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Hakuba Sanzan

September 15th, 2014

 

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Unless you’ve been living under a very big rock, you’ve heard the tales of Japan’s surreal terrain, neck deep powder on tap — day or night. The hype was buzzing extra strong this season and we were itching to go get a taste of it one way or another. When the plans finally took shape, it was May! Not exactly the prime month for free refills of pow, but if we didn’t pounce on the trip this year, it might have never happened, right? So we went with the flow and booked a ticket.

Touchdown Narita airport where the culture shock began. In a bustling world far from home, we circled through security not once but twice, but it worked out for the better. Our extra lap bumped us right into a Japanese snowboarder wearing a Canada toque, fresh off a winter in Canmore. Turns out our new friend Yuske (last name), local snowboard legend, also rode a G3 split and represented the Caravan crew we were trying to meet. Off to a good start. Yuske led us and our bulky bags through the maze of Tokyo train systems to a meet up with the Caravan crew, G3’s Japan distributors. After food, drinks, and a classic night in a ‘capsule’, we were eager to escape the bustling city for the mountains. Our bus to Hakuba pushed us upstream through nonstop currents of cities and people in constant motion before dropping us at the source…the mountains.

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A world apart, we found mountains quite reminiscent of our Coast Mountains back at home, with multi-peak linkups just waiting to be skied. After a week of fun, we were ready for the bigger days. Fortunately our pension owner in Gakuei-kan was an instructor, guide and pro back in his day, with a wealth of Japanese ski touring history to share with us, shaping ideas for where to head next. The plan hatched for the Hakuba Sanzan, linking the 3 highest peaks in Hakuba in a day.

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Meeting at precisely 6:00am on his orders, we hopped in the van and headed up with a vengeance. With only a brief pause before the off-road section, he pinned it and we held on for the ride. This wasn’t his first rodeo. Even the river wouldn’t have stopped him but we insisted on saving his car (and us for that matter), so we jumped out and let our feet do the rest. Most people enjoy the luxury of a 2 day trip with a mountain lodge overnight stay, but with our fine thread budget it wasn’t an option. So we slogged in the spring heat and enjoyed it for all it was worth, transition after transition – hike, skin, ski, repeat.
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But even we were hardly roughing it. With a cafe 500 ft from the last summit, we couldn’t say no to a soup and coffee before bagging the last peak. Solid weather, fun skiing, and our unstoppable shuttle driver all made for a great trifecta of the three high peaks of Hakuba.
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With one amazing Japan ski trip in the bag, we’re already plotting a mid-winter return for the legendary winter conditions. With any luck we’ll once again land in the hands of friendly,  seasoned locals, and the powder refills will flow as constantly as the sake from our first night in Tokyo.
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Story: Andy Traslin

Active Lifestyle, adventure, Osprey Athletes, Outdoor Activities, photos, Snowsports, Travel , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

JAPANUARY

February 18th, 2013

Bullet train in Tokyo

I have spent the last 20 years trying to check off every possible place on my skiing bucket list. Some years I would tick off more than others and some years I actually added more places to the list than I could cross off. A few years ago there was a lot of hype about Japan and people that had been told epic stories of copious amounts of light and dry powder, tree skiing that never ended and a really unique cultural experience. Every athlete and photographer I knew had gone to Japan and nailed it for powder. Being more of a realist than an optimist, I figured that eventually someone was going to go to Japan seeking the dream and get completely skunked. I didn’t want to be the one that came home with nothing to talk about but groomers and carving.

Over the summer, I started thinking more and more about Japan, so when an offer to go shoot with elite photographer Grant Gunderson came up, I jumped on the chance. As the trip approached I surfed the internet looking for an accurate weather report. We were heading to Myoko on the Honshu peninsula of the main island. Although this area is believed to get more snow than anywhere on the planet, the forecast I found called for a dusting of snow during the 10 days we were slated to be skiing there. Grant said to ignore the forecast and told me that it always snows in Myoko in January. Our tickets were already booked so I figured I would just take what I got and deal with it.

Epic snows of Myoko. All that and 5% moisture content. Heaven!

We arrived in Tokyo, hopped a bullet train and started the three-hour journey to Myoko. We drank beer served from vending machines and had our first of what would become endless meals of sushi. We arrived in Myoko under starry skies. Day one was clear and the locals were calling for light snow. We took advantage of the weather and toured above the highest lift at Akukura Onsen ski area. We skinned for 30 minutes and set up shot one of the trip. Within minutes, fog rolled in off the Sea of Japan and climbed up the mountain, engulfing us in a misty shroud. We skied the birch forest for some depth of field until we ended up back in the ski area. We were all tired and jet-lagged so we took a few laps to get our ski legs and headed to the hotel for afternoon tea, an early dinner and bed. As I looked outside I could see snowflakes picking up in intensity and size.

Our second morning couldn’t have been more different than the first. As I pulled open the curtains, I was shocked to see a full meter of new snow. I had never seen it snow so much in such a short amount of time. It was 7 a.m. and I had to control myself for 90 minutes until the lift opened to deliver us to the goods. In North America, a storm like this would almost guarantee a huge line-up for the chair. We found the ski area completely void of anyone but lifties waiting to brush of our lift seat.

A chariot into the powder heavens of Myoko.

For the next week, I skied the best and deepest powder of my life. We had more than 9 feet of snow during the trip and a bluebird day following each major storm. Myoko had some other skiers eventually show up, but they were not there for the powder. All the hype about the tree skiing in Japan is true. The forests are made up of birch trees that have no branches near the ground so you just line up a lane you want to ski and drop in. The trees are perfectly spaced and the snow is hero snow so you can just charge all day long.

Maybe the best tree skiing in the world.

I wasn’t expecting super gnarly terrain in Japan, but I quickly found out that you can get into trouble quickly if you get too adventurous. Nothing in Myoko is off-limits, except skiing under the chairlift, and little is marked so going off-piste is the real deal. Plenty of pillow lines, spines and steep gullies waiting for those with a nose for adventure.

This is noon and lift served. Where is everyone?

The routine of eating sushi for breakfast, slaying powder all day, soaking in the natural hotsprings (called onsens), and then feasting nightly on a bounty of seafood and sake did not grow old. Now that I have been and tasted the nectar of Japanese skiing in January, I’m not so confident that anyone will get skunked, but I can gladly tell you that it wasn’t me. If you keep a bucket list, I highly recommend Japan be added to the docket, unless of course you are averse to powder and sushi.

Dinner was a feast of seafood nightly. If it lives in the sea we probably ate it.

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Unicorn Sashimi: Yes, Please

June 12th, 2012

It may be the middle of June, but some of our favorite filmmakers have us thinking of deep turns and powder shots. If you didn’t make it to this year’s 5Point Film Fest or Mountainfilm, you may not have seen the inspiring and creative film with the whimsical title: Unicorn Sashimi. Whether you’re a powder hound or not, the magic produced from Felt Soul Media and Sweetgrass Productions is going to make you yearn for the white stuff…

Read more…

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Friday Round-Up: Long Live the Bicycle

March 18th, 2011

Unless you’ve been living in a deep, dark cave… You may have noticed that there is a lot of cool stuff going on out there. So, we thought it was high-time we started rounding up some of our faves each Friday. Every month, we’ll be choosing a theme that fits with the Osprey lifestyle. Since we just wrapped our “Instead of driving, I…” contest, we’ve decided to pay homage to pedal-powered transportation for all of March. Welcome to the Osprey Friday Round-Up!

In the wake of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we have seen many news articles with photos of people moving their belongings by bicycle and yesterday, CNN posted a video about an 82-year-old woman who escaped the massive tsunami… on her bicycle. While the wounds of last week are still fresh and a nuclear disaster is looming, we found some of these photos to provide a bit of hope.

via Copenhagenize:

Already one of the world’s great bicycle nation, Japan is seeing a bicycle boom in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Here are some photos featuring bicycles in the ravaged tsunami zone.

For more ways to help our friends in Japan, visit our post from earlier in the week here.

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Travel Tuesday: Support Japan

March 15th, 2011

Help Japan Poster designed by Max Erdenberger

Photos and videos of the destruction caused by last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan have quickly spread around the internet. Watching the aftermath from afar can be overwhelming, as we rack our brains for ways to reach out and show our support.

Help Japan Poster by Zac Neulieb

Our friends at Matador put together a list of ways that we can all help the victims in Japan.

Text a donation

All donations will be added to your monthly cell phone bill.

Text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross.
Text “MED” to 80888 to donate $10 to the International Medical Corps.
Text “JAPAN” or “QUAKE” to 80888 to donate $10 to the Salvation Army.
Text “JAPAN” or “TSUNAMI” to 20222 to donate $10 to Save the Children’s Emergency Fund.
Text “4JAPAN” or “4TSUNAMI” to 20222 to donate $10 to World Vision.
Text “JAPAN” to 50555 to donate $10 to GlobalGiving.

You can also donate via any of the above organizations’ websites.

Red Cross

Besides texting or completing your donation on the Red Cross website, the organization has also set up a “causes” page and is accepting donations through Facebook.

Authors for Japan Auction

Writers and publishing professionals have donated lots of great prizes for this auction, of which all proceeds benefit the Japan victims via the British Red Cross. Donated prizes include a “first chapter or short story critique” and “four-week telephone mentoring sessions.”Although bids must be in UK Pounds, winners can be from anywhere in the world, and bidding is from 8 a.m. GMT on Tuesday, March 15th through 10 p.m. GMT on Friday, March 18th.

Mercy Corps/Peace Wind

Mercy Corps is working to help survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami through one of their partners – Peace Winds. On Monday, Peace Winds helicoptered emergency supplies to families evacuated from their homes in Kesennuma. According to the website, a donation to Mercy Corps will be used to meet “both immediate and long-term needs of the earthquake survivors.”

More ways to help here.

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