2,000 meters. It is the area of the prefecture with the largest annual snow accumulation, which makes it ideal for snowmobiling.
Rider Profile: Yuzuru Narita
Narita began riding snowmobiles in 2010 and is now a member of the Nytrows club. This year he bought the Yamaha FXNytro M-TX 162 he was longing for and takes it to the mountains every weekend. The club's riding area is made up of fields and pasture land belonging to members of the club and the wooded areas connecting them. Most of their riding is done on trails that weave through wooded areas and provide a range of riding conditions from powder snow to hill climbs for the riders to enjoy. Each winter the club members are able to get out for about 20 group tours. They run about 100 km each time, which totals about 2,500 km per season.