Japan! Deepest. Snow. Ever.

The past two weeks of “winter” have been anything but for residents of the Pacific Northwest.  Perhaps the super-hyped La Niña is just taking her sweet time to show up, and it seems as if the January thaw is threatening to extend into February.  Tensions are high up here, but I’m not too fussed because for the past two weeks I was able to trade high freezing levels and rain in Washington for two weeks in Japan, where I enjoyed the deepest, coldest, driest, perhaps all-around best snow I’ve ever skied.

The idea for this trip started out almost a year ago.  I had three weeks of vacation in between whale jobs in the western Pacific and since I was already close, I figured I might as well ski in Japan instead of trekking all the way home.  I emailed Mike Hattrup and asked him if he knew of any K2 people that might have a couch, a line on lift tickets, or some other angle that I could work so I wouldn’t have to pay for three weeks in Japan.  He e-introduced me to Bill Ross of Dancing Snow and Hideaki Tanaka of K2 Japan.  For a while it seemed like everything would be sorted but at the last minute the logistics became too complicated and I had to postpone the trip.  At first I was upset but in hindsight it was much better this way; now I would be able to put together a real team instead of just going on a Han Solo mission. 

Fast forward to this fall.  I’d convinced Grant Gunderson of The Ski Journal that by avoiding the standard Gringo haunts we could produce an article on the “undiscovered” Japan.  Over the span of a few months I sorted out the details and logistics with Bill while Grant and I put together a crack team of extremos including pro skiers Zack Giffin, K.C. Deane, and Duncan Adams along with Ian Fohrman as our writer and videographer.  With a bit of trepidation we picked two weeks in mid-January as our window; choosing dates in advance is always a gamble but as you’ll see, we couldn’t have planned it better!

Since pictures tell a better story than I ever could, here’s a gallery of images that spans the trip.  Enjoy!

Grant, K.C. and I flew drove from Bellingham down to Seattle to get on a flight to Vancouver, then switched planes for the long haul to Tokyo.  The circuitous route was too much for our ski bags, which never made it on the plane in Seattle and were lost for the first two days of our trip.  Argh.

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Bill Ross is the man with the plan.  He took excellent care of Mötley Ü and Crüe while we were in Japan!

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Our first day at Akakura Kanko, near the town of Myoko, was ridiculously deep.  Grant took this photo of me sometime around 14:00.  I’m right under the lift and there are zero tracks around us.  Heaven?  Perhaps.

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Walking through the village somewhere in between untracked powder and a bowl of noodles.

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The second day we headed to Seki Onsen, where the overnight snowfall total was somewhere north of a meter.  Here K.C. contemplates bottomless pow on borrowed skis while sitting on an old single chairlift. 

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Duncan Adams proving he’s more than an X-Games halfpipe competitor.

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After that one day at Seki Onsen, we spent the next week at Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen ski areas.  Tree jibs, avy barriers, pillow lines, and bottomless powder were on tap every day.  Here, K.C. shows a bit of his tree-hugging tendencies.

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Jonny Moseley brought this move to the world just down the road from us during the Nagano Olympic Games in 1998.  Now, almost 13 years later, Zack Giffin repeats.

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K.C. goes upside down while Duncan watches and Ian and Grant do their best “Japanese Tourist”.

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Here I am from Grant’s perspective.

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When most people think of Japan they think of pillows.  Instead of skiing down them, Duncan decided to air over the whole cliff.

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K.C. took an alternate line and ended up landing in a creep crack.  Those four pillows below him decided to follow his line and nearly squashed him as they broke off the cliff.

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Aside from a somewhat smashed thumb he was more or less unscathed.  Good thing Zack is an ex-patroller. 

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Zack Giffin sees opportunity where others see certain death. A backflip over a road at night during a blizzard?  Why not?

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Back in town, Adam and Ian enjoy some “onsen eggs” with kim-chee outside the local convenience store.

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Pillows and snow-covered trees make for pretty pictures.

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Zack likes bottomless pow.

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Skiing with people like K.C., Zack, and Duncan inspired me to up my game in the flippy-spinny department.

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K.C. likes avy barriers.

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More street food, this time it’s the intertidal on a stick!  Limpets, snails, and baby octopus!  Mmmm.

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Late one night after many free beers and bottles of sake at the 100th anniversary of skiing in Japan party, Bill Ian and I went for a nightcap at a local restaurant. 

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These tracks are the result.  Apparently when under the influence, I pick up my feet but can’t walk a straight line while Ian can walk a straight line but can’t pick up his feet.

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Meanwhile, Zack goes for redemption on a line that stuffed him in a hole the previous day.

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K.C. just can’t get enough of the hand-drags over avy barriers.

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During a sushi party at Bill’s house, Bill pulled out his Vietnamese cobra/scorpion wine.  Yes, it was disgusting.

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I’m doing my best to bridge the gap between classic nordic jumping and… something. 

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Another night of “choose your own adventure” ramen and beer at a local restaurant.  K.C., Ian, and Grant celebrate another stupidly deep day. 

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Urban assault jibbing after dinner with Duncan and K.C.

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Grant and Zack re-create a Patagonia catalog image from a few years ago.

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A tasty appetizer!  Cod eggs mixed with chicken eggs.  Aquatic and avian unborn in one bowl! 

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Okonomiyaki!  The main course is delicious!

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A fine dinner with Bill and the crew to celebrate over a week of awesome powder in Myoko.

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Fish jerky?  Don’t be afraid, start at the head and chomp. 

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Or just eat shrimp and shrimplets instead. 

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Alas, our time in Myoko was over.  It was time to head to Hakuba for the 2nd phase of our trip.

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On our way we stopped by the snow monkey onsen.  These guys have got it pretty good.

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Chill out on the bank then take a quick dip in the hot springs.

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Awww, younglings!

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Hot tubs are fun for the whole family.

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Nothing like a snack of your best friend’s lice to tide you over until dinner!

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After the monkeys we visited Zenkoji temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan.

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Aside from the temple there were museums with all sorts of interesting artifacts.

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And then on to Hakuba!  We had one day of sun forecasted so we gambled and won with Happo One.

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Hiking above the highest lift to access the goods.  The winds were howling but the snow was perfect. 

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Duncan, K.C. and Zack scoping some lines.

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Zack drops in…

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and finishes up with a little air.

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K.C. takes a slightly more direct line

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and navigates his way through some wind-affected snow and a hint of pepper.

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“If all goes well, watch for me to nuke out the bottom!”

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Another day, another fun self-serve dinner of yaki soba.

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The trees in Cortina used to be closed, but now they’re open.

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We were happy that we didn’t have to poach these trees.

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Zack Giffin airs over a dam. 

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Ian Fohrman saw this sign and had to turn around because the terrain past it was for experts onry. 

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Alas, after five days of shredding in Hakuba it was time for us to return to Tokyo and then home.  Bill took us to one of his favorite restaurants, but we didn’t get his recommended dish.

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We settled for the baitfish surprise instead.

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Everything tastes good when grilled.

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The Tsukiji fish market is one of, if not the biggest fish markets in the world.  If it comes from the sea you can get it here.

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Tuna? 

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More tuna?

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This is where the boats unload their catches. 

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Tuna and billfish.

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K.C. was impressed by the size of these guys.

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Hmm, that doesn’t look like fish… oh, because it’s not.  Icelandic minke anyone?

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Or more billfish.  The other other other white meat.

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These guys will kill you if they’re not prepared properly.  I’ll pass, thanks.

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After cruising around the fish market we got hungry so we stopped by a sushi place just across the street.  Shrimp roe, horse, tuna, and various other tasty treats.  Delicious!

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But who can pass up a street scallop and some eel liver on a stick for dessert?

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Colorful stalls with the catch of the day.

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And then some more. 

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From the biggest tuna to the tiniest little larvae, nothing escapes the Japanese.

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Not even whale.  I hope this wasn’t humpback like the logo suggests.

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Then again, when you can buy eagle, tiger, polar bear, and sea turtles, maybe it was?

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And that’s that!  After the fish market we took the subway back to the hotel and then headed off to the airport.  Sayonara Japan!

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All in all I think this was one of the best ski trips I’ve ever been on.  Not only did we have unbelievable snow every day we skied (always somewhere in between 25 and 100+cm per night) but we also had great terrain and amazing logistical support from Bill and K2.  Last but not least, the culinary adventure matched the adventure on the slopes!  Japan was always on my radar but now that I’ve had a taste I’m going to be going back for sure. 

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