Written by Alan Manach
If you ask people around the globe what is the best thing to ever come out of Japan, they might tell you sushi or ramen noodles, they might name a video game console or think of DVD’s. They might say karaoke and will come up with several other electronic gadgets. The truth is, the best thing in Japan is something that will never come out of the country. The best thing Japan has to offer is IN Japan and is called snow! What makes it special? There is lots of it. We’re talking unfathomable quantities of deep, very deep snow that the Japanese call “Yuki". So as the stars aligned, the Rip Curl crew finally was able to plan a trip and get a taste of the legendary powder that makes us froth at mouth from Minnesota to Thredbo. The plane tickets were bought, the split boards were packed, the riders were hungry: it was time for yummy yuki!
As easy as that may sound, planning a trip to Japan is not like going online to book a ski pass at your local hill. Team manager Raph Delfour quickly found out that as soon as you get slightly off the beaten path, getting information on the web is difficult at best with very few web sites being in English. Calling and e-mailing to book a lodge or hotel proved a tedious task as he would rarely get a reply and, if any, one in English. As well, the riders needed to get a special driver’s license delivered before traveling to the country, which would’ve been a harder process had he not had precious help from Rip Curl Japan.
For those of you that don’t know, Japan is actually a string of 3 900 (!) islands nested in the Pacific Ocean, east of Korea, China and Russia. It also happens to have 600 ski resorts dispersed over the two biggest islands. Our area of choice was the island of Hokkaido, which gets the most snow. Aussies love Hokkaido and flock by the thousands to one of the biggest resorts called Niseko. We made sure to stay away from the crowds by booking a lodge near Mount Tokashi, where our trip began after landing in Sapporo.
Again, finding this lodge both before and during the trip wasn’t easy. Despite the fact that collaborating photographer Jerôme Tanon had already stayed there, it took a while to find the lodge on the internet to book it. The crew literally had to search for it on Google Maps and Jerôme had to use all of his brain cells to remember the location. Once in Japan: same problem, same solution. So after one wrong lodge, and a few extra kilometers, the team finally got to what can be considered a true gem: cheap accommodation, on-slope hot springs, fresh powder and absolutely no one around.
For Riders Emilien Badoux and Nate Johnstone, Team manager Raph and photographer Jerôme Tanon, it was paradise… and it will remain unnamed. The lodge was simple. The crew slept on typical Japanese floor mats in one big room and the main living area was the kitchen. It was also the spot to get acquainted with the Japanese mountain lovers. The whole set up made it feel totally out of this world. The 5 days the team stayed there were also very simple: get up early, strap in the split boards or skis and ride virgin, bottomless powder all day, then go back to the lodge and relax in the hot spring amidst the snowy mountains. All of this made them forget about the poor visibility and gave everybody a “permasmile" on their face. As the crew headed to the next destination, all vowed to come back one day.
The resort of Asahidake awaited just 25 kilometers further. There, at the very end of the road, laid an impressive, yet desolate and rundown hotel. So much so that it made you feel like you were in the movie “The Shining". Picture this: there were 300 rooms in the hotel and the only five rooms booked were for the team! Truly surreal. The hotel deal was an all-inclusive with meals which allowed everybody to discover the incredible diversity of Japanese food. Every meal seemed to bring something new and comforted the feeling of being very far away from home. The riding at Asahidake is purely epic. The terrain is accessed by getting in the sole 100 passenger gondola. Then, the unpatrolled, boundless backcountry offers itself with tree lines covered in the fluffy stuff. For the next few days, the crew fed on fish and snow and couldn’t get enough.
From Asahidake, the boys went on to Furano resort which has a more classic ski resort feel with the exception of having an average snowfall of 8 meters! It also has night riding and if you ask trip boss Raph Delfour, this was one of the many highlights of the trip with memories of riding through the dimly lit trees and hearing the echoes of every rider shouting with ecstasy as they were riding down the deeps.
While the riders couldn’t have asked for a better trip, the film crew and photographer had a bit of a nightmare with the poor visibility inherent to constant snowfall. After all, it literally snowed non-stop for ten days! Fortunately the very last day gave everybody a glimpse at what kind of paradise laid behind the snowy skies and allowed for alpine exploration. What a way to end it! Well, that’s without mentioning the last night in Sapporo with the Transworld crew. But that’s another story so we’ll stick to the fact that Japan, with its nice people, exotic food, deserted backcountry areas and insane snowfalls is the epitome of a Search trip.
Here’s what Nate Johnstone had to say about the trip: "The insane powder is first and foremost what sets the country apart from other destinations, but I also really love the culture and Japanese people. They are all so friendly and welcoming. And of course there’s the food. I eat a lot of Japanese food back home in Australia, but it was really cool to try more traditional food that isn’t so common in Oz.
For Australians, Japan is a destination of choice as it is the closest snowy area in the northern hemisphere. I had been to Japan once for a magazine shoot many years ago. Since then I’ve been dying to go back and was lucky enough to get that opportunity with Rip Curl. It really blew my mind how good it can be over there. I’ve never ridden powder so deep in my life! I’m thinking Japan is going to have to be an annual trip for me."