THE ULTIMATE WINTER PARTYBUS
On-board bar, Playstation, disco lights, 8K soundsystem, and most audaciously of all, a DJ platform on the roof! Winter sports outfit Sled Dogs Snowskates show us round ‘’The Black Bone’’: a fully-customised VOLVO B10M tourbus. Company CEO Tommy Einar Gydar Syversen fills us in on the highs and lows of taking on a conversion project on this scale…
Tommy, we’re standing outside the Black Bone, and the first thing you notice is this crazy DJ box on top – how high is that off the ground and how does the DJ get up there?
TS: The bus is just over 3m high and the platform adds a little to that, so when you’re up there you’re getting on for 3 and a half metres above the ground. The platform folds away for travel and the access is through a hatch in the roof.
And you had to build all that yourself?
TS: Yeah – it’s all custom-made: the steel fabrication you see, plus what you can’t see is the steel reinforcement underneath that’s needed to support the weight of people and DJ equipment on the platform. After gutting the inside of the bus, getting that steel framework done for the platform was the first stage of the project.
How straightforward was that in practice?
TS: Haha … straightforward in the beginning …until we realised the roof was leaking rainwater through all the holes! The supporting framework has to go from the chassis, through the roof, and join up with the DJ platform. Obviously it was then sealed, but we found that on the road, the walls and roof of the bus shook around and popped our nice seals.
So you had to fix that?
TS: Yup – so at this point we are already three months behind planned schedule. We bought the bus in June 2016 and wanted it ready for the winter sports season in October …and we’re still fixing holes in the roof in September…
Looking back, do you reckon the original plan to have the bus fully converted in five months was a little ambitious?
TS: It would have been fine, if the workers came when they were supposed to! We constantly had issues with workers say they would do the work and agreed on time, then send SMS that they want do the job or they just didn`t show up the they we agreed. Since renovation must be done in order, then we had to constantly reorganize. The main issue is that very few has done this kind of work before and the workers find it to big of a challenge. What we used most time on was to get workers, so we ended up doing a lot of it ourselves. One time we worked 2 days around the clock to get it at least decent for our first event. Straight out of Disney! But even if I had done a bus conversion before (and I hadn’t!) a conversion like this is totally unique and uncharted territory. You need to be a little bit mad!
So, I’m guessing you fixed the leak, and then you had everything else to do, in just a few weeks…?
TS: It was sick …we had a designer-builder, a carpenter, electricians, plumbers …all working round the clock, late at night in an unheated workshop. I was there too, drill in hand…
You got it all finished in time for the first roadshow?
TS: We did …sort of! We were literally driving down the motorway with the our team still fitting the furniture on the inside …it was like a Benny Hill sketch. So not everything you’re gonna see today was ready for the first day on the road, but we just about had all the basics in place for the first show, sure. From then on it was a learning curve actually using the bus in the demanding conditions of being on the road in winter, partying in the bus at winter resorts, and cooking and sleeping for our roadshow team… we had to do all kinds of fixes and upgrades – so let’s get on board and I’ll start showing you around!
So we’ve stepped in, past the driver’s seat and we are basically in a lounge – a party lounge! There’s a sofa, racing seats that double as armchairs, a flat-screen TV with playstation, and a little mini-bar with a beer tap! There’s a big wall-poster of some of the guys snowskating and everything is lit up with blue LEDs like a nightclub.
TS: Check this out – our carpenter designed this especially – this section of the bar slides out like something in Star Trek so you can jump behind the bar to pull beers for your pals.
And the beer is fresh and cold?
TS: For sure! There’s a barrel with a cooling unit so we have freshly pulled, chilled beer just like in a bar.
And right here there is even a mini kitchen: an oven top and sink…
TS: The BLACK BONE is essentially a bachelor pad on wheels: I thought if we’re gonna do this let’s tick all the boxes! Of course, this is also a tourbus for a hard-working team of guys who spend all day on the slopes showing beginners how to use snowskates, before packing up and driving through the night to the next resort …so we need all home comforts here, too.
So the Sled Dogs Snowskates roadshow team actually live in the bus?
TS: That’s right – we have beds at the back here for four people, plus a shower and right here is the ladder and hatch for the DJ platform – you wanna go up?
Let’s do it!
TS: So as you can see, once you’re standing on the platform, your head is like 5m above the ground which feels pretty high actually.
It’s like being on a big stage, for sure – do you get crowds gathering around?
TS: Yeah, we’ve had a few hundred people – even just random strangers are just drawn to it like a magnet. Most of the winter resorts are party towns in season anyway; some people go on ski holidays just for the party! We’re expecting bigger crowds this year so we’ve upgraded the amplifier for the Cerwin Vega Stroker subwoofers to give them even more juice, from a T1500 Rockford Fosgate to a T2500, with both internal speakers and subs and external PA rigs so we can put on a proper party! It can never be loud enough although we are coming close to blowing the windows out!
I guess you’re running the stereo on a separate battery?
TS: TWO separate batteries! The stereo has been a story of it’s own. We have 3 systems. 1 for outdoor party, 1 for 230 volt party inside the bus and a 3rd for ‘rolling’ as Norwegians call it when driving around making a lot of noise. That is a car stereo type. As a former enthusiast in car audio I put together a sick car stereo, competition level. All fantastic and looking awesome, was just one catch: a bus uses 24 volt not 12 v. That took quite some consulting to figure out what to do to solve this problem as this stereo is brutal and demands a lot of power. Ended up setting up a completely separate 12 volt system just for the car stereo.
Which is just one of THREE sound systems on the bus?!
TS: Exactly! The electrics on the bus are nuts – The most complicated and confusing has been type of voltage. We have had a bunch of electricians sitting around thinking what they should fix and they just stand up and leave. They didn’t know where to start as we have a mix of 12v, 24, 230 and 380 volt. It is a minefield in terms of what goes to what and decisions about whether it should be 12v/24v or 230 volt f.ex for a thing as simple as lighting in the bus. 230v will work when the bus has 230v power, but we only have 12v/24v when the bus is on the move. We have a 7,5 kw generator for power but it costs a fortune to run it all the time plus it is not legal to use it everywhere f.ex when you are on a ferry.
It sounds complicated…
TS: Definitely! The most comical thing that we did not totally consider was the brutal issue that a bus like this is basically a moving house: Everything has to be strapped down. As Norwegians who are used to the sea we had some experience with this, but never thought that things in a bus could move that much!
The result has been all kinds of breakages, like the cooking plate when things fell out of the cupboard during an emergency stop. Yes, we had installed safety locks, but turns out we need even stronger safety locks! Also doors smashing up and down while driving. It felt sometimes like we were at sea in the middle of a storm, or in an apartment during an earthquake.
Apart from things moving around and breaking, what would you say has been the biggest challenge with a conversion like this?
TS: If we were to do this again, we would skip having water in the bus. Even though it is fantastic being able to take a warm shower without stepping outside into a cold car park, the water part has been the biggest headache for us. The reason is simple: most people use a bus like this in the summer. In the winter, in the mountains, it is another story! We’ve had to change the 2 toilets plus a set of pipes TWICE this season. We have put heating on the pipes and insulation to prevent freezing, but when you are in -10 to -20 degrees things happen fast. We had just ½ day without heating after a fuse blew while we were out all day on the slope doing a demo, and we come home to broken pipes and toilet …If you think it is difficult getting an emergency plumber to your home, imagine getting one for a BUS and in a country where you know hardly anyone and you don’t speak the language. Long story short: winter adds a lot of extra cost and also extra challenges and things to consider. Before you make a bus like this you have to think a lot about what you’re going to use it for and where.
And what do you think about life on the road?
TS: A lot of fun, but tiring too! There are times when you have done a demo the whole day, spent the last hour packing the demo gear into the bus. It is 8 in the evening and you want to relax and go early to bed.
Then you realize that tomorrow is a new slope and you’ve got to get moving to get there on time. It’s 170km away and you are travelling in a vehicle that is only allowed to go max 80 km/h on the highway and 60 km/h on smaller roads. Realistically you’re gonna arrive early morning and the big scare, as always is: will there be power for us when we get there? On the other hand you don’t have all the fuss of transit-ing from hotel to resort and sometimes we park up with an awesome mountain view. Also, simple things can become a big pleasure in situations where you wouldn’t normally expect to have them: There are times when you are standing in the bar and tapping a beer while there is a party in the bus, then you think, wow this is something! And the visitors are always totally stoked when they get on the bus and ultimately, we’re in the fun business and we love to see people having fun.
Have you fixed everything up for the new season?
TS: Yes, we have solved all the issues for this season. The point to add there is that this a road tour bus: it left last season in December and came back in April, which meant that we had to solve a lot of things on the road. It was not like we were gone for a weekend and could fix when we came back. The trip was around Europe for 5 months non-stop! So you are fixing issues as you go! We survived the season! Even so, by the end of the season We still had 6 pages of bullet points of things to fix. These are all ticked off now but as we know our beloved Black Bone she will throw us some surprises this winter also. Maintaining something like this is a neverending story but it’s worth it!
Interested in following The Black Bone? – Follow us on Facebook, with posts and updates throughout the winter season, with schedules and stories about the life on the road. https://www.facebook.com/blackboneadventures/