“Snowboarding in Japan, really? Do they have much snow?” Nine times out of ten this is the response when you inform people you’re heading off to quite possibly one of the best but least known snowboarding destinations in the world. And the answer to the question is yes, they most certainly do, over 15m on average per year! Virtually of of it falling as some of the lightest powder you can dream of. At this point in the conversation they assume one of two expressions. The true powder hounds wide eyed and salivating already daydreaming of waist deep pow, while everyone else glazes over consigning you to a character file labelled Lonely Planet touting snow obsessed ski bum weirdo. Their loss.
It had been 6 years since our last trip to the Land of the Rising Sun and memories of epic powder were as vivid as ever, so using my fortieth as a weak justification for a lads trip (hey, sometimes it just has to be done!) we once again set off with expectations running high. As before we were not disappointed. Our destination was once again Niseko the largest and most well known (relatively) resort, located on the northern island of Hokkaido. By European standards the resort is low and tiny and if you picked it up and dropped it in the alps, with alpine snowfall, it would probably only rate as a ‘day trip’ resort. But this isn’t Europe it’s Japan, and it gets blasted by cold dry air from Siberia that picks up moisture as it crosses the Japan Sea dumping epic amounts of light dry powder. Heaven! If your idea of hitting a resort is charging groomers from top to bottom then this isn’t the place for you. If however the idea of fresh lines in waist deep pow, and playing in the trees has you dribbling then I would suggest you make the effort and get yourself over there.
And it’s not just the powder. There is undoubtedly something very special about the whole Japanese snowboarding experience. The Japanese people are incredibly friendly and polite. Lift operators bowing and sweeping the snow off the chairs for you. Massive apologies and free hot drinks when you got stuck on a lift for twenty minutes? Ever had that in Europe? No, thought not. And everything is just so alien and amazing in equal measure: Snowcapped volcanoes. Snowboarding off a peak while being able to see the sea. Leafy green bamboo squashed flat under metres of snow. Supermarket isles where you don’t recognise a single thing. Heated toilet seats. Heated train seats!
It’s all just so different, the beauty in the difference of the detail. Are there any bad points? Well there’s a lot of Aussies there, I’ll let you make your own judgement on that. But if I heard one more conversation on the bus or in the Gondola that started with “Jeez we were soooo wasted last night” ……..Bluebird days can also be a bit of a rarity because, if you haven’t already gathered, it snows rather a lot! And of course it is a little more expensive to get there. That being said once there the food, beer, and most importantly coffee, etc is cheaper and in my opinion of a better quality than the overpriced rubbish in the Alps.
We hiked the peak several times opening up unlimited untracked lines. Did a day out with guides doing snowmobile accessed backcountry. Rode floodlit powder until 9pm at night. Drank Sapporo. And basically lived the dream. And so after a week in powder heaven we had to regrettably say sayonara and head home. But once again we have come away with memories to last a lifetime. Snowboarding in Japan is a very privileged, unique, and special experience that I would thoroughly recommend.