Japan has a lot to offer. Photo- Toshi Pander
My journey as a snowboarder has evolved into the journey of my life. I started riding in late high school and it quickly became an obsession. I changed my major in college to a more general one that gave me more time on the hill. I hammered park laps trying to learn every trick. I moved to Salt Lake City to try my hand at filming urban video parts. I spent my summers on the Mt. Hood glacier riding next to the pros. I experienced bottomless blower powder at Brighton, and I fell in love. The Wasatch Mountains treated me well, but those deep days were too few and far between for me. This is when I set my sights to the snowiest place in the world: Hokkaido, Japan.
When you're out riding as much as Evan is, it can be hard to avoid getting a goggle tan. Photo - Daniel Honda
Every night during my last summer spent working at We Are Camp (High Cascade and Windells), I would apply for a job in Japan. I sent in about 30, and only one company said they would put in the extra work to apply for a sponsored visa for me. Niseko Sports came through with an approved visa just a few days before my flight to Japan. I picked up and moved to Japan without knowing anyone or much of anything besides all of the unreal video parts I’ve watched of that legendary japow.
This move was likely the best choice of my life, as I fell into an amazing crew and have been enjoying diving into the deep stuff out here for 3 winters. I saw opportunity all around me in Niseko, so I started putting work in. I spent my free time shooting with local and visiting photographers and cinematographers. This led me to connections at the resort, and I was able to get paid to create videos for them. Last spring I sat down with the marketing team at Hanazono Niseko Resort and proposed to bring myself on to their crew. They took a chance on me, I got my visa approved very last minute as usual, bought a one wa ticket to the land of the rising sun, and unknowingly sent it into undoubtedly the best winter of my life.
The blissful ride down! Photo - Toshi Pander
I arrived to Niseko on November 15th and it was a little warm. It had been raining a lot. I woke up the next morning to at least a foot at my doorstep in Hirafu, and it just didn’t stop. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. November was so snowy that everything was filled in for December. And December was my dream come true. I woke up with 1-2 feet of snow on my car nearly every day, and to twice as much on the mountain. I often spent 45 minutes digging to get my car in or out of my driveway. The snowboarding was incredible. The resort was empty, and I was hot-lapping perfect bottomless trees and pillow lines, completely submerging when landing into the dry Japanese powder. I believe everyone needs to experience this feeling in their lifetime!
The best part of my new job working at Hanazono is guiding professional media crews around the resort. I have had the freedom to hop on the lifts before the public to shoot and ride. This means I lap the famous “Strawberry Fields” that film crews such as Absinthe have featured in their films exclusively. We then can move up the mountain to hike the peak of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri first. The peak often holds twice as much snow as the bottom if you can believe it. “That was the deepest run of my life!” has been spouted from so many people I’ve rode with this winter. I start to think the same thing, but then remember how good yesterday was. And the day before. It’s been constant bliss for me!
And then hike out. Photo - Toshi Pander
Aside from feeling like a VIP riding in the resort, I’ve had some unbelievable days in the backcountry. I was able to buy a car this year, and it has opened up so many doors for me. Essentially all of the super-deep Hokkaido video parts you see are roadside spots. This whole island is essentially covered in snow, so the options are endless.
One of my favorites this year was a trip to a new area (undisclosed, sorry) about an hour and a half from Niseko. We drove along the stormy Sea of Japan, watching messy waves smash into the snow-covered coast. We passed through nearly abandoned coastal towns and into a new mountain range. The road was cleared well, but still deep from all the fresh snow falling on it without any traffic passing through. We cruised through several tunnels leading deeper into the mountains, never seeing another car or sign of life the whole way. Looking up at a nice face we decided to park my Honda Stepwagon and hike in. I had my new powder shape from Rome I was testing and shooting with, and a pair of Verts snowshoes. The hike was so deep. Sinking to your waist with snowshoes on doesn’t let you go anywhere too fast. We made it to the top ridge only to look at the massive cornice and get blasted by the newly forming blizzard. The cameras came out, but we quickly learned that it was futile in what felt like the epicenter of winter. Getting forced to purely enjoy this run without shooting wasn’t what we came for, but that’s part of what made it so good. The other part was the snow. It was too deep! This is not something that snowboarders want to say out loud, but the sheer amount of snow inhibited us from getting enough speed on that beautiful slope. Dumbfounded at the bottom, we continued over the next ridge to find a set of virgin avalanche barriers. The blizzard settled down for a bit, so I trudged through the bottomless snow with a full pack to the top of barriers. I dropped into my first line, accidently whiteroomed just before takeoff, grabbed, and fully submerged on my landing. So fun! However the snow was once again too deep to keep enough speed to jump of the next set of barriers in my line. The crew hiked the barriers a few more times for fun, but we knew it was not possible to get a clean line. Daylight was fading fast, so we called it and walked along the empty road back to the car. We continued through the pass until we arrived at the coastal city of Otaru. There we spotted Waraku, sushi train restaurant. The quality of fish and value of this place is incredible. Go there. The crew shared drinks and a plethora of fresh fish, reminiscing about truly experiencing too much snow in the Hokkaido backcountry.
Snowboarding to Sushi; is this Dream World? Photo - Charlie Wood
The snow has continued to be wonderfully consistent. As of 27th of February, Niskeo has received about 14 meters (551 inches) of snow at the base of the mountain this winter. I’m guessing that the peak is boasting around 20 meters, or 787 inches. If March delivers like it can, it is possible that I will have rode through a winter of 1,000 inches of some of the best quality snow in the world. My powder dreams have been realized this winter, and I feel extremely lucky. Thank you to everyone who has made this journey possible!
Now we'll let Evan get back to the place he's most comfortable- the White Room. Photo - Daniel Honda