It’s no longer a secret. Japan’s pow is ridiculous. Equipped with this knowledge, Elias Holt, Sarah Ward, and myself booked a flight to Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido. The following is a brief day-by-day breakdown of our adventure.
Flying to Hokkaido
I boarded a redeye flight in Anchorage’s international airport on January 10th. Nearly 24 hours later, which included layovers in Seattle and South Korea, I landed at Narita Airport (NRT) in Tokyo and met up with Sarah and Elias. The next morning we hopped on a flight bound for Sapporo, Hokkaido (ICN). After landing in Sapporo, we discovered the first hiccup in our trip. Sarah’s ski bag didn’t make it, but would land in Sapporo later in the evening. Instead of waiting around the airport, we decided to pick up our van and start exploring the area. The van, a Toyota Isis, was the equivalent to a soccer mom van . Good ol’ Isis provided us with transportation and very snug living quarters for the trip. With all our ski gear (minus Sarah’s ski bag) crammed in the van we headed to a local Sapporo ski area. Despite being a beginner hill, we were able to find ample pow. The idea of skiing off-piste is a foreign concept in Japan and we greedily took advantage of the untouched snow. Stoke reached an all time high as locals hooted and hollered with us as we blazed down the hill. After just a few hours we jetted back to the airport to grab Sarah’s skis before parking the van in an empty parking lot for our first cramped night of sleep.
Kiroro Pt. 1
In the morning we grabbed a few Georgia’s (the local canned, heated, and delicious coffee) and hit the road to Kiroro Resort. At the ski area we were greeted by waist deep blower snow. Hands down the lightest snow I have ever skied. So light that you couldn’t even feel it as it hit your chest. It was only when making turns that created pow clouds that would blind you for a few moments that it began to sink in how deep the snow really was. We spent the day exploring various powder pockets and was able to ski untracked snow into the evening hours.
The next day we woke up to almost a foot of new snow outside our van. Kiroro had been refilled. If possible, our second day at Kiroro was deeper and dryer then the first. But disaster struck early. On my second run I got a bit aggressive and lost my balance while skiing a steep treed area. After a bit of a tumble I was able to arrest my fall and check my equipment. Helmet cam? Check. Poles? 1, 2, yup check. Skis? Shit. I had snapped my right ski just behind the binding. Frustrated, I left my skis at the base and rented a pair of Nordica Patrons (the metal free version of my current resort skis). Back in business, our crew kept exploring mountain and the nearby sidecountry. After an all time day, we planned to move to Niseko in the morning.
We woke up to another 8 inches outside the van. We drank our coffee as we struggled with the choice of staying another day at Kiroro or moving to the very hyped Niseko area. Eventually we decided to move. As we pulled into Grand Hirafu, the first ski area in Niseko, we begin to question our decision. In recent years, the area has been very commercialized and has the western population to warrant it. The entire area reminded me of skiing at Whistler. I’m not talking about the terrain either. The sheer number of people was overwhelming. Trying to stay optimistic, we headed to the slightly smaller Niseko Village and I rented a pair of Atomic Bent Chetlers. Despite our optimistic approach, Niseko proved to be very underwhelming. We struggled to find any untouched snow and the Bent Chetlers proved to be too soft at 185cm for the way I like to ski. What probably would have been an amazing day back at home, turned out to be my worst day of the trip. Slightly disheartened we decided to hit the Niseko nightlife before heading to Rusutsu in the morning. In true western fashion, we took the Niseko nightlife by storm. As we visited/stumbled around the town we met Hagrid and Blood Moon, too metal loving Aussies, who helped us find all the go-to spots in Grand Hirafu. Much later, we made it back to the van and settled in for a brief sleep before moving our home base.
Our first day in Rusutsu got off to a questionable start when the longest ski they had available was the ultra fat Salomon 122 Rocker2 at 184cm. With no other reasonable choice I grabbed the skis and we headed up the lift. After just the first run I was sold, on both the skis and Rusutsu. The terrain was steeper then Kiroro but with fewer people then Niseko. We spent the day exploring the west peak and was able to find similar, albeit shallower, powder pockets to the ones at Kiroro. Rusutsu offers a unique experience because in the summer it is an amusement park, so while skiing you can see rollercoasters and a Ferris wheel at the base of the mountain. We had a great first day and ended it by eating a very authentic Japanese meal in the backroom of a local restaurant.
The next morning I was able to get my hands on a pair of 193 Atomic Automatics. They skied like a dream and I may even get a pair next year. To start our day we tried to find the Rusutsu Supernatutal Sidecountry terrain park. We found it, but due to a “low” snow year, many of the features were unhittable. Instead we went back over to the west peak and found a small cliff band and a tree ride to session. After a big day we ended up back in the near by hotel to plan for the next day. On a whim Elias suggested we make a speed trip back to Kiroro for our last day. Sarah and I agreed, so we packed up the van and drove back to Kiroro.
Kiroro Pt. 2
Kiroro didn’t let us down. It was another epic day despite the hurricane level winds on the upper section of the mountain. We found a powder pocket with a few pillows and proceeded to lap it all day. After filming and taking photos for most of the day we ended with a personal run. It was the perfect way to end an amazing trip. Blower, over-the-head turns through steep, tight trees. Once the rental skis (Nordica Patrons) were returned, we crammed into the van and headed back to Sapporo.
After spending one last night in the van outside the Sapporo airport, we caught a flight back to Tokyo. That day Sarah caught a flight back to the states. That left Elias and I with the task of navigating the Tokyo train system in an attempt to find our hostel for the next few days. Eventually we found it. During the next few days we explored Tokyo and the surrounding suburbs. The sheer size of the city left my head spinning. After 2 whirlwind days, we headed back to the Narita Airport so Elias could catch his plan home. Due to some poor planning, that left me with 2 more days and nowhere to stay. After having no luck trying to fly standby or change my ticket, I accepted the fact that I was going to be an airport bum for nearly 48 hours. So naturally, I am sitting in the airport drinking a coffee and writing this little summary of the trip. The trip was truly amazing. Sarah and Elias were great travel/pow buddies, the snow lived up to all the hype, and the Japanese people as a whole were incredible positive, helpful, and welcoming. I am already looking forward to future Japanuarys!
That was quite an experience–“an airport bum for nearly 48 hours”! At least the skiing adventure was awesome. Seeing that photo of being above the clouds is priceless. It made me wish I could turn myself into a camera strap and see the reality of such beautiful photographs. 🙂
Cool pics!! Would never think of Japan for a ski holiday!