Last January I was invited to join a group of pro skier friends on an expedition to a semi-remote region of Japan for powder skiing, sushi gorging, and sake sipping. I was on assignment for Outside Television and The Ski Channel to serve as producer director as well as host for videos focused on the region’s standing as one of Japan’s best-hidden ski secrets. Here’s the short film, “Myokoing” I produced for The Ski Channel.
My travel mates were pro skiers Adam Ü, Carston Oliver, KC Deane and Sven Brunso. Grant Gunderson, ski photographer extraordinaire, was the requisite photo lens-slinger. With the exception of Sven and myself, the crew was making their third trip to this region – a top-secret zone originally discovered by our friends at K2 Sports and (thankfully) shared with Ü and crew.
Skiing in Japan is like nothing I’ve ever done. Frigid Siberian air sweeping across the sea of Japan picks up copious amounts of moisture, only to have it mercilessly scoured from its clouds by the Japanese alps, and generously deposited on the wooded slopes below. It snows harder there than anywhere else on earth; the snow comes in so hard, fast, and frequently that it’s not possible to get an accurate measure. When you ask locals how much it snows there, nobody knows exactly. But you’re safe to say that it snows, well, a lot.
The boys came up with a term a few years back to describe how hard it snows in Myoko: “Myokoing”. When it’s “Myokoing”, the flakes are the size of potato chips. Houses and cars disapear under mushroom tops of snow. You can feel each big fat flake plastering itself to your waterproof outerwear as you ski, and it only takes a handful of flakes to the goggles before your vision is blissfully cloudy. It also makes it challenging to film. Keeping lenses, mics, tripods and all the other gear dry and clear of ice is challenging enough on a nice day. When it’s snowing gerbil-size flakes and stacking up six inches an hour? Fuggedaboutit.
Despite the challenges, we persevered through the deep snow, beautiful environs, and empty slopes (hey, somebody’s gotta do it) and both Grant and I managed to get a few shots. OK, a lot of great shots. Grant and all the skiers already have a bunch of covers, ads, and photo spreads from the trip, and segments I produced are hitting the airwaves and interwebs now.
Like blockbuster movies, boxing matches, and reunion tours, I was afraid skiing in Japan wouldn’t live up to its hype. It didn’t; it blew the hype out of the water. Put Japan on your bucket list. Actually, put it on your “drop everything and go this year” list. It’s that good.
The tree skiing is unreal. Most of the forest is ancient hardwood. All forest above a certain elevation is preserved as public land and thus never developed, logged, or disturbed. There are few coniferous trees, meaning the corridors through the trees are largely undisturbed by branches and bramble. It makes for great skiing, and a unique feel. But there’s more to the Japanese forests than old-growth trees and tons of snow. A pervasive rumor in the west holds that Japan’s trees are somehow sacred. I dug in to the myth.
The Kodama are said to be ancient tree spirits found in Japan’s forests. Depending on the source, they can range from kind to malevolent, but all reports agree that the Kodama do not take kindly to being disrespected. Outside Television wanted the scoop, and I produced this video for their DISPATCHES series, hoping to discover the truth behind the myth of Japan’s forbidden trees:
Maybe it was the smiles on our faces, the swiftness of our skis, or the sake in our bellies, but the Kodama tolerated our presence in their domain, and I’d hazard to say we were welcomed to explore at our leisure.
I don’t know if it’s due to the myth of the Kodama or not, but the locals simply don’t ski off-piste in Japan. Powder? Who wants that when there are hundreds of ski areas and countless groomed runs waiting to be wiggle-turned? With western powder-fever and high speed lifts quickly reducing the celebrated “powder day” in to a mere “powder hour”, relaxing in to Japans boundless snow and relaxed pace was a welcome change. While the groomed runs clogged with weekend warriors from Tokyo, only a train ride away, our crew would leisurely lap pow run after pow run, confident that the only competition we’d encounter would be between each other, and the only tracks we’d cross would be our own.
© 2013 JohnTrousdale.com. Photography by Grant Gunderson.