Destination: Japan

"Rooftops become marshmallows; bamboo forests bend and crack beneath pillows of powder"

Aymeric Tonin –  Niigata. Photo: Perly

Even though snowboarding is limited to places that are cold enough to have snow, our horizons are still seemingly endless. Destination is a collection of photo galleries focusing on one area of the world at a time, with advice from our chief snapper Matt Georges, as well as snippets of what went in to some of the shots from a few of the photographers involved. This time: Japan.

If Alaska is snowboarding’s answer to the North Shore of Hawaii, then Japan is its Bali. Pure mechanical perfection. For four months a year, cold air billows relentlessly across the sea from Siberia, sucking up moisture and chucking it back down on the mountainous island of Hokkaido. Rooftops become marshmallows; bamboo forests bend and crack beneath pillows of powder; the sun is extinguished – replaced by a shifting galaxy of snowflakes.

This is computer game snowboarding, a winter playground offering fantasy tree runs and limitless reboots. For the hardcore jibbers, its frozen streets have even seen it become a rail mecca to rival Salt Lake City and Helsinki. Like Bali though, Japan’s true appeal is its welcome: broad smiles, fascinating culture and tantalising Asian cuisine that will make you think twice about ever ordering tartiflette from a surly French waiter again. By all means stick AK on the bucket list, but file it under “catching a tube at Pipeline.” If you want to make dreams a reality, book yourself a flight to Sapporo.

In Focus

“Japan is cold fingers. It’s shooting black and white when you haven’t seen the sun for weeks, or searching for your photo bag under a foot of fresh snow. It’s the daily trip to 7-eleven and packing fresh sushi beside your snowshoes. It’s warming your hands around a can of hot coffee delivered from a vending machine.”

– Matt Georges, Senior Photographer

Elias Elhardt – Asahidake. Photo: Cyril Mueller

Elias is such a sick rider and so unbelievably amped about snowboarding – it ́s truly inspiring. When he first made an impact on the scene, he was still super young and turning heads in the park. He was on the rise and getting a lot of media attention, when out of the blue he got severely ill and had to stop snowboarding for almost two seasons. He told me once how this drastically changed his view of things: “When you realise first hand how fragile your health can be, and how much it hurts to sit there and not be able to ride, you really start to cherish the good times.” When he got back on a board he had a crystal-clear view of what snowboarding would be for him from now on: fun. He started concentrating on riding deep powder, and we all know where that got him. Since then, he rides out of every line the same way he does in this shot: with a smile on his face.”

– Cyril Mueller

Gigi Rüf. Photo: Cyril Mueller

“There was one single reason why Gigi Rüf went back to Japan last season: to ride trees. In Japan, anything will grow pillows of snow; a branch as thick as a finger will grow a pillow the size of a football. After a good snowfall there will be pillows all over the place, on the ground and above your head, and all of a sudden there are all these different floors of snow to ride. Pair that setup with the genius of Gigi, and a thousand opportunities will come up. He seemed to be floating through those trees; one second he was on the ground, the next he was slashing above our heads. Gravity is no match for Gigi in the magic forests of Japan.”

– Cyril Mueller

Takahura Nakai – Hokkaido. Photo: Oli Gagnon
Elias Elhardt - Asahidake. Photo: Cyril Mueller

“This shot of Elias was taken in the Asahidake area on Hokkaido all the way in the north of Japan. It was January, and while Europe was snow starved, Japan was all-time. We had been shooting and hiking for a whole week already, and this was kind of a lazy morning at first. Elias and Gigi decided to hike a few lines in an area where the terrain was so steep it was hard to access, so basically the only way to shoot was straight on. The light was super flat too and there were little cliffs and bushes all over the place, so I decided to take my chances, get artsy and shoot a slow shutter. Those lines were short but all about speed, so the boys basically fell down that hill, barely keeping gravity under control.”

– Cyril Mueller

Jed Anderson – Tokyo. Photo: Oli Gagnon
LNP // Harry Hagan – Nagano. Photo: Alex Paradis
Gigi Rüf // Elias Elhardt - Hokkaido. Photo: Cyril Mueller

“We were driving on the freeway on our first day in Hokkaido when the snow let up for a few minutes, allowing us to see a bit beyond the rear bumper of the car in front. We looked out of the window, taking in the scenery, when this perfect hill appeared in the distance. Only the top of the pyramid was visible above some huge trees, but it was enough to make us turn our car around and go look for this epiphany somewhere in the woods. It turned out to be this crazy setup, and when Gigi and Elias [Erhardt] had made it to the top, the sight of them standing on the tip of this huge snow-covered pyramid was unreal! We were pretty sure we’d get busted right away, but actually spent all afternoon on the spot, the boys riding all different lines with not a soul in sight. After we walked away from it, we all agreed that this was probably the craziest snowboarding setup we had ever seen.”

– Cyril Mueller


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