Freerider, Josefine Ås from La Grave, swapped the backdrop of the magnificent La Meije for majestic volcanoes and ocean views in Hokkaido, to see if Japow is all it's hyped up to be. And Jap-arently it is!
It's not just the fluffy powder, but, also, the food and culture that are the real deal. BUT ski touring was the way to go to avoid the powder hungry hordes. Luckily, she was accompanied by one of the best internationally certified mountain guides with knowledge of Japan, her husband, Per Ås.
I don't think that any skier, with a love for powder, hasn't heard about Japan.
Over the past years ,the Japow hype has escalated, with endless amazing powder shots spread over social media from the land of the rising sun, teasing the rest of us for not being at the right place. Is it as good as those lucky ones who’ve been there let us believe?
I sure wanted to find out. Japan is a dream destination, not only for the supposed snow quality but, also, for the food, the culture, the beauty, the people.
I finally got the opportunity to tag along with my husband Per Ås’ trip in mid-January. Japanuary! Per is an internationally certified mountain guide and had a group of six people to go ski touring on the North island of Hokkaido.
And, yes, the trip met all my expectations - and beyond.
On the island of Hokkaido it snows almost every day. If you like ski touring, exploring, and great food, this place is as near paradise as you can get. The landscape and mountains are quite mellow. No gnarly, steep terrain but here and there a majestic volcano that rises above everything else. If you are lucky to have a sunny day without too much wind, you can skin up to the summit of one of the volcanoes and feel like being on top of the world. A crater to your left and an amazing ocean view to your right. Fantastic.
But honestly, the most interesting thing about the skiing in Japan is the lower altitude tree skiing in amazing quality powder snow.
Weather systems coming down from Siberia mean a lot of precipitation in the winter. As there is a constant flow of snow, the snow cover is usually pretty homogenous. Temperatures stay cold in January, preserving the dream fluff at top quality. There are some medium to small ski resorts, with Niseko, being the most well known, packed with Aussies staying for the season and tourists both from Japan and around the globe.
You will find great out of bounds skiing on the right day, but as Japan is getting more popular as a powder destination, touring is the way to go to stay away from the crowds. We often skinned up around 5-600 metres, skied down blower pow, had a maki roll and some grean tea in the forest, to then skin up another round. Earn your turns!
Two to three of those rounds and you’re set for the must do afternoon 'onsen'. An onsen is a hot spring spa, and a strong part of the Japanese culture. Natural hotspring baths in 40-43°C water with the large snowflakes coming down at you, is one of the most relaxing things to be done. Dip the little towel once in a while in the warm water and place it on your head so your hair won't freeze. So good!
Back at the Ryokan, the traditional Japanese guest house, dinner is served quite early. Dressed in a kimono and sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, one more fantastic meal unfolds. Sushi, sashimi, miso soup or dashi broth soup, rice, vegetables, egg, beans, fish and more fish. Sometimes some marinated meat. Whatever you eat it just feels good to you.
Just as the onsen. Just as the powder.
The next day starts almost as the last one finished – more or less the same food for breakfast as for dinner! You get used to it and even that feels good. For lunch we buy picnic food at 7 Eleven – up to each and everyone to choose whether to go western or do the Japanese thing. We went full on Japan – with amazing maki rolls, seaweed and fish, fresh from the 7 Eleven fridge, and a miso soup in the thermos. Absolute perfect ski touring lunch! Giving you great energy to get on the skins and ski another paradise run.
Japan is not only about the skiing, it’s about the whole experience and it sure does good in every sense. A trip for good health and great powder. What else?!
Photos© Josefine Ås / Per Ås