Last April, my family and I decided to embark on our dream adventure vacation to Japan. The traditional tour of Japan, in many readers minds’, may include visiting the numerous temples with extraordinary architecture, savoring the view from the top of the Tokyo tower, and admiring the beauty of Mount Fuji.
While we certainly did enjoy the unique beauty of Japan and even some “tourist traps,” the main purpose of our trip was to experience, first hand, the highly acclaimed JaPOW. Our dear friends of Arctic Heli Skiing, a ski touring and heli skiing company based out of Iceland, have worked with a local guiding company, Alpine Guide GAO, in Japan for several years. During this trip, we too would be able to connect with with local guide for a small and intimate tour of family, as well as old friends and new friends.
After a months of planning, we departed the states on a cold and snowy December day and landed in Tokyo more than 24 hours later. The first three days in Tokyo required adjusting to the 14 hour time change, but also allowed us to explore the city, try new food, and experiencing the culture. The time adjustment, incredible difference in cultures, and stimulus made those three days felt like an entire trip in itself however, truly, it was just beginning.
The next leg of the trip required a short plane hop onto the island of Hokkaido and into the city of Sapporo. Einar Ísfeld Steinarsson from Arctic Heli Skiing as well as Jun Ishiguro, a local ski guide, awaited our arrival as well as our luggage. Ski trips certainly require their fair share of luggage and this trip, more than halfway around the globe, was no exception. The Patagonia black hole duffel and snow roller snowboard bag are perfect vessels for any trip, but here is Japan they provided the durability and waterproofness that a bag needs when it is getting strapped to the top of a van.
From Sapporo, we made the 3 hour drive to our first guesthouse in Niseko and unwound from the day’s travel in the traditional Japanese Onsen, a natural hot spring. Graciously, I would call this haven home for the next three days.
Before we set off on our first day of exploring, Einar and Jun ran us through some avalanche safety as a refresher. This step, an important and potentially life saving one for many tours, was especially important today after the consistent snowfall from the evening and this morning. Although these weather conditions are fairly usual for this part of Japan during the winter, we were in for a treat. Eagerly, we clipped into our skis, splitboard in my case, and started skinning directly from the guesthouse. After finishing the first 1.5-2 hour climb we were able to take the first few turns down, I felt like there was something missing, I quickly realized it was the noise. Growing up skiing and riding in Vermont, I have become accustomed to the sound of the combination ice and firm snowpack scraping against my edges; it has almost become comforting. With the incredible amount of snow Hokkaido receives each week, there was no chance of hearing this noise. After a full, tiring yet exciting, day of backcountry we headed back to the guest house.
The next day, we packed all of our gear, including my Nano and Micro Puff, Primo Down Jacket, R1, and Adze Hybrid jacket into the van and drove to a local ski resort. It does not differ drastically from what you see in the states. There are chairlifts, some were bubble lifts and others were normal quads, doubles or gondolas. Seeing these lifts gave me a comforting feeling of home. A bubble lift ride to a gondola allowed us access to the top of the mountain. However, instead of skiing down the face of the mountain on the trails, we skied in the back bowls. The snow was like nothing I had ever experienced. I already thought that the snow from the day before couldn’t get any better but I was wrong. My snowboard felt like it was cutting through creamy butter snow and provided featherlike weightlessness all at the same time. Riding down is the closest I’ve come to flying, with my board floating on and cruising through clouds. In a sort of euphoria, the ending to our days had become a routine: unpack backpacks, soak in the onsen, and enjoy a delicious and satisfying dinner.
The fourth day on Hokkaido was another travel day with a 4 hour drive to our next guest house in Furano. Throughout the snowy drive we stopped at a small museum that had an exhibit about the local Ainu people. We also stopped at a sake distillery where we were able to see how sake is made and taste the brewed varieties.
Days five and six were very similar to days two and three. We did some backcountry the first day at the new guesthouse and then went to another local resort the second day and did some slackcountry runs. The snow stayed pretty consistent throughout the last couple of days, however it still varied somewhat from place to place. The assortment of backcountry, slack country, and resort skiing was perfect for getting a chance to explore the island as well as get a feel for the different environments Hokkaido has to offer. The last day was a short day of skiing because we had to head back to Sapporo in preparation for our early flight the next morning.
Now I’m sure you are wondering what Patagonia gear I was wearing throughout this trip seeing as this is a blog post for Patagonia Burlington. Keep in mind I run VERY cold: hiking up I wore my R1 Pullover over my base layers, on warmer days I would wear my Nano Puff over my R1 and that combination would keep me warm enough, but also not too warm to the point where I was sweating. On colder and windier days, I would wear the Nano Air over the R1 and the Adze Hybrid Jacket over the Nano Air. The Adze Hybrid Jacket would help shield me from the wind while also providing ventilation in places that tend to get warmer faster. Once I got to the top of the mountain or to the point where we would take our skins off and get ready to ride down I threw my Primo Down Jacket over whatever I was wearing. This helped me stay warm while keeping pretty sedentary and protected me from the wind riding down.
Leaving this place was hard, as I floated through the memories of the JaPOW, but it just excited me even more for the next adventure!
- Maxine Senft Miller,
Patagonia Burlington Sales Associate
Header Photo: Maxine slashing pow at the Rusutsu ski resort. Credit: Einar Isfeld Steinarsson
Photo 1: Maxine and her sister skinning up in Rankoshi, behind the first guesthouse. Credit: Einar Isfeld Steinarsson
Photo 2: The crew putting skins back on for one last run. Einar Isfeld Steinarsson
Photo 3: Taking a water break during our hike up in Rankoshi. Credit: Anna Senft Miller
Photo 4: Making the final skin back to the lift in Rusutsu. Einar Isfeld Steinarsson