Words & photos by Rob Larick
I'm not sure why I've had so many issues writing an article/trip report on my time in Japan over the last several days. Finding words or a story to describe our trip has caused me nothing short of writer's block. Maybe it's karma that wants to keep such an awesome place secret or maybe it's my ADD kicking into overdrive – who knows? Since this was a vacation for me I am going to approach this from the most memorable points, and not so much from an event coverage angle. So in true trip report fashion, here we go...
First off...Japan: Put it on your list of “must do” things before you die.
The US Freeskiing Open went lame on us this year by cancelling slopestyle. Apparently this is just one more thing affected by the American Dream of buy now, pay later, spend more than you make. My employer has layed off 75% of its staff but lucky for me I wasn’t one of them or unlucky for me now that I have to work extra. I get about zero time off to ski.
The Open was going to be my one vacation this winter and when slope was cancelled, there was little reason for me to go since Nipples wanted to do slopestyle again this year. I was pissed. Yet, as typical of my persona, when things get rough, I get going. Lo and behold it only took a few minutes to notice that the Nippon Open was scheduled the same time as the Open.
“Hey Nips! Want to go to Japan?” I asked.
...when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade or slice it up and get the Cuervo out.
“How can I turn that down?” he responded.
Everyone knows Dean Kistler right? You know that guy at every event who speaks Japanese? I called Dean. Yep, he’s going...great, got an interpreter. Then checked into flights and found out that from Newark, New Jersey we could fly non-stop to Tokyo for a cool grand each. Not too bad...14 hours to go halfway around the world. Then hop on the event shuttle for $20 each and stay in the hotel for $300 per night...ouch! But hey, breakfast and dinner were included. Wooo-hooo, all the rice we could eat! What the hell I thought, you live once, right? Got the Mastercard out and maxed it out. Registered Steven for slopestyle and myself as team manager. HA!
NS is such a great place to make plans. I made some threads claiming our trip and quickly found many others who were planning to attend. But as the event got closer, I got worried. There was no confirming emails sent, and nothing was charged to my card. Time to call Dean and see what he knew. And Dean knows a lot about Japan, as he spent the first 20 years of his life there. He told me not to worry, that they would contact me when they were ready. Another week went by and then I got another phone call from Dean. Turns out Dean had been hired as a tour guide and interpreter and his job was to find better priced lodging and give the kids a true taste of the Japanese culture. He asked if Steven and I would be interested in joining that group. Are you kidding? Interested? Where do I sign?
It was around this time that the idea of the trip really began to gel when all of a sudden one email got me really unstoked and bummed out. The NFO organizers said that the weather northwest of Tokyo, where Joetsu Kokusai Ski Resort resides, was rain, rain, and more rain, and as a result the slopestyle portion of the event was being cancelled. Great. I tell Nips, “Dude, no point in going to hit a 50’ brown covered jump in the rain halfway around the world when you can do that two hours away here in Pennsyltucky.” Bad move on my part. He didn’t really say much about Japan over the preceding month, so I didn’t think he was all that interested and that this was more "my vacation.” Boy was I wrong. The kid really did want to go around the world to ski crappy conditions in crappy weather. What the hell is the matter with you skier people?
So now what? I call Dean, and he says he understands if we want to cancel, but that I should really go and experience Japan and that he was leading a group regardless. I’m still not convinced. Okay I thought, let me contact a guy I totally trust...the infamous Jeff Schmuck. Jeff too says that I should go to Japan to experience it whether the event was going to be good or not. I was officially stoked again.
...so we jetted on over.
Got greeted at Narita Airport in Tokyo. Crap Nips, am I that scary?
I think these guys are very serious about their job, even more serious about the 75 km per hour, 5-hour drive. WTF? A Salomon truck hauled all the gear separately to the resort.
5 hours later we ended up in Joetsu Kokusai
Dean lined up a lodge in the valley that serves the local weekend crowds. We had the place to ourselves during the week. The hospitality and service is better than any top shelf bed and breakfast that I have ever been to.
Views from the lodge – there are ski slopes everywhere. Over 500 resorts in Japan!
We took our shoes off at the lodge entrance, stepped into slippers and then took those off outside the sliding doors to our rooms. Hmmm…wonder who in this picture has been to Japan before or maybe they just know how to pose for pics?
True to Japanese style we slept on the floor...
Ate strange looking stuff at breakfast and dinner with chopsticks...
...and used the communal facilities.
Then we walked a short few minutes to the lift that took us from town up to the resort.
Jossi and Byron Wells along with Amy Sheehan from New Zealand
Miles Honen and Joss Christensen getting on the town lift. It's true, everything is smaller in Japan.
The girls in our group walking back from the town lift super stoked from the day.
Siena Palmacci, Kimmy Sharp and Amy Sheehan
Even the views from the 10 minute town lift were scenic. Trees are sparse in this region and there are terraces everywhere.
In spite of the poor conditions and poor weather during the event, everything was very well-organized, although credit cards seem to still be a problem in Japan. Bring cash and bring lots of it. The event organizers.
First view back over the valley from the first lift.
The venue for the rescheduled 'slopestyle' portion of the event consisted of a jump and a quarterpipe
The event was covered by cameramen broadcasted onto a big screen.
Nathan Wood: Hey look mom, I’m on TV!
It was also covered by strange creatures. Not sure what this thing is.
More strange creatures...Steven (nipples) and Brad Bulzan from Ohio. Remember 'Ohio'...in Japanese it means 'Good Morning.'
Matt 'Marwants' Margetts & friend
Joss Christensen. Believe it...this kid kills it!
Adam Battersby was out early during a practice run, aggravating his knee again, total bummer. In spite of his knee Adam brings fun to the slope. Nonetheless, he continued to ski the rest of the comp on one leg along with terrorizing tourists in the airport. Amazing.
Suzuki and Salomon were the major sponsors of the event. Apparently Suzuki makes a model called the Salomon. Wonder if these are available on flow?
Now on to the event itself. The slopestyle course was as a big air to quarterpipe. It rained the first two days before hitting summer-like temperatures. The jump was big enough for doubles though, and Jossi held it down once again with his double cork 10 to a 9 something or another. Photos by Dean Kistler
900,000 Yen and a case of noodles for his efforts!
Slopestyle Finals Results
1) Jossi Wells - 97.7
2) Per Christian Fosse - 94.0
3) Guillaume Sbrava - 89.0
4) Charles Gagnier - 87.3
5) Matt Margetts - 87.0
6) Joss Christensen - 86.7
7) Fridtjof Fredricson - 85.3
8) Vincent Gagnier - 83.0
9) Kentaro Tsuda - 80.0
10) Pekka Hyysalo - 76.3
11) Oskari Raitanen - 66.0
12) Aleksander Aurdal - 17.3
Women's Slopestyle. The Japanese women kill it, period. When they start sticking all their tricks, I think the Japanese women are going to own the women's freestyle scene. I love how much they smile and how much the guys show their support. They are genuinely having fun and it is really refreshing to see everyone so supportive of each other. I kept saying that I hope our kids take just a piece of that home with them.
Think Maiko Hara was stoked to win?
1) Maiko Hara - 84.3
2) Eveline Bhend - 72.7
3) Siena Palmacci - 68.7
4) Mile Windfeldt - 65.3
5) Kristi Leskinen - 62.3
6) Ami Okubo - 57.7
7) Reimi Kusunoki - 47.7
8) Megan Gunning - 37.7
9) Amy Sheehan - 31.0
10) Keltie Hansen - 19.3
And yes, there was also a pipe event. However by the time Sunday came around the weather had worn the pipe down, and as a result any were able to hold it together and unfortunately many did not.
In the end though AJ Kemppainen did take home the win on the men's side of things, with French superstar Kevin Rolland in second and local hero Kentaro Tsuda in third, while Nahoko Okada topped the ladies' field with the always consistent Virginie Faivre in second and Manami Mitsuboshi in third.
Superpipe Finals Results
1) AJ Kemppainen - 87.7
2) Kevin Rolland - 86.3
3) Kentaro Tsuda - 80.3
4) Nathan Wood - 75.7
5) Dane Ulsifer - 71.0
6) Xavier Bertoni - 69.0
7) Guillaume Sbrava - 57.3
8) Matt Margetts - 46.3
9) Loic-Collomb Patton - 44.0
10) Byron Wells - 39.0
11) Kiyoshi Terada - 36.0
12) Kyosuke Namiki - 35.3
1) Nahoko Okada - 68.0
2) Virginie Faivre - 65.7
3) Manami Mitsubosh - 65.0
4) Stephanie Sirianni - 62.7
5) Mirjam Jaeger - 61.3
6) Ayana Onozuka - 56.0
7) Mille Windfeldt - 52.7
8) Kimmy Sharp - 48.7
9) Matsuura Emi - 36.7
10) Keltie Hansen - 23.7
and now onto more pics...
Sid! Slothy Sid!
Coach Mike Handley – Wanna learn how to get on the lift and do tricks and stuff? Hire this guy!
Dean. What can I say about Dean? Dean is the man with lotsa plans.
And then the was this random gaper reppin NS...
I could go on and on about the rest of the trip but I won’t. If you would like to read a part two then say 'arigato gozaimasu' in the comment section. I have some 500 hundred photos and three hours of video to go through, so stay tuned for the edits.
Sayonara Japan...see you real soon.