Photos By Evan Skoczenski and Nate Duffy
Some say going to Japan gets easier and easier every year you go. Actually, nobody said that, maybe that's just one of the many thoughts racing through my mind as I write this. So technically I said it and you’re more than welcome to go off that be it your first time or your 9th to the magical land of Japan.
It was August and the pre winter stoke was settling in. I’d been to Japan for the first time the previous season, a trip where I tagged along with Trew Ambassador Aaron Lebowitz of Elevated Surfcraft for 3 weeks touring around the northern island of Hokkaido. Japan wasn’t really on the radar for me this year, I was feeling content with a winter in the PNW and counting on some awesome excursions close to home. Thanks to Scotts Cheap Flights I woke up one morning to an offer in my inbox that was impossible to refuse, the header of the email read: “Direct Flight From PDX to Tokyo” and the price was $600. Sure, $600 is still a lot of cash to pony up for a flight, but direct from Portland and half of what it usually costs to get to the main island of Japan, it’s a steal of a deal. Within minutes the group message was started, tickets purchased and the Japow 2020 crew was coming together.
Once you’re in Japan it’s actually relatively affordable when it comes to transportation, lodging and ski area day tickets. Last year we booked our stays at local pension houses, a type of community hostel that usually frequent the immediate area around popular ski resorts like Furano and Rusutsu. We wanted to stay mobile this year, so through Aaron we were referred to Vandura Japan, a booking agent based out of Bend who had helped Aaron secure a 4wd RV for his stay on Hokkaido this winter. Having a moving powder dojo meant we could chase storms and sleep where we wanted to, free of a real itinerary and reservations. That being said, for a first time trip to Japan you can never go wrong with a few weeks split between the northern and southern tips of Hokkaido. Every ski area on the Island has an amazing offering of terrain and classic cold blower pow that the country is known for.
Get yourself a rig that can do both: 4wd and sleep 6
13 hours after leaving Portland we were finally standing in the frigid cold outside New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, waiting to pick up our RV. Once acquired we headed 2 hours north to the small city of Furano where we spent the next two days warming up and lapping this amazing little ski area nestled just above the city.
David running the ridge and putting The Capow kit to the test at Furano
Kyle lining up the white wave
TM Nate channeling his inner Craig
Our trip was originally split between two weeks in Hakuba on the main island and two weeks on Hokkaido, on the North Island. Since the weather looked bleak across the board for winter 2020 we decided to focus our attention only on Hokkaido, cancelling our Hakuba leg. Keeping an eye on the weather while on a winter powder trip is just as essential as it is back home and being able to travel on your own steam in a foreign country makes powder getting that much easier. While the snow at Furano had been fun, playful and deep in places, it was very much low tide in the ski area and a storm was moving in to the north, a place we had visited last year, a place that required you to swim out when a good system dropped snow by the foot.
With our powder legs back in order we picked up a topo map of the surrounding area and pushed onward to the highest point of the North Island: Mt. Asahidake, the volcanic giant of Hokkaido.
We arrived to Asahidake amidst a vicious storm and woke up to blinding sunlight. Last year we had seen the park in the daylight just once, and today was brilliant and clear, a textbook bluebird beyond definition. The cold air acted as a natural caffeine and chided us to saddle up and head for the tram, the only lift access on the entire mountain.
Asahidake is a national park but the gondola access makes easy work of the traverses to either side of the tram line. Imagine Mt. Hood without any ski areas, just a ropeway to the top of Palmer, where the summit is manageable in a mere hour and a half and the gullies below too vast to be beat and tracked before a new storm arrives. Its a place where dream lines happen, and on a day with visibility one tram lap can turn into boot packing your own slice of heaven for hours with your friends. The tram can be ridden and paid for one ride at a time for around $13.00 US, or by the day for $50.00, or a purchase a 6 time punch card for around $60.00 and lap at your leisure. At the top of the tram way you can bootpack or skin to the summit or the towering volcanic fumaroles that below their sulfuric plums skyward infinitely. Whatever way you hike, your decent from the top of Asahidake will be riddled with lines you've never even dreamed about.
Hey Siri: Play "Take My Breath Away" by Tony Valdi
The heat from this volcano powers the hot springs at the base of the mountain, a place for your cold bones to rejuvenate after a long day ripping.
Take a hike, man.
Evan takes a break from shooting to blow some pow up
King of hammering powder, David Wells
Kyle attempting to maintain eye contact
The most essential ingredient for Japan: A good crew of friends!
Stay tuned next Sunday for our continued exploration of Asahidake, Furano-Dake and more