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The Drifter Journals

The Art of Snow Surfing

As surfers, our minds eventually wander from the green room to the white room, and soon enough we hear the mountains calling. Snowboarding was born out of surfing and those roots are still apparent even today. Often you can easily spot a surfer on the mountain. Not by the clothes they’re wearing, or by the gear they use, but by the way they ride. Few things feel better in the water than perfectly linking turns, and that fact holds true whether that water is liquid or frozen. Naturally, we treat the mountain like the longest wave of our lives, and on a powder day it’s like the conditions are oil glass. 

As if you were sliding across an endless wave, opportunities to improve are everywhere. Because of that, progression happens quickly in this sport and you start to spot things you never saw before. Sections to smack, the perfect grade for a carve, a natural lip, the mountain and the sea becoming one. Soon enough your focus sharpens on one singular beauty: Powder. And if you want the deepest, driest powder around there’s only one place to go, Japan.

Japan is the ultimate dichotomy. When you arrive on the archipelago, you most likely landed in one of the most technologically advanced, and densely populated, cities on Earth. Accommodations in Tokyo, whether you are just passing through or a local resident, are ridiculously compact. Capsule hotels, where your room is essentially an oversized coffin, are actually quite common and less of a novelty than you might have guessed. Business men and women regularly work 16 hour days and the hustle and bustle can be suffocating.

Whatever downsides the city may have, one major upside to Tokyo is the food. If you thought you knew good Japanese food before, feel free to leave that at the door of the plane and prepare to expand what your taste buds can handle. I don't think anyone would question you if you planned a trip to Tokyo exclusively for the food. Sushi, soba, ramen, you name it; it’s as good as it gets.

In stark contrast to the sardine life of the city is the country side and mountain towns of Japan. Here, life runs at a very different pace, and you can feel the tranquility in the air. Life is slow and nature occupies a special place of reverence in the culture. Ski lifts often don’t even reach the top of the mountains in order tomaintain the sacredness of the peak. Accommodations are still compact and quite barebones, but it’s a welcomed change in favor of the simplistic.

Here, shops close early and dinner spots rarely open until 5pm. Island time, mountain time, whatever you wanna call it, they got it. That is until it comes to the trains. Miss time that by a second and watch it roll away. Public transportation in Japan is likely the best in the world and definitely the most efficient. A.k.a they are never late. That part can be a bit tough when you’re fresh off Bali time. 

Oh yeah, and the powder will blow your freakin mind.

At least that’s what happened to me.

In Northern Japan, warm water currents moving north in the Sea of Japan meet extremely cold and dry air currents blowing east from Siberia. As a result, storms form and push over the island chain, unleashing their whole might in the form of the lightest, driest, and deepest powder you’ve ever seen.

Welcome to Japow.

Soon after arriving we found ourselves in a small mountain town on the south island that shall remain nameless. As they say, if you don’t want people hearing about it, don’t talk about it, so I won’t go into detail about the location. Gonna have to just see for yourself and explore! But don’t fret, Japan has over 500 ski resorts and it’s hard to go wrong in the right time of year.

When snowboarding in Japan, you tend to follow a pretty strict regime while snowboarding. That schedule consists of: wake up early and eat breakfast at home to get on the hill before everyone else, snowboard your brains out until your legs turn to jelly (only stopping for a noodle or curry lunch on the mountain), and finish the day off with après-ski, onsen, then more après. Rinse and repeat for the next 10-14 days and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have some mind melting pow days.

As a matter of fact, this was my first time in the land of the rising sun, and my first time in proper powder. I’ve had some fun days in what I thought was powder where I’m from in California, but Japow is on a whole other level. Snowboarding through deciduous trees, waist deep in a cloud is like nothing else I’d done before. I felt like I was relearning how to ride and my first day in the white room I successfully did 5 separate tomahawks. But hey, if you’re not falling you’re not trying right? Also, the trees aren’t as soft as they look, even the little guys.

One of my favorite aspects about snowboarding though, is how quickly you are able to progress. In a matter of a day or two I could hold my own in the pow and started to gain some confidence. Soon enough, emboldened by the promise of landing on a fully white cloud, you start trying things you know damn well are out of your skill level. Backflips and blind hucks take center stage and you quickly learn that it’s not always like a fluffy white cloud that you’re landing on.

The thing remains constant though, is carving. In Japan they have a special word for it and those who identify with it are quick to make the distinction. This is Snow surfing.

Snow surfers don’t even consider snowboard the same sport and after seeing how they glide across the powder like the perfect wave, neither do I.

There is a reason the best powder boards on earth come from Japan, snow surfers have found the perfect craft for hunting white gold in a land overflowing with it. Surfers always try to transfer the feeling they get in the ocean into other sports, but nowhere is that transfer smoother than in snowboarding. 

This is what we’re after, the sensation of the glide, perfectly linking turns, smooth transitions, a bit of spark, and above all doing it with style. This is the lifelong pursuit of surfers, and a pursuit with no finish line. The ocean and the snow are ever changing and that’s what makes it fun. Whether the water is liquid or frozen the motives are the same, and after this trip my mind is focused on winter for more than just the waves.

Until next year, arigatou gozaimashita Japow.

Words and Photos by @stephenjones_11

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