Niseko United 2014 – Day 1 (We made it!)
After several days of what can be described lightly as “hectic” we finally found our place here in Niseko and were able to put our snowboard bags somewhere they could stay for a while. You have no idea how big of a relief that was for us all.
Finally, we could what we came here for-
After setting a shuttle for later in the day we drove ourselves six-deep in a rented station wagon to Niseko United Resort. It took a minute to figure out where to pick up our tickets and from whom (as per the usual when you’re a bunch of Americans in Japan who speak terrible Japanese. I have a lot of gratitude for the Japanese and their patience with Americans), but we finally figured it out and were ready to ride!
Let me share something with you right here; snowboarding in Japan is amazing. If you love finding super fun side hits and amazing natural terrain then you’d probably agree. We all got off that first lift and were snowboarding like people possessed. Every time we paused somewhere on the mountain all you heard was the sound of everyone trying to catch their breath before rocketing off again down the hill to the next spot. There were big, wide-open runs and anywhere you looked out from you saw this massive volcano (Yotei; I think we might go hike it soon..) but the best part was riding through this massive gully. It had huge walls on either side and trees halfway up you could jump off, through, around or under and there were people whizzing around you that you had to avoid smashing into as well and it was all too much fun. Keita even took us to a stash of powder that had a waterfall off to the side and slightly below us through a few trees. We had to stop and just look at it for a while before we kept going. I’m starting to realize Japan is full of amazing hidden spots like that.
Towards the end of the afternoon we caught one of the last upper lifts back to the very top. Keita knew of a spot we could hike to and then drop in to from that would be really fun. It would let us ride some bigger mountain terrain and bring us down to the car we’d parked earlier in the morning. It was a really mellow hike to the top of the ridge, I think they’d driven a cat through the area that morning. It took maybe 15 minutes, but when we got to the top and started looking around it made me wish I knew more words in the english language to describe how amazing it was. The best thing I came up with was, “a more graceful Alaska”.
We hiked a little further across the top of the ridge and then strapped in. This was the first time it really started sinking in that we were all riding in Japan. Even though the last time it had snowed was days ago we were still able to find some fresh patches to slash through. There was one spot we all stopped at and hiked back up because it was too damn fun not to run it again. I had to fall a few times as well, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten what that was like.
The last bit of riding was above the lot where we’d parked our friend Keita’s van. The snow there was soft and still fluffy with small japanese maples dotted around towards the bottom. Jeremy wanted to get a shot of us all riding through there, so we lined up at the top and shot off towards the bottom in one big group of skiers, Americans, Japanese and snowboarders. Something about swerving through trees and around your friends while riding in Japan in magical. I hope I’m not getting too corny with all of this, but I gotta say, ‘magical’ is really the best way to describe it. Come over to Japan yourself and let me know if you can come up with anything else. When we got back to the van we were all grinning uncontrollably, high-fiving and earnestly asking how to say “awesome” in Japanese. It was the best first day of riding in Japan.
We did have a slightly non-magical moment once we got back to the car and realized Keita had left the key to his van in his other jacket (which was in our car back at Niseko United). After a good amount of trying to break into his car with a coat hanger and snow-saw Keita caught a ride back to our car at Niseko United and returned victorious with the key.
Even that just added to the whole experience. Trips have hiccups; it’s the nature of things and those hiccups tend to work out fine in one way or another. You may not know which way that’s going to be at the time, but almost always you can look back on it and agree it somehow worked out for the better. Or at least not too badly.
We hope that you follow along with us here to see how everything unfolds for us in Japan and we can’t wait to keep sharing the story.