Backcountry Skiing and Deep pow in Niseko
"Behind every skier's journey, there's a skier…usually it's Andre." -Forrest Coots, 2012
So when I thought of Japan prior to this trip I thought of super mellow pow, lot's of Sushi and obnoxiously bright ski suits with weird broken english expressions. My experience however was steeper pillowed terrain, epic night skiing and hot springs (onsens) almost everyday and everywhere. We only ate sushi a couple times, more commonly we ate some combination of fishy fish, seaweed and noodles. With a diet like that and hot springs everyday, no wonder the Japanese live for ever.
Another shock to me was the number of ski resorts. Driving around Japan is more like driving around the Alps in terms of the number ski resorts you see off the sides of the roads. A little research unveiled that there are ~500 ski resorts in Japan! Wow. How to decide where to go? I found internet research wasn't producing the best results but stumbled upon the link for the Black Diamond Lodge in Niseko. I sent the link to Jordan and said we should go there, he replied that he was already in discussions with them to book a trip. I'm in. Flight booked. Now just to meet Jordan, the Chad's and Forrest at a ski lodge situated on Hokkaido. Oddly, we arrived in different vans at exactly the same time. The journey begins.
The Black Diamond lodge is situated perfectly at the base the Niseko Village resort the eastern most lift system in the Niseko complex. It's run by Clayton and Andrew two Canadian (Albertan) entrepreneurs and snowboarders with a can-do get'r done attitude! They provide accommodation, food and guiding both on-hill and backcountry. For foreigners they have an amazing grasp of the local and further a field terrain. For 10 days they'd shuttle us around, show us where to go or drop us off at a lift with an action plan. Other than the skinning and skiing it was effortless. We choked on blower pow, lost count of face shots and floated through pillows almost every day. We got the goods! Well we did ski down to the ocean one day which was epic until the most gnarly boot pack to get out of there snuck up on us. All the lines we'd skied had suitable rad names: Cheap Trick, Watermelons and Hokkaido's Most Famous Pillow lines. How these guys found some of these lines is almost unimaginable. One thing to note is definitely bring skins unless you like boot packing in titty deep pow.
Being behind the scenes of an entire Skier's Journey was a treat to see how it all worked. I did however learn that I don't have what it takes to be a pro skier. It's obvious I don't have sheer physical beauty of Chad Sayers or the cool californian style of Forrest Coots but the real differentiator is there patience and hard work. I was clearly on vacation skiing around and having fun. These guys would work endlessly with Jordan to get the shots he needed. They waited around in the cold, the dark or whatever. Skiing lines several times. Whether they woke sick or sore they'd still go skiing, scoping lines and making the perfect turn. Not even broken bindings would slow them down, well maybe a little bit. I do recall Forrest somehow communicating with a Japanese mechanic at some gas station to get an allen key for his binding plates that were falling apart. Kind of amazing really. Also I'm now taking credit as creative director for the entire series. Just an FYI.
If your goal is to ski epic pow in lots of different little resorts in Japan I'd aim for Niseko. The stuff off the main Niseko resorts is great but there's also a ton of smaller resorts and pure backcountry zones nearby that are definitely worth checking out. Not only because the skiing is great but because they have their own little flavour and often are less busy than the main resorts. Of course Mt. Yotei, the Fuji of the north, is within striking distance as well. I feel like the skiing you'd get in a week or two in Japan would be equal or better than cat skiing so put it on your list.
To get started contact the Black Diamond Lodge:
Higashiyama 24-3, Niseko-cho