We needed to see it for ourselves. Coming from the state that claims “The Greatest Snow on Earth”, were these legends of Japanese powder that never stops falling really true? Was the snow more divine than our “Alta Magic”?
After a long career of never making it to this Mecca of Tree Skiing, I finally found the chance. We would go in January under Daymaker Touring to film the potential of our product in a place that I saw as made for the Daymakers Alpine Adapters. Hokkaido is known for its short, easy to access sidecountry terrain off of ski resorts and highways, a place where you could cast the lightweight gear aside for a burlier setup to launch every last pillow to its fullest potential.
With me, the youngbucks Max Meza and Alex Lundstrom joined. I first met them about 5 years ago while in my early 20s coaching the Park City Big Mountain team.
When they were just little groms.
Team coaching then evolved to a multiyear mentorship of skiing local terrain and heading to competitions with them. Max and Alex, now nearing 18, had spent a significant portion of the previous winter in Austria honing in their big mountain skills amongst many others that a teenager would seek in a euro trip. With a broadened comfort zone on and off the mountain, the guys were ready to take the next step in the Ahmet’s Brother Dojo and go from student to peer. They were ready for their first big film experience.
I spent 7 days prior to their arrival scoping out terrain with the help of an uncharacteristic high pressure system. Our first scheduled day of film occurred at a notorious touring zone outside of Niseko. The snow that moved in was a refreshing blessing but also a complete disaster. We setup a stepdown first and by the time we had finished, the visibility was no more than the length of a shortbus. I started the session off with a 360 into the abyss, followed by Max working at a switch cork 5 and Alex tapping a tree mid 360 some thirty feet down the hill. The lack of depth in the fog was enough for me to call it quits but the opportunity to prove himself in front of the lense amongst the encouragement from media that “This is about as good as weather in Japan gets!” led Alex to take another cleanup hit. After tapping the tree again mid 3, Alex continued to drift another 40 feet past the tree and exploded in a powdery mess. He twisted his ankle, and the session was over.
Alex mid 3-tree tap (photo: Eric Sales)
The following day we skied the strawberry fields of Niseko, a classic zone that would bump the confidence with quick and easy laps. The recent 20” of snow from the day and night prior made for over the hood shots but was too firm underneath for Alex’s ankle. He still attempted and got a few turns in front of the lense.
The crew pushed for Alex to sit out the next couple of days in hopes that he could log a few heavy shots at the end of the week. Max on the otherhand had found his hit, stepped it out and laid down a banger of a goggle-less nose butter 7.
Max busting through the Strawberry fields (photo: Eric Sales)
Max with that snow unibrow (Photo: Eric Sales)
Giray finding that the snow might just be greater than Utah’s “Greatest Snow on Earth” (Photo: eric Sales)
In true Japan fashion, we sought out some avalanche barriers. We had heard of crews getting fined large sums to hit the local barriers so we sought out some off the beaten path. Max and I tried to tee off a round, but skiing barriers proved much more difficult than we imagined. Our set was small inbetween and too tight ( Girays crash in the opening of the video). Day 2 ended with another failure but a very funny shot of me overshooting and landing on the upside of the following barrier, getting completely engulfed by snow.
We got up early on Day 3 to head straight to a zone I was very excited about. Prior to Max and Alex’s arrival, myself and the film crew scouted some lower elevation pillows that held my attention. We sought out a river crossing and parking spots so that on the day of, we were prepared to get in fast if the weather window was closing in.
Upon arrival we saw another crew unloading their gear nearby the river. After doing all the work to scope this zone and wait for the storm to clear up there was no way I was going to get beat to it. Eric (photographer) dropped us off on the side of the road and we B lined it right for the river crossing we scouted. With my touring gear all setup and ready to go I hustled into the zone as fast as I could. I reached this pillow line and held ground below it right as the other crew was crossing the river. When they approached there was a definite air of competition and disappointment, but after talking it out we pushed to take the zone immediately above in the photo while the crew of boarders worked a looker’s left zone. Max and I toured up as quick as we could but struggled in the very steep slope, punchy bottom layers and tight trees. The weather was beginning to build and our window was dissipating. We rock paper scissored it, Max won, and stepped up to bat going straight into the pillows hungry saying “I was born for this shit”.
Verdict: Max slayed it. He was born for this shit, and I was a proud veteran skier watching the boy grow up! (photo: Eric sales)
I lined up my first run on a conservative mogul esque pillow line to get a feel
And it felt good. (Photo: Eric Sales)
The session was on. Max lined up a heavy send center punching the line and I found myself a nice double pillow to cliff
Max (Photo: Eric Sales)
Giray (Photo: Eric Sales)
The filmer boys had had a long couple of weeks as they were there weeks before us to film other projects, but we did our job, we stoked them out behind the lense.
Riding on the stoke and full bellies of the sushi train, we hit the slopes of Niseko for some night pow action. Though Japan is known for it’s deep powder, i’ve got to say the most standout thing (besides the 7/11 being a world class experience of anime magazines and sushi triangles) is the night skiing. It’s a world illuminated in white, and Japan delivered more snow to us. Coming from the east coast originally, night skiing meant cold and ice. We let our guard down from camera skiing, got loose, and raged on what i think to be about 1,500 vertical feet.
Mike (Max’s Dad) laid down some olympic level mogul skiing for us while filmer Sam, no cameraless, brought some New-Wave style to the hill.
The following day we headed for Niseko again. Supposedly there was a storm coming in and the roads would be too bad to make it to other destinations. Our forgotten soldier Alex also wanted to take another stab at skiing and if the ankle acted up, we couldn’t be off in the backcountry. We tried to be productive on the hill but it just wasn't the same. You can’t come off an epic day of skiing deep dreamy pillow lines and then just “go ski the resort”. We were high, we wanted more of it! Our lives felt drained of the good stuff and we were left with the decaf version.
We opted to nail down some product shots and make “model turns” which for us, quickly turned into nosebutters and skiing the trees switch. Like a pie, what’s the edit without some filling? Max’s father Mike, a legend in his own, hiked up and started laying turns for the camera. He had been assisting us through the trip so far with relaying messages, scoping terrain, and hype manning. I think the guys were surprised at seeing how talented Max’s pops was, that such finesse and fine tuned motions could come from the gorilla of a man he is.
The crew left the mountain feeling content with what we made of it, but hungry for more knowing that we only had 2 days of filming left.
We headed for Rusutsu in hopes that we could access sidecountry terrain which caused quite a stir amongst the crowd. I knew that with the overnight wind event there would not only be unsafe drifts for open terrain, but large crowds trying to access the sidecountry through a single open lift at the resort.
The only lift open at Rusutsu.
The nail in the coffin was the flat light and treeless prospects. I pushed back hard to change our location. With 2 film days left and only 1 day of hammers the pressure was on and my nerves were firing. The guides pulled the plug on the location and opted for touring a pass 2 hours away. We were in 2 vans and about an hour into the drive when the van in front stopped. I was told to get out of the van and hop into theirs to film something here. My first thought was “oh shit i pissed them off enough that they’re just dropping me in the middle of this pass and gonna pull away leaving me stranded”. The dark recession of my brain was clearly off when i saw Max smiling. They had spotted some offerings down the road and our group was going to try to make it happen.
Find parking, get out, pack the bags, put the skins on, click the Daymakers in, walk, imagine. Operation mode, this process is ingrained in us. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes before the crew was firing off ideas and settled on a hip and pillow stepdown before sunset. We worked quickly and laid down our quick gotos. A misty 7 and switch 5 from me followed by a boosty flat 3 Japan by Max. The hip was less successful with fleeting light but certainly eventful with my first hit resulting in a tree snag and upside down submergence. Max laid down a solid grab before nightfall. With a last shot at redemption, I plucked off an Open-Jacket straight air in true Bother-of-Ahmet fashion to end the session. We called it as the light diminished and the snow softened the world around us for the final day.
The squad set out in full with Alex joining to lay down some turns for the camera while Max and i focused on a pillow step down we spotted from the road. We did our scoping and found that both features had very flat landings and no allowance of speed to carry a fluid line between the two. The flat landing didn’t seem to phase Max, deciding he would drop 15 feet to flat with a switch 3 and butter out of it.
After 2 hits he rode away clean, and true to his latest fashion - sans goggle. (photo: Eric Sales)
I was stoked to start the session with a loft capped 3 Tail (Photo: Eric Sales)
Meanwhile, Mike joined a different crew for the day and found himself some extra deep chowder (Photo: Eric Sales)
While Max worked at this, I stepped out a steep popper on the backside of a pillow and a creek swiftly running out the landing.
Max with a cork 7 Tail (Photo: Eric Sales)
A quick bonus round from us before our legs were tired and the shot list satisfied. Our trip was a wrap.
We did it. Whatever "it" is. Or was. We made a movie. We skied Japan. Was it better than our "Alta Magic"? The question really doesn't matter. The snow choked us, stuck to my beard, stuck to Max's unibrow. All familiar snow things in an unfamiliar snow place.