Those cloud behind me near the ground? Sulfurous steam spewing from the active volcano that is Asahidake.
It’s March 16th (I’m talking to you from the future, biches) and I am the last one from our group that traveled from the U.S. to Japan about a month ago. I can’t believe it’s been three weeks already! It feels like time flew by, I don’t know if I’m ready to go back to the states. Although, I do still have another three days here, so I don’t have to come to terms with it quite yet.
At first I was getting nervous about being the last one to go- I’m in a foreign country, with a giant snowboard bag and I hardly know how to speak the language (it’s getting better but my vocab is still at the point where the three year olds know way more words than I do. However, I’ve probably learned the most from the three-year olds so I guess I should be thanking them. They assume I know everything because I’m a big adult. Who’s winning here? Everyone).
Now, I’m excited. The main staff of Niseko Negula (the pension where our group was based from over the last two weeks) are headed to another resort on Hokkaido; Kiroro, for a few days of snowboard vacation time and they’re graciously stringing me along for the outing. I love the people here already and enjoy helping out around the place with chores. Interacting and working with everyone after the guests have all left is priceless to me. I got to paint one of the three-year old’s nails this morning (her name is Kokoro and it means, “heart”) after eating a home-made breakfast in the common room. That’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. Anywhere that there is snow you can snowboard and have fun. What you can’t find just anywhere are people of a completely different culture that welcome you into their family and home. Hanging out and bonding with everyone here is something I can never duplicate. It means so much to me that I’m getting to do this right now.
I’m already thinking about how I can come back to Japan some day…
Alright, next on the agenda- load up the cars and drive to Kiroro! Wataru also mentioned we’re stopping somewhere along the way for seafood lunch and a tour of a WHISKEY FACTORY WITH FREE TASTINGS. I had to ask him how to say, “I really like whiskey!” in japanese because I was so excited when he told me that. Whiskey daisuki des! Afterwards we’ll head on to some hotel(I don’t have my international driver’s license so I won’t be driving; that will be good) near the resort and get some snowboarding in over the next two days.
Everything’s working out and I’m so excited that I get this extra time to explore Hokkaido. Things don’t always turn out the way you think they will, but if you go with the weird flow of things it’s bound to work out fantastically in a way you never could have planned for.
I’ll be posting another entry or so on japansnoboarding.com to round out the story, but for the most part I’m going back to writing mainly on Gofer. I reposted my highlight entries from Japan Snowboarding to this blog so you can get a feel for how my life has been going since I started posting on that site.
I hope you enjoy this adventure’s story, and I can’t wait to share what happens next! (I think it’ll be pretty good.) Here’s to these awesome guys who made this trip to Hokkaido possible-
Hope you all had safe flights and I’ll see you again when I get back to the states!
Repost from my entry on japansnowboarding.com; Feb 27th. Enjoy!
We tried to get up early, we really did. As with most things such as this, it just wasn’t early enough. Even so, our day of hiking and filming on Mt. Yotei near Niseko was nothing short of phenomenal.
We were up around 6:30 and out the door maybe an hour later. A quick stop at Seico mart for snacks and then another jaunt down the road and we found ourselves at the base of this stunning volcano.
Nimo the Inu found Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara
Snowshoes were passed out, bags were packed, cameras started clicking and then we were off! We had one fantastic and diverse group heading out all together; Keita Nakamura again, Masato Aihara; a chef at Niseko Negula, Ryu Okawa; a friend of mine I’d met in Alaska and found out he was in the Niseko area, Wataru Miyazaki; the owner of the place we’ve been staying at- Niseko Negula, Darryl Naidu; an Aussie staying at Niseko Negula as well, and Mori-Mori; a determined guy who hiked the whole way snowshoeing in his ski boots.
We all trudged the mile or so to the base of the mountain together where we’d finally start our ascent. Getting in to the woods at the base of Yotei was exciting and bit intimidating at the same time. The volcano loomed up huge in front of us all, looking almost too steep for anyone short of seasoned mountaineers to summit. Keita and a few others said they’d all done it before though, so we had to believe it could be done and hike on.
Andy with the traditional peace-sign shot. Photo by Jenna Kuklinski
As we clomped and slid (two people had skins on some planks) further up the side of the mountain the place grew more and more still. Earlier we’d stopped in a wide-open field to film a few talking pieces and get everyone’s first impression of the mountain. Our friend and mountain guide, Keita, had said during his short inquisition that he loved how quiet things got when you were high on the side of a mammoth mountain. I was beginning to see what he meant.
Jenna and Colby starting the hike up Yotei. Photo by Andy Stern
Japan is different, in almost every single way. It’s not just that we don’t share the same language. It’s the fact that they have things like necklace name-tags on their milk jug, just to let you know it is in fact milk. They drive on the left side of the road. You get carded for cigarettes but anyone can pick up a beer and be drinking while walking down the street (smoking, however, must happen in indoor designated areas unless you’re outside of town). Toilet seats are all heated and no one tells you how many group baths you’ll take with strangers, scrubbing next to them on low stools.
Not to compare soaping up next to a stranger with hiking a volcano in snowshoes; what I’m trying to get at here is that even the hiking is different. We were in an area that was easily accessed from town; the hiking was steep in places for sure, but not too bad. If this were a place in the states we would have seen at least one or two other groups out there. Instead, the only living thing we saw outside of our company was a giant white rabbit that ran across the snow and scared Dubs. It was empty, but not desolate. The terrain here is breathtaking, it can’t be describe in any other way. Andy commented at one point that he was getting chills down his spine. Later, our friend Ryu admitted to feeling the same. That’s how Japan is.
After hiking for about four hours Madison spied something in the trees he really wanted to hit and right after he sent it we found another gully that was begging us to ride through it. We then had to pause and debate for a minute; if we stopped there and filmed everyone going through the area then we wouldn’t be able to summit. If we pushed on to summit then we would have gathered very little footage from a whole day of hiking. After a bit we decided that we should forgo summitting for the day and instead get clips of riding in the trees.
Dubs checking his camera while Masato does the same behind him. Photo by Jenna Kuklinski
Though getting to the top of the cratered volcano would have been amazing, we were all just as stoked to be riding through the trees and finding super fun natural features. There are so many stumps, gullys, sun-splotched clearnings of untouched snow and fantastic backdrops on the side of Yotei that we rode until we could ride no more and were still talking about how we could probably spend our whole trip on the slopes of Yotei.
Ryu Okawa hikes and skis fast. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura goes deep into the chute at Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura has some great surfer style. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura getting chased by his inu Nimo. Photo by Masato Aihara
When we were spent we packed up all of our hiking gear and strapped back in to our boards. Riding down through the trees was just as fun as hiking features and though I can’t speak for everyone, I know I had a perma-grin plastered on my face the entire way down.
At the bottom we were greeted by the other half of our group with running high-fives, tons of laughter and more mad grins. We hadn’t accomplished our original goal for the day, but what we had done was just as amazing. If this is how things are going with week-old snow, I can’t wait to see how it is when we finally get a real snow storm to blow through.
Oh, and after all of this we went to another Onsen to scrub clean on stools next to naked strangers. It was fantastic.
The crew stoked from a day at Mt Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara
I don’t know that it’s been a full 24 hours yet since I left Utah (I’m confused on how the time zones are fitting together. Sorry), but already I’ve been having the best time ever. Everything over here is so new and different to me that even the small things are exciting. When was the last time you got excited when you walked by a soda machine?
The highlights so far have to do with food. They fed us so much on my flight from LAX to Tokyo, it was like some kind of airline miracle. Then I had a “double check what you’re buying because every label is in Japanaese and what you think is a soda could be an alcoholic grapefruit drink” lesson in the Tokyo airport and slept through my flight to Sapporo to land safely in Chitose.
Next came what I was afraid would be a big hiccup- everyone I’m doing this trip with originally had a flight that would have put them in Sapporo ahead of me by several hours, so I was planning on meeting up with them and didn’t make a plan otherwise. I found out a day or so ago that their flight changed and I actually was going to have about a ful day of waiting before they landed in Japan to meet up with me.
So, it’s 9pm, all the hostels are closed, the currency exchange is closed and I have a giant board bag and not too much of a clue. I did almost get confused for some snowboard chick named Maui(?) and joined another snowboard crew, but they kind of realized I wasn’t the person they were looking for after all.
Luckily, there was a super nice information lady who spoke english, and after many failed attempts at finding a hotel she finally told me there was a place in the same building four floors up that had a ‘relaxation room’ where you could spend the night. I set off right away and was just so stoked that I didn’t have to take the train to some hotel that would still let me check in so late.
I stayed at a spa. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to an actual spa in the states, but I have to say I don’t know how I got so lucky to find a Japanese bathhouse that was only 3,000yen for the night in an airport. Or maybe this is something really common and average in Japan. I don’t know yet!
When you check in they ask you to choose a yukata; #1-8. I picked #3 and they handed me a bag with two towels, yukata #3, and checked my two luggage bags for me. I found my locker and then realized the area the locker room lead in to- a community bath; ie; nude hot tub area with sitting-shower partitions. I had to walk around the building a few times before I got myself to go into the locker room, strip down and walk into this community bath where I don’t know any of the general ettiquite. Do you look at the other people? Do you avoid all eye contact? Do people fully shower at this crazy shower-head stooled station? What do I do with this wooden bucket? What about this round plastic brush thing? Is that for your feet? Which one of these bottles is the shampoo???
I rinsed off, got in the water and was instantly more relaxed. It was the best thing ever. I watched the other ladies that came and went to see what they were using all of the things for. That plastic scrubber-thing; not for your feet. It’s like a scalp massager when you’re shampooing (from what I gathered) and it feels AWESOME (I took one more to use later on this trip). Also, yes; you do fully shower yourself while perched on a very low wooden stool. I think I mistakenly used the body soap for shampoo, but it pretty much does the same thing so who cares.
After trying out each of the four hot baths and then getting re-dressed I bought some weird crackers (they had the stickiest sugar between them, I couldn’t eat it, but it was funny to try) and relaxed for a while listening to a burbling water fountain made of a stone vase. I still can’t believe I’m in Japan. My trip has hardly gotten underway and it’s already more fun than I expected. And so far I haven’t left the airport. I can only imagine it’ll get better when I start doing things like, say, snowboarding.
A lady about my age sat down in the window seat next to mine on the tiny jet that was flying from SLC to LAX. She was dressed up, make-uped, in a skirt and carrying a giant fluffy pillow and tan jangly hand bag. A really friendly person, we started chatting about where we were each headed. She was a Mormon girl from Arizona on her Mission, going from Temple Square to a place in california for about four months. I told her I was headed to Sapporo, Japan to snowboard.
“I love snowboarding! But, isn’t Japan kind of far to go to snowboard?”
Sometimes I forget that not everyone in the world is living the same lifestyle as myself and my friends. When I told people I know that I was getting to snowboard in Japan they usually responded with, “Dream Trip!”, “I’m so jealous!”, “Go slash some Japan Pow, you’re so lucky!” (“take a radiation suit”).That’s the same kind of mindset we’re all in. We know Japan has amazing snow, we all believe it’s a crazy fun place to visit and we all love to travel for the sake of traveling. What we forget (like I did) is that there is a whole other world (er, worlds, rather) that think we are, basically, a little crazy.
I’m ok with that.
Going from having this trip be a possible notion, to purchasing my ticket, to waking up at 3am this morning with my sister Rachel and Tyler to drive to the SLC airport to waiting here in LAX to board a plane to Tokyo… it’s kind of a whirlwind. It still hasn’t settled in. Though I keep getting reminded of where I’m about to dive into by all the people speaking Japanese around me in the terminal. The only thing I can really understand out of what they’re saying is, “Thank you”. I guess that’s not a bad phrase to know. I could just thank everyone I met in Japan. I’m going to be this American running around with a giant snowboard bag shouting, “Thank You! Thank You!” at everyone for no particular reason. I think it’ll go really well. I may have trouble actually getting help with anything but at least they’ll find me polite.
Right now I’m a mix of excited and nervous. This is going to be my first international flight, and I have to sit relatively still for 11 1/2 hours in a middle chair of economy seating. I’m really hoping by some miracle they just HAVE to upgrade me to business or first class, though that does seem a little unlikely.
I’ll be posting as often as possible on here and everywhere else I can while I’m over there. I’ve been told the wifi is plentiful in Japan.
And now, for the next two and half hours before my flight I believe I may go find a place that serves mimosas and prepare myself to (inevitably) find I’ve been seated in the middle chair between two overly-large individuals and they’ll both fall asleep and drool/snore on me as I try to learn a few more words of japanese before I land in Tokyo.
The warning on the flashing yellow sign was supposedly only speaking to Commercial Vehicles (giant 18-wheeler trucks) but I guess I should’ve known they were talking to me and my little Mazda as well.
Driving out to SIA was an adventure in itself. Before we even got to Denver we’d already had ourselves a crazy sleepless night where people got drunk, people got lost, someone got sick, we got to hang out in a hot tub and the police showed up (not necessarily in that order).
I knew that we were supposed to get a little snow for the drive out to SIA in Denver, CO. I didn’t know that meant we’d be driving through a snow storm. At 4:00am Thursday morning the 30th of January, my car stopped moving uphill on the Vail pass four miles from the summit during this ‘dusting’ of a storm. Four miles isn’t all that far when you’re driving on the highway, but when you’re pushing a car uphill in a blizzard those four miles turn into a VERY long distance.
Luckily, Eli’s beast of a Volvo was still cruising up the pass. With Kevin and Eli pushing the Mazda through the snow and Tyler driving the Volvo we finally were making some uphill progress. Then, even, traction! I broke away from the Volvo and was cruising up the pass a good mile or so before we got stuck again and Amanda and I had to wait for Tyler to meet up with us. Then we got a call from Tyler saying he’d been reversing down the freeway for 15 minutes and had seen no sign of either Kevin or Eli. Oh Shit. It is now 4:30am, the blizzard is still blizzarding, 18-wheeler trucker trucks are flying up around and past us and we don’t know where the hell two of our friends just ended up out there.
Then Amanda got a message from an officer. He was on his way to find us, and had Kevin and Tyler in his car with us. We were so hyped that our friends weren’t plowed and mangled in a snowbank somewhere on the side of the pass!
When we told Tyler he was relieved, then freaked out because, “Amanda I can’t be driving this car when the officer gets here, I’m _____.” (You can fill in the blank here. I’m gonna just leave it at that).
Amanda gets into Eli’s car, the officer gets up to us in his car, I’m still hanging out in my car and we’re all reunited. The officer apparently picked our two friends up, then spun out for about 20minutes in his rear-wheel drive charger somewhere along the pass before making his way up to us. He then offered to try and push us with his car, but after he almost spun out into the guardrail we just thanked him and went back to pushing the Mazda with the Volvo all the way to the crest of the pass.
By the time we reached Amanda’s parent’s house it was 6am and none of us had slept at all. So we decided it’d be best if we just skipped the sleep and jumped straight into the hot tub. Once we got suited up in swim wear and bathrobes, we booked it back out into the storm and splashed into the glorious outdoor tub. Sitting there, cracked out from no sleep and our ridiculous adventure on the pass we laughed and joked and froze our ears off watching the sky lighten around us. Giant flakes whipped around the little alcove of the hot tub while we kept laughing and realizing how much you can really get done when you just don’t sleep.
SIA was it’s own adventure and half, with more talking and schmoozing than actual time spent checking out vendor’s booths. I met people, met up with people, ran around, drank, got lost and had one hell of a time. I also linked up with my friends Jeremy Dubs and Andy Stern, and officially got invited along for their trip to Japan. Two weeks later, I’m just as stoked from all of this and I have my plane ticket booked to leave the 19th to fly to Sapporo. Life is amazing, hilarious and one swell adventure. I can’t wait to keep getting after this thing (whatever it is) cause it’s real fun.
Here’s a little photo gallery of all the fun that was had-
As of about two weeks ago I had never been to an outdoor sports trade show. As of this past weekend, I got to go to two giant winter sports trade shows; one in Salt Lake and the other in Denver. I had no idea what to expect really. The most I knew about trade shows I’d heard from my manager Chuck at US Outdoor Store, and those stories usually involved lots of free drinks, dinner, swag and loong meetings. I wasn’t going to either of these things to buy however, so really I had no idea what to expect except that I was excited to finally get out to one of these things.
OR was the first show I got to go to. This past summer I linked up with Smartwool in Portland, Oregon and had the amazing opportunity to join their FanField Tester program. I did a couple photo shoots with them and kept in touch with Molly (a fantasticly cheery and motivated lady), who kept encouraging me to get out to Steamboat and sleep on her couch. While I haven’t the chance to crash in Steamboat yet, I did get invited to go check out the Smartwool booth at Outdoor Retailer.
When I first got in I called Jeff (Smartwool’s electronic media master) and he helped me navigate the way back to their booth. This was probably the only time I went from point A to point B during the show without getting lost and also visiting points C, D, E, F, G, Q, L, A.2, F again, ending up back at A and having to start from square one.
Molly and Jeff had some meetings they had to take care of in the morning, so I opted to wander around the show and take it all in. Let me say this now: the Salt Palace Convention Center is HUGE and that place was packed. I still don’t know where I ended up in there. It was really awesome though- my big focus the last couple years has been on the snowboard industry; snowboard companies, goggle companies, outerwear companies, lifestyle companies, companies whose logos involve arrows, crosshairs and hammers. It was rad to be suddenly engulfed in the rest of the outdoor world and see how the other half lived.
Finally Jeff and Molly were free and we got to chat and hang out at their booth. After feeling mildly overwhelmed by the hundreds of other booths it was cozy coming back to one where they had lawn chairs, lots of wooly things, a DJ and a photobooth inside of their #SWFanVan.
Getting the chance to sit down and ask Molly and Jeff any and every question that came to mind was really amazing for me. I think it’s fantastic that these two people were happy and eager to share with me the process of putting together a booth for a trade show, how they got their jobs, how things get done within Smartwool, etc. I don’t know exactly where I’m trying to end up right now career-wise, but I am trying to learn as much as I can about all parts of the outdoor/adventure sports industry. It’s reassuring when people you look up to will sit down and talk about all aspects of their jobs with you in an engaging way.
This year also happens to mark Smartwool’s 20th anniversary. Right around 4 o’clock a convention center employee wheeled over to the booth a couple kegs, some BaBa Black Lagers, a few bottles of wine and then the #SWFanVan really started getting some good photobooth shots. Around 6, it was time to move for the 20th anniversary party down the street!
I have to say this anniversary party was one of the best accessorized industry parties I got to (between both SIA and OR). Jeff was handing out shades, mustaches, headbands and construction hats at the door, they had tables of signature snacks from the 90’s, the band had at least two outfit changes (that I remember) and there were multiple ice-sculptures around the yard (I was trying to figure out the whole time if any were ice luges, but I never solved the mystery. It was probably a good thing though because by the end of the night I was drinking wine coolers.)
All in all, it was a really fun time and a fantastic way to kick off my first adventure out to an industry trade show. I also had a definite hangover from those wine coolers, but I didn’t really care because they tasted like amazing when I was drinking them.
Here are some more photos you can check out from my time with Smartwool at OR. Disclaimer: Some of them are blurry because I was too busy enjoying free drinks to realize I was taking impressionistic photos. I wanted to include them though because they were part of a really good time, and because art is in the eye of the beholder and so I’ll call them art for now.