Traveling the globe in the modern age, it always amazes me that you can board a plane in Sun Valley, Idaho, close your eyes for a bit, watch a movie or two and arrive on the other side of the world. We are truly fortunate.
Flying into Japan’s capital, Tokyo, which is home to more than 13 million people, you’re immediately floored by the vastness of one of the densest and bustling cities in the world. Straddling the large Tokyo bay, tankers, tug boats, and ships are surrounded by the sprawling metropolis. Upon arrival, you can get almost anywhere by train, subway, or rail car as the vast network of public transportation allows you to explore the city.
Tokyo is incredibly diverse, vibrant and stimulating. The streets bustle at all hours of the day and around every corner is another shop, restaurant, or alley to explore. It’s the perfect cultural compliment to a ski trip to the other side of the Earth. Not to mention, it’s a very humbling feeling being in a foreign country, not speaking the language, and having to navigate such a vast city. Nevertheless, there is a certain sense of accomplishment when you start to figure it out and get your bearings.
Heading north to Sapporo you find the fourth largest city in Japan, host of the 1972 Olympics (the first ever in Asia) and the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is a quick flight north from Tokyo and the area hosts an endless array of ski resorts that you could spend years exploring. When you think of Japan you are certainly thinking of Hokkaido. Deep snow, volcanoes, endless face shots, snow-covered trees and nonstop accumulation epitomize the Hokkaido region. Although ducking ropes and skiing under the lift is strictly forbidden, with a little knowledge and exploration we were able to discover arguably the best powder skiing anywhere. The photos don’t do the snow justice as the skiing is like nowhere else on the planet.
The sun doesn’t come out often in Japan, but when it does, the mountains that the light reveals are simply amazing. Hakuba’s terrain does not disappoint. We were called in to help with the Freeride World Tour’s first Japanese stop. After the event successfully ran, we had a couple days to explore the Hakuba Valley. Hakuba was the home to the 1998 Winter Olympics where snowboarding was first introduced as an Olympic sport and American Johnny Moseley took home gold. There are large ski resorts and a vast lift network and infrastructure system allowing for endless skiing around the city centers. We were lucky to have one sunny day that allowed for exploration above the resorts in the backcountry and it was amazing to see the terrain surrounding this beautiful valley.
It’s no surprise the food and drink in Japan are an amazing experience. We instigated the “Ramen Challenge” on day one and continued the tradition of eating at least one meal consisting of ramen every day of the trip. Even after the consumption of countless delicacies I honestly still have no idea what a lot of them were. I went in with an open mind and did not turn down a single suggestion. I can confidently say that the Japanese cuisine is some of the best in the world and not to be missed. I have never had better tasting or larger portions of sushi anywhere. Not to mention, the automated ordering of food and coffee at the most random of street locations is amazing.
It was a wonderful trip and special thanks to Reggie Crist and Stellar Media for having us along. I can’t wait till next year. Until then, the skiing continues back home in Sun Valley where we’re loving the nonstop fresh pow every day.