Every winter, dreamlike images of powder skiing in Japan instill feelings of envy in the minds of skiers and snowboarders around the world. By all standards, it’s a “bucket list” destination – one of both cultural curiosity and an undisputed mecca of the deep, white, billowing snow that causes snow junkies to froth at the mouth. So last January, with a solid crew of Rossignol athletes, we organized a trip to see and experience this fantasy land for ourselves in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Our crew consisted of legendary snowboarders and Freeride World Champions, Xavier De Le Rue and Marion Haerty, as well as the next generation of riders, American Andrew Muse and Frenchman Enzo Nilo. Joining in on the freeski side was French freerider Sam Favret and the one of the newest additions to the Rossignol roster, Jacob Wester, who now spends his post-competitive X-Games days exploring the vast and challenging terrain of Chamonix.
"Into the white"
The spirit amongst the team was as light as the falling snow. Skiers and snowboarders, men and women, Swedish, French, and American, all united by the same passion, each seeking to discover or relive the amazing experience of riding powder in Japan while soaking up the accompanying culture. “We are so lucky to explore, travel, and discover new places – it’s what I love the most! Japan is a total escape. The tourists are treated like exalted guests, and the people are so thoughtful here,” exclaims Marion Haerty.
Two overloaded buses cross through vast white clouds which spill constant snowfall as the crew arrives at Hakuba, and the first stop of the trip, Otari Onsen.The first resort to session has been decided: Hakuba 47. Jacob, who was expecting long, flat runs for his first trip to Japan - is completely blown-away by the deep and bottomless snow. A couple of chairlift rides and 20 minutes of hiking leads the crew to limitless steep and untracked lines. The second resort, Kidjimadarai, known for its deep snow and steeper pitches, leads to more fun as the resort opens the top chairlift for the Rossignol team to enjoy long, virgin runs through the forest
“Lost in translation”
The culture clash is real and the resort staff doesn’t understand our group’s unwavering desire to do the forbidden and move beyond the resort gates. In front of them, they see a spectacle of unstoppable westerners all-too-ready to break their rules. And the westerners, all they see are the limitless untouched lines and pillows waiting to be played. But the goodwill and kindness of our hosts continues to shine through, illuminating the richness of Japan’s quietly esteemed culture.
"Riding in Japan is not simply about riding..."
In Otari Onsen, Seegi is the man in charge, and he is honored to open the doors of the 250 year old temple. A mythical, yet traditional place with a basic level of comfort and unique atmosphere, the Onsen are famous, natural hot baths in Japan. They quickly become daily ritual for the group.
Meanwhile Marion is touched by Shinto, the traditional, shamanic religion, and the kami, the spirits Shinto practitioner’s worship, who inhabit the mountains and forests, rivers and streams, animals and people alike.