By Drew Petersen
Every turn produced a face shot, enveloping my entire body in wave after wave of white. I felt the resistance of the snow against my chest in the middle of the turn as much as against my skis. The snow split into particles, allowing me to go deeper as I dug my edges in, before finally, reluctantly releasing the turn, only to bounce into the next.
This was the first day of our trip to ski in Japan, and frankly, that first run was enough to justify the multiple days of travel, the long layovers, and yes, even the struggles of navigating the Tokyo subway system alone the night I arrived. This powder is why everyone makes the pilgrimage.
Drew Petersen digs into another deep one. We could dive into the scientific explanations for why Ja-pow is some of the best snow in the world, but honestly, it just is. Photo: Marcus Caston
That afternoon, as the clouds parted, revealing the views of the mountains surrounding the Myoko valley, our crew met up with Mike Douglas for a run. He dropped in, gliding atop the broken powder on a popular run, lacing his turns effortlessly together in what has become his signature, well-recognizable style of skiing. I grew up watching Douglas ski in movies, so meeting him by chance on the other side of the world was about as cool as one can imagine. But that’s a story for another time. Over beers that night, Douglas shared stories from his Japan adventures over the years. He first skied here 21 years ago, and the passion in his voice is captivating whether he is talking about his favorite places or the few regions of Japan he has yet to explore.
We've all heard about the powder in Japan, but the terrain sure is out there too. Views like this are why I'm more inspired than ever to go back. Photo: Drew Petersen
I am fortunate enough that this is my third trip to Japan. I first came six years ago on a film trip to Hokkaido. Back then, I was a wide-eyed 17-year-old kid. When I stepped off the plane in Tokyo, I felt like I was on another planet. Now, not much is different, for me at least. I am still amazed by my surroundings—obviously the snow, but also the culture, the food, the kind souls of the Japanese people.
This year, I am here with two friends, Marcus Caston and Cam McLeod. We are living in a van, and we have opted to stay on Honshu, the main island of Japan, rather than traveling to Hokkaido, the north island. Before I get any farther, yes, I did just say that the three of us are living in a van together. It’s tight, it’s cramped, and the van admittedly started to smell within the first few days. Obviously, it’s not an original idea, but wow, was it fun. Over our two weeks in Japan, we stayed mobile, bouncing from one place to the next—Myoko, Nozawa, Shigakogen, and wherever the skiing sounded the best.
Skiing on Honshu offered the opportunity to see new mountains, big mountains. Japan is obviously known for its powder, but the peaks of the Japanese Alps are marvelous and offer impressive relief, rising from near sea level. Conditions did not allow for us to ski much of the larger terrain, but I felt inspired as ever seeing these new mountains.
No matter where in the world it is, being clicked into a pair of skis on top of a mountain is where I am most at home. Dropping in on the QST 106. Photo: Drew Petersen
Not every day was as full of deep powder as that first day, but that didn’t matter as soon as it started snowing again. On our last day, back in the Myoko area, each run, each turn truly was deeper than the last. The snow seemed to fall in every direction, straight down, sideways with the wind. Simply put, it was absolutely dumping. I dropped in off the ridge and was fully white-roomed by the first turn. When we reached our skin track from the run before, it was barely recognizable. Based on the ski track, I would estimate that it was snowing five inches per hour. It was the hardest I have ever seen it snow, anywhere, ever in my life.
When people ask me about skiing in Japan, my response is simple. “It is absolutely everything that everyone says it is.” It really is that good. I sure hope that life allows me to return to Japan for more of the same at some point, but until then, I’ll keep on dreaming of that last day of our trip—and of the sushi, sake, and snacks of course.