Ski Japan – Part 1

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will know that James and I had a fantastic Boy’s Own ski trip adventure back in February.  We combined James’ love of everything Japanese with our joint passion for skiing the best powder snow and took a half term trip to Japan.  For those of you who aren’t ski nuts Japan has some of the best powder snow in the world, most resorts over there average 11m – 14m per season whereas in Europe its normally an outstanding season if they get 3m – 4m.

So everything was booked and scheduled.  A great BA flight to Tokyo (using up some of a careers worth of airmiles), bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano, bus from Nagano to Happo One.  I decided to take just my Olympus EP2 camera as I needed it for the skiing part of the trip and what with carrying skis, ski boots and all the other kit I just couldn’t take the Leica as well.  We would have 5 and a half days skiing followed by two days in Tokyo and then fly back home.  Well we would if the weather didn’t get in the way.

Leaving Tokyo - Bullet Train

Leaving Tokyo – Bullet Train

We landed after Tokyo had the worst snowstorm in 50 years and the normally incredibly reliable Japanese train system was in chaos. The bullet trains weren’t running at all.  Its at times like this though that you find out what a country is really like.  Without fail all the Japanese people we met were amazingly helpful and kind and the wonderful ladies at JRE East found us a hotel for the night and then booked us on the second Bullet Train to leave the next day.  At 6.54 am we boarded the train for what should be a 2 hour journey, 13hours late we arrived in Nagano.  There was just so much snow all along the journey that it was difficult for the trains to get through.  In England they wouldn’t have run any trains but the Japanese were determined to get us there.

Finally we made it, one and a half days late, very tired and hungry, but we were there and there was so much snow.  So much snow but so few people.  We’re used to crowded pistes in Europe at half term, this couldn’t have been more different.

Empty Pistes

Empty Pistes

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James - The old kit

James – The old kit

We had a day to warm up and get our ski legs back prior to out first guided off-piste powder day.  Great to work out the kinks form all the travelling and also to find out that James really did need new snow kit.  We hadn’t been able to find any that fitted him well in the UK but in Japan, no problem.  Not only did it fit, it looked really cool as well.

James in new kit,I'm sporting the obligatory gnarly snow beard!

James in new kit, I’m sporting the obligatory gnarly snow beard!

Our guide, John was from Canada and not only a fully trained avalanche instructor, backcountry guide and about the best snowboarder I’ve ever skied with, he was also a videographer and had made many ski films.  It didn’t take any persuading for me to hand my Olympus over to John and ask him to record our day.

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John our guide, photographer and avalanche trainer

So we headed off to Cortina, that’s the Cortina in Japan not Italy, to make the most of the powder.  Fortunately for us high winds the day before had meant that the Cortina lifts were closed preserving all that powder from the snowstorm.  All that powder.  Deeper powder than I’d ever experienced before.  Powder that was up to the tops of our thighs.   When we took off our skis  to track into the woods with each step we sink down and down, wondering if the snow was going to reach past our waists.  This was exactly the ski conditions we had hoped for when deciding to come to Japan.

John took us up to the top of Cortina and then away from everyone else cutting back into the woods.  Not only were we going to be skiing in light, deep, untouched powder but we were also going to be tree skiing.  Literally skiing down through a wood between the trees.  It was the other much hoped for experience when skiing in Japan.  Below is a set of photos taken  form our first two runs down through the woods and then out along a river bank and finishing with us skiing through a dam.

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Thigh deep powder in the Cortina woods

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James leading the way

James leading the way

Taking a breather

Taking a breather

Out through the dam

Out through the dam

The light started to go as clouds closed in after the first two descents which meant John had to push the ISO higher and higher on the EP2.  This isn’t something its known for handling well and the images that came out are quite noisy.  Normally I wouldn’t use them but with a bit of post processing I think they have an almost impressionistic quality that I quite like.  Feel free to leave comments and tell me what you think.

James and John scoping out the route

James and John scoping out the route

James tearing up the Cortina trees

James tearing up the Cortina trees

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At the dam after our final descent

At the dam after our final descent

The last run home

The last run home

After that full on day of tree skiing in deep powder we were shattered.  The next day we skied for just half a day and then chilled with a video in the hotel room and I took a photo stroll through the resort.  These photos and our final guiding day of skiing will be up shortly in Part 2.

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