September 13, 2016

Back to Japan



Back in 2014 we had already taken a trip to Japan – a dependable destination in theory, but it had been a year without snow, said the Japanese…

We poor Frenchies, however, had quite simply been stunned by the skiing spots and snow coverage – it “only” snowed 20 inches almost every day … So what’s a normal season in Japan? We wanted to find out, and decided to go back, two years later. But this particular winter was seriously strange, and Japan was paying the price too. We kept on monitoring the weather forecasts: snow was on the way, apparently. But it never really fell, or was instantly swept away by violent winds. So we resigned ourselves to the situation – after all, Japan is a beautiful country, the Japanese are as cool as ever, and being here’s a pleasure, even without any snow.





Day 1
Arrive in Tokyo

I fly into Haneda. Bertrand and Guillaume arrive at Narita airport, an hour from Tokyo, and hop on a bus to hook up with me. We collect our hire car and head for Hakuba. A word of warning: Japanese GPS units are in Japanese, and that’s about it. If you ask for a satnav in English, you’ll get voice prompts in English, but nothing else. So be sure you have a telephone number or a super-precise drawing of your arrival point so you can mark it on the GPS map. Otherwise, the best of luck!





Days 2 and 3
Hakuba 47 and Cortina

First contact with snow. Conditions aren’t ideal, but there’s that exotic atmosphere – we see a troop of macaques, and best of all go to a supermarket, which is basically like stepping into another universe. Nothing’s like back home, be it the products, the photos or anything else. You just have to trust your instincts, buy, taste… and occasionally bin. Worst-case scenario: round-the-clock sushi. For gasoline, though, stations close at night until 7am…







Day 4

We finally meet up with Ryuya Yoshida and Jonas for our first day’s skiing together. We make for Hakuba 47, where the weather’s bad but there’s a forest. The backcountry trails at Hakuba 47 require some knowledge of the terrain, as certain descents are fairly committing. The previous week, Ryuya got lost with a group of Americans. They had to dig a hole in the snow and spend the night there; then next day, it took them four hours to get back. A survival sheet and a headlamp take up no room in your pack.








It snowed all night, and today it’s almost fine! But we find out, to our cost, that the Japanese always say yes, whatever the question, and especially if they don’t understand it. When I exchange the voucher for our passes, and specify that we want the connections to Cortina, the elderly office manager, who doesn’t speak a word of English, says “yes, yes, of course”. When we get to Cortina, the passes aren’t valid, so we have to come straight back even though it’s sunny, with 20 inches of powder, and all the local riders have arranged to meet up here…





Hakuba 47

Loads of snow, and Jonas is still up for riding with us. It’s snowing super hard, and the wind’s gotten up. We seek refuge in a hole, and wait for a lull. Back down in the resort, we come across a small crowd of people, and a cute mascot. We’re offered a plate with three balls of undefinable appearance, but they’re as cute as the mascot, and the colors are about the same. We’re enthusiastic tasters, and bite into what seems to be an ultra-sticky rice ball rolled in sugar. On the palate, the result is pretty scary. So: beware cute mascots.






The much-awaited busy day, and superb weather’s forecast. Our destination? Happo One and its big freeriding bowls. As we get off the first lift, there are 100 skiers and snowboarders getting ready to climb the ridge that gives access to plenty of routes… In Japan, as the weather’s rarely good, days like this are intensely savored. The team are pumped, and aim to overtake everyone on the ridge and be first to carve powder. It pays off: the fairly steep bowl yields the trip’s best pictures.








We all get together with the Foorush crew for a day-long shoot. Eight riders is a lot. The chosen location is a fairly quiet off-piste area, because the cars need to be left 30 minutes away, for the drive back to the resort. We have a great time. Top tip: if you ask a local if you must pick the right-hand or left-hand canyon and he says left, and then five minutes later says right… well, you’re on your own! Climbing skins are just as vital as a survival sheet!






Our last day’s riding: we return to Hakuba 47 with Jonas and Ryuya, crossing fingers that the snow’s as good as last time. It’s quite warm, with a strong wind, and the snow has turned crusty. But the sun is back, and we see bear-claw marks on a tree!






Bad weather for our last day, so we decide to go and see the sea. The local crab meat has an excellent reputation. We spot an old sign: “Crab 3 miles”. At least that’s what we think it says. We head that way and find only a little stall – we thought it was a restaurant, but they actually sell whole crabs. The old lady and her daughter are really nice, and generously let us sample succulent crab morsels.








A five-hour drive back to Tokyo. We decide to spend late afternoon at Shibuya, the famous crossroads where everyone must go once in their life. After that, you realize Tokyo is a megalopolis. In a nutshell: Japan’s brilliant, so sort out your tickets.





About the author
Guillaume Harleaux
On skis since the age of 2, Guillaume discovered the taste of fresh snow and enjoyed skiing thrills very early. About to become famous in the Freeride category, this young man from the French department of Belfort only started competition at the age of 25. His unquestionably growing potential impresses many professionals. When skiing, Guillaume reveals a unique flowing and rapid style. He also perfectly masters the qualities that are key to Freeride: commitment, creativity and technical know-how. After winning a few well-deserved places during his first Freeride World Qualifier, he will give his best in this year’s Qualifier in order to get into the Freeride World Tour.
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