Unless you've been living under a very big rock, you've heard the tales of Japan's surreal terrain neck deep powder on tap, day or night. The hype was buzzing extra strong this season and we were itching to go get a taste of it, one way or another. When the plans finally took shape, it was May! Not exactly the prime month for free refills of pow, but if we didn't pounce on the trip this year, it might have never happened, right? So we went with the flow and booked a ticket.
Touchdown Narita airport where the culture shock began. In a bustling world far from home, we circled through security not once but twice, but it worked out for the better. Our extra lap bumped us right into a Japanese snowboarder wearing a Canada toque, fresh off a winter in Canmore. Turns out our new friend Yuske (last name), local snowboard legend, also rode a G3 split and represented the Caravan crew we were trying to meet. Off to a good start.Yuske led us and our bulky bags through the maze of Tokoya train systems to a meet up with the Caravan crew, G3's Japan distributors.After food, drinks, and a classic night in a 'capsule', we were eager to escape the bustling city for the mountains. Our bus to Hakuba pushed us upstream through nonstop currents of cities and people in constant motion before dropping us at the source... the mountains.
A world apart, we found mountains quite reminiscent of our Coast Mountains back at home, with multi-peak linkups just waiting to be skied. After a week of fun, we were ready for the bigger days.Fortunately our pension owner in Gakuei-kan was an instructor, guide and pro back in his day, with a wealth of Japanese ski touring history to share with us, shaping ideas for where to head next. The plan hatched for the Hakuba Hanzan, linking the 3 highest peaks in Hakuba in a day.
Meeting at precisely 6:00am on his orders, we hopped in the van and headed up with a vengeance. With only a brief pause before the off-road section, he pinned it and we held on for the ride. This wasn't his first rodeo. Even the river wouldn't have stopped him but we insisted on saving his car (and us for that matter), so we jumped out and let our feet do the rest.Most people enjoy the luxury of a 2 day trip with a mountain lodge overnight stay, but with our fine thread budget it wasn't an option. So we slogged in the spring heat and enjoyed it for all it's worth, transition after transition – hike, skin, ski, repeat.
But even we were hardly roughing it. With a cafe 500 ft from the last summit, we couldn't say no to a soup and coffee before bagging the last peak. Solid weather, fun skiing, and our unstoppable shuttle driver all made for a great trifecta of the three high peaks of Hakuba.
With one amazing Japan ski trip in the bag, we're already plotting a mid-winter return for the legendary winter conditions. With any luck we'll once again land in the hands of friendly, seasoned locals, and the powder refills will flow as constantly as the saki from our first night in Tokyo.