Visiting Japan from the other side of the world. And why it's worth it...
Dutch skier Anne Bakker and his friend Jaap Sturm visited Niseko, Japan over the 2015/16 winter season and were floored by the quality of riding and vast quantities of snow in Hokkaido. For many Dutch riders, with the Alps on their doorstep, the Japanese snow scene is relatively unknown.
Anne will return to Japan for the 2016/17 season – this time to Japan’s main island, Honshu – where he and a crew of 4 other riders will go in search of deep snow and unique Japanese experiences in places like Hakuba, Myoko Kogen and Hakkoda.
They will also endeavour to document their trip in a bid to show the people of the Netherlands just how good it gets in Japan.
We caught up with Anne to find out what it is about Japan that made such an impression on him, and why he thinks other Dutch riders should know more about it.
Ski Asia: Tell us a little about your travelling party and how you got together.
Anne Bakker: Three of us already met when we played soccer in the same team a long time ago but it really started two years ago when we went on a skiing trip to Risoul. Over there we met Henkie, and after that snowboarding has been the main topic of our conversations. Apart from Henkie we all live in the same town, Amersfoort, and most of the time spent together is in the local bar called Long John. I had no intention of returning to Japan this year, but because I shared so many stories about last year people around me got more and more excited and finally convinced me to go again as well.
Ski Asia: Where have you all skied or snowboarded before, and for anyone who has been, how does it compare to Japan?
AB: The group has been all over the Alps as this is the prime destination for Dutch ski enthusiasts to visit. I have been skiing in Lapland as well when I lived in Sweden. Although I’ve lived in Nepal as well I never had the guts to ski in the Himalayas. The main difference compared to Japan is the quantity and quality of snow. When I arrived at Niseko it snowed non stop for around five days. I had never seen anything like this before. And the snow is so light and fluffy, you just charge straight through. Another huge difference is that the backcountry in Japan is very easily accessible. At least in Niseko, Moiwa and Rusutsu it is.
Ski Asia: How many of your touring part came over last season, and what was the experience like?
AB: Just the one, Anne. The snow, the culture, Tokyo, Niseko, sushi, ramen. It was a mind-blowing month. Especially the first week – it was something so different from what we’d ever experienced before. My body was already sore after one week because I was skiing harder, longer and in different terrain then ever before. Every ride down was intense as in the Alps I often freewheel my way down. But the feeling of freedom and unification with nature makes it worth every penny spent and ounce of energy invested.
Ski Asia: What was the single biggest highlight of the trip to Niseko?
AB: For me it was the amount of snow I’ve seen passing by. [But also] arriving by bus, seeing it snow,getting out on day one and having a first ride that was just out of this world. When we arrived at the bottom we were giving each other a look and both realised how fortunate we were and how sick that month was going to be. And it delivered more than we could handle.
Ski Asia: This year you’re travelling to Hakuba. Why did you choose Hakuba over other resorts in the country?
AB: Several reasons built up to this decision. First we wanted to explore Honshu as I’d already seen Hokkaido. Also flying to Tokyo makes you much more flexible compared to Sapporo. One and a half years ago a good friend of mine visited Hakuba and the pictures looked sick. Throw in some history of the ’98 Nagano games where Gianni Romme and Marianne Timmer dominated the ice skating tournament and you have a complete picture. The recent Fourth Phase GoPro edit by Travis Rice made us even more stoked. Hakuba just has it all: steep, spiny, tree runs.
Ski Asia: Tell us about your plans for this trip.
AB: We’ve planned a nice tour that will take us around the West and North of the island. We start of by driving to Myoko Kogen, near Nagano and Hakuba, and will explore the terrain over there. It’s said to be very authentic still and less crowded. Because of our campervan we are flexible to explore the terrain and find the spots that suit us best.
A couple days later we will head for Yamagata and start our journey north, soaking up the beautiful Japanese countryside and perhaps some coastal regions. Then we continue further north for our final destination, Hakkoda. We’ve already booked a guide here and here we hope to ride to the best of our abilities.
We will [then] be driving back during nighttime and spend the final day in Tokyo before we fly home. We finish of by visiting one of the most amazing cities in this world. A chock-full program to make the most out of two-week stay in Japan.
Ski Asia: We understand that part of the goal is promoting Japan to other Dutch skiers and snowboarders. What is it that makes you want to get the word out about Japan?
AB: When we started last year it felt like we just wanted to share our experiences, create some interaction with the world to make our experience even brighter. But as we conversed with more and more people about our project, we noticed that none knew about the amazing qualities Japan has to offer. ‘Does it snow in Japan?’ was the most common answer when we shared our upcoming trip. When we got back we were certain. More people have to know about this. The first result is that we are now 5 instead of 2. But we’d like to do more and make people aware of the beauty of Japan. We shouldn’t make it too popular though as one of the beauties about Japan is that it is still relatively calm.
Ski Asia: Do you think there we’ll see more Dutch riders in Japan in coming years?
AB: Absolutely. We’ve had some crazy warm winters in the Netherlands and the conditions in the Alps haven’t been very consistent either. Japan is a mystical country that appeals to a wide audience, but people don’t know that it has so much more to offer, snow wise. There are more and more explorers returning and sharing information via websites. It’s only a matter of time before more people show some guts and make the decision to fly all around the world and experience the best snow I’ve seen so far. And we are happy to dunk in a little effort by exploring first.
Ski Asia: Can you tell us your favourite Japan video edit?
AB: Supernatural by Salomon Freeski tv. When I saw the park in real life last year in Rusutsu I was amazed by the sheer size of the obstacles and jumps. We didn’t ski there during ideal skiing conditions but it was just sick. Seeing the stage of your favourite movie makes it so much more satisfying to watch. Again and again.
Ski Asia: Lastly, if you could pick one single Japanese skiing/snowboarding experience to try, what would it be?
AB: I’d probably fly back to Hokkaido and arrange for a guide somewhere far away from the crowded places. Spending time on and in the mountains, hiking our own trails and skiing down in pure wilderness. Perfecting my turns and stability, not focusing on tricks but purely on getting down in the most satisfying style possible. Feeling connected at all times.