Team Thomas Takes on 2019 X-Games Snow BikeCross

“I guess we are just some snowmobilers that are stupid enough to try”

Written by Stephen W. Clark
Photos by Stephen W. Clark

In 2015, teenager Justin Thomas quickly made a name for himself when he won a silver medal in X-Games Hillcross before winning a 600 Mod RMSHA championship and becoming RMSHA racer of the year. Since then, the 23-year-old Idaho Falls rider has won numerous RMSHA championship titles and last year won the highly coveted Jackson Hole King of Kings title.

Justin is a member of the KLIM Backcountry Team and while snowmobiling is his main focus, he does spend a lot of time cross training on dirtbikes in the summer. Last fall, with a little time on their hands before the hillclimb season, Justin and his teammate and cousin Andy Thomas decided to bolt some Timbersled kits on their dirtbikes and try racing Snow BikeCross.

In December, the pair went to the Jackson Hole round of the ISOC Snocross series to see how they would stack up.

Before we invested the time and money into travelling back to Minnesota for the qualifier, we wanted to make sure that we were at least somewhat close,” Justin said.

Jackson went alright, so in December they loaded two Timbersleds in the back of a truck and drove through the night to Elk River Minnesota for the qualifier.

Justin admits they weren’t very well prepared.

“I roll in there with 91 octane fuel in my pretty much stock bike, every start I’m just getting smoked off the line. If I wasn’t last, I was pretty close to last. Always having to work my way through the field. Now looking back, I feel like it made me a better rider having to push past my limits but for ease of qualifying it wasn’t ideal.”

Despite equipment challenges and a little bad luck, Justin was able to sneak in with the second to last wildcard entry to X-Games.

With the prospect of adding another X-Games medal to the trophy cabinet becoming more of a reality, Team Thomas went to work putting a monumental effort together. As Justin’s dad Tyson said, “if we are going to do it, WE ARE GOING TO DO IT”.

The experience at the qualifier showed that the bike needed some help, so they built a completely new race bike using a 2019 Kawasaki KX450 with a Pro Circuit built engine, Timbersled SX 120 kit and some really trick one-off chassis parts. The crew also found some land to build a full-size practice track. For the last month Justin has been pounding out daily moto’s and getting up to speed with this new sport.

“At the qualifier I was just riding it, just going. The comfort wasn’t there, I was always clenched and getting arm pump super bad, just fighting the bike really. I could never find a flow with it, but now with the changes we have made I’ve been able to get to the point where I’m much more comfortable, I know where the bike is going to go and I can make adjustments in the air.”

When asked how he thinks hillclimbing will help when competing against seasoned motocross and Snow BikeCross riders Justin said, “I feel like being in competition and being in hillclimbs has helped me a lot mentally because in hillclimbing you only get one shot. It’s not like if you get a bad start you can come back with determination and grit, so you have to be totally focused 100 percent and have your lines. So, I feel like hillclimbs have helped me in that sense and exposing me to the experiences of just racing in general. Both the winning and the losing, because you learn more from losing than you do from winning.”

“The ultimate goal is obviously to get a medal, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself because it’s always just a great experience going to Aspen no matter what happens. But yes, the ultimate goal is always to get a medal.”

How will the snowmobiler stack up at the highest level in Snow BikeCross? Tune in live to the 2019 X-Games Aspen coverage on ABC on January 26, at 2:30 pm MST.