Leon checks in from Hakuba

Japan – where do i start? A crazy country full of juxtapositions and contradictions, but what a place it is, words don’t really do justice to its beauty and craziness. I’ll run through the past 2 months in a hurry and get to the good stuff – the pow!

Landing in Tokyo after 20 hours of travelling I was greeted by the amazing Japanese infrastructure, it was a bit of a shock to enter such a hectic world, a far cry from the temples and rice fields in my mind. I have never felt so alien (being a 6 foot 4 gaijan), but after asking the friendly people of Tokyo I found my way out of Narita Airport and on my way to the infamous Bullet train to Nagano.

It was all a bit of a blur once I got to the Bullet train, literally and figuratively. Its an incredible experience but to be honest I was in and out of sleep the whole way, so I couldn’t even tell you what the journey was like. ​To cut a long story short, I reached the beautiful town of Hakuba, met my work colleagues and got drunk. Next two days were spent seriously confused.

​Fast forward to just after New Years and I went on my first splitboard trip out of one of the resorts called Happo One. The Hakuba Valley is made up of 11 ski areas, fairly small but with plenty to offer. This day was a stunner and due to the serious lack of snow we thought we would venture out into the Hakuba backcountry to stretch the legs, not really expecting much. Touring straight out of Happo we were greeted by some of the most impressive and gnarliest mountains I’ve seen. Japan, famed for having lots of snow and small mountains, just threw that notion out of the window with a swift kick to the nuts. These mountains are insane. Alaska style spines, European couloirs with Japanese snow. Unfortunately they are very very hard to get too and very dangerous.

We managed to find a ridgeline with a south facing slope that looked safe and like it could deliver. With views all the way to Mount Fuji, we dropped into our first Japanese face, and it did not disappoint. A short descent followed by a sweaty skin back out reminded us to maybe lay off the beer for a while, a short lived thought that lasted until the end of the day celebrations.

We didn’t get our first real dump of snow for another week but when a storm hit us it ended up delivering the goods. This fell just before the first ever Asian Freeride World Tour Qualifier event, of which I was stoked to be a part of. I was in the 2 star event, and on the day we had terrible visibility and wind, I didn’t put down a very good run but I was happy to just be a part of the experience. There as alot of hype around the event and it was god to see the local rippers being put on the map.

The following 2 weeks was the most snow I have ever seen. 2.5 metres of dry Japanese powder fell in 5 days, and it just kept getting topped up. I had the deepest turns of my life, one turn In particular will stick in my mind forever. The vibe here is very different to other places – it has a mellow, soul riding feel, much closer to the roots of snowboarding. Far removed from the fast paced cliff hucking European vibe, which is good in its own way. I have struggled a little bit at times here to find steep faces or cliffs to session, but when you sit back and just enjoy what there is on offer here you realise how good it really is.

The food is just as good as the snow, my perfect day now consists of a morning riding then Ramen for lunch followed by beers or an Onsen. It really doesn’t get much better then that.

It seemed like everyone in snowsports turned up at the right time, from Travis Rice and Ken Block to Sam Anthamatten. It was insane to see the level of riding and its inspiring to rub shoulders with your hero’s. There were so many good days that its hard to pick one out in particular, the have all merged into a frothy mess of powder and bottomless turns.

The season is now in full swing, we get regular dumps of snow, have had way more sunny days then I was expecting and everyone is fizzing. I’m exploring the many resorts and slowly figuring out where to go on which day. Im still yet to properly explore the backcountry but I’m hoping once the weather settles we will be able to go and get at some of these huge mountains on offer.

Follow Leon on Instagram. This post was originally published on Leon’s blog – Chasing Winter.

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