Cover Photo: Jamie Walter

Thanks to GoPro for the new Hero 7

After hours of delays and an unplanned airport change in Tokyo, I made it to our hotel in Sapporo at 1AM. No cabs would drive me from the train station to the hotel because of my ski bag, so I had dragged my gear 3km through the icy city streets after about 20 hours of traveling - with only 1% battery on my phone that I was using to navigate. “I feel like a million Yen,” I wryly proclaimed as the boys awakened a few hours later - standing in only my boxers on top of the bed of our tiny hotel room as we discussed our jetlag and fuzzy heads. For those who don’t know, one million yen is about $9,000 USD. I think by the end of the trip the other guys were tired of my humor, but at least I think I’m funny.

Organized chaos, or just chaos.

From my vantage point on the futon I saw my friends and gear filling every inch of floor space. The window to my side revealed a view of downtown Sapporo and the mountains beyond. This was analogous to the trip as a whole - the four of us in some state of organized chaos, somewhere between tired, jetlagged, drunk, hungover, and stoked, and the mountains beyond, ambivalent to our presence, but ready nonetheless.

Waiting for the bus from downtown Sapporo to ski. Photo: Matt Larson

Sapporo, and the mountains beyond. Photo: Matt Larson

Japan is the ultimate ski trip. Media and friends alike have drilled its mythic presence deep into the dreams and aspirations of skiers worldwide. They tell you stories of untouched powder in an untouched land. This narrative has continued since skiers from the US, Europe, and Australia “discovered” Japan many years ago. Hungry to see if the stories were true, Brian, Jamie, Matt and I set out for two weeks of chasing the great Japanese ski trip.

Photo: Jamie Walter

While we definitely found our share of untouched snow and Japanese culture, it is clear that Japan is no secret destination anymore. With two previous trips to Japan, I knew that we wanted to give ourselves the most flexibility possible. When you’re after the same things as everyone else, it’s helpful to be able to chase a storm or bug out ASAP. We lived in an RV, filmed with one GoPro, shot just enough photos to show our moms that we were still alive, and enjoyed the ride.

Jetlag can be a bitch, but it’s easy to fall into routine in the RV. We’d wake up, transform into day mode, bring our boot shells into the rig to warm up, cook breakfast inside, then head out to ski. After skiing, we’d look for the nearest convenience store, ramen, and onsen (Japanese hot spring baths), then figure out where to head next. The pace was slow and life was good.

Photo: Jamie Walter

RV life. Photo: Matt Larson

The first leg of the trip was a highlight as we checked out the central part of Hokkaido riding areas like Furano, Asahidake, and the touring around the area. There’s not a lot of english spoken in this largely rural part of the island, and while the skiing infrastructure is good, it’s far from developed. This is something we would come to enjoy. As more people like us ski in Japan, it starts to feel more like home, and less like the stories we’re told. But we were part of the “problem” so who are we to complain? Downtime in the RV gave us some time to discuss nuance like our place in the changing culture, but it rarely lasted long as we’d hop back into our cans of Kirin Strong, our phones, or into discussions of where to ski next.

Volcanic Vents on Asahidake

Photo: Jamie Walter

After a day dodging volcanic vents and guided groups at Asahidake, the first storm of the trip arrived, delivering the white gold we’d come for. While the food and cultural exploration suffice for some travelers to Japan, there is nothing like the skiing there. Smiles stretched wide as we quickly ran out of words to describe our elation on the first powder day. I personally resorted back to my dadly sense of humor, declaring often, “I like skiing.” That was really all that needed to be said.

After some fun but frigid touring and one great day inbounds we headed west towards Niseko. Inspired by ski and snowboard videos, we decided to have a try at some of the iconic lines on Hokkaido’s coast on the way. Stretching a couple hundred feet down rocky spires to the ocean, these lines were surprisingly easy to track down on Google Earth. Jamie was hyped to get the shot, setting up at sunrise across the bay. Matt, Brian, and I were frankly not stoked. The snow was bad, the bushwack in was gnarly, someone had already gutted the slope with an avalanche, and we’d have to spend most of the day bootpacking back up the steep slope - probably postholing all the way. With the light, the location, and Jamie’s talent behind the lens, I’m sure the shot could have easily hit magazine pages, but we were on vacation, so we said fuck it, and bailed to a resort.

On the way up to the line we didn't ski

Photo: Jamie Walter

Next up was Niseko - one of the country’s most iconic skiing destinations, and perhaps its most westernized as well. Wrapped up in vacation and epic skiing it can be hard to remember that these areas have existed for long before we visited and will exist for long after we left. Coming from the insulated culture of the RV and smaller towns in central Hokkaido, this put some nice perspective on the trip, reminding us to appreciate and respect the small things that make a place unique. One of the greatest parts about traveling to Japan as an American is taking in the small details and quirks - the types of things that we overlook everyday in our usual and known surroundings at home. It’s clear that Japan is continuing to grow in popularity as a destination, while there are pros and cons to this growth, these details will continue to exist, even if you have to look a little bit harder to find them.

On the tail end of our journey, time in the RV seemed to speed up, luckily the storms kept pace - dropping the most snow of our short two week stay. Brian swore he recognized spots at Rusutsu from old Nimbus videos, but I was too preoccupied choking on powder to really care. That’s the thing, when you’re on the mountain, the reflections on culture and change, the thoughts about home and work, the subtle passive aggression towards other powderhounds seeking the same goods, they all disappear - there’s just skiing, and the skiing is damn good.


The aftermath of conveyorbelt sushi

Fizzy yellow beer as far as the eye can see

Noodle boys

Photo: Jamie Walter

RIP noodles

Shrine above the line we didn't ski

Noodles and the mountains beyond

Try this bao


Travel haze. Photo: Matt Larson

Photo: Matt Larson

Photo: Matt Larson

Photo: Jamie Walter

Photo: Jamie Walter

Convenience stores are life in Japan. Photo: Jamie Walter

Thanks Japan. Photo: Jamie Walter