Grant Gunderson photo
Japan: the cure for powder panic*
By Ian Ferguson
*Powder Panic (pou-der pan-ik): A feeling of anxiety among skiers and snowboarders brought on by the knowledge that their favorite runs and stashes will be tracked out by noon.
If you want to ski through powder up to your armpits every run, every day for a month straight, spend your next January in the mountains of Japan.
That’s the conclusion of longtime Mt. Baker locals Grant Gunderson, Adam Ü and Rene Crawshaw. The term “Japanuary” was popularized in North American ski culture thanks in part to the imagery and reports of Gunderson, Ü and KC Deane, who have been going to Japan every January since 2007. Crawshaw was invited to join their annual trip last winter.
“It was New Year’s Day and I got an email from Adam [Ü],” Crawshaw said. “I yelled across the room to my wife, ‘I’m going to Japan!’ and booked my ticket.”
A week later, Crawshaw was exploring the mountains near Sapporo with four other guys, living out of a retrofitted Airstream owned by K2 Japan. For 25 days, Japanese mogul skier Tatsuya Tayagaki was their personal Japow guide.
Now, Crawshaw is trying to make it possible to go back every year. Gunderson said addiction might be the one downside to taking a ski vacation in Japan.
“The problem is, once you go, you’ll have to go back every year,” Gunderson said.
Ü is hooked as well. “I hope to keep going back to Japan as much as possible for as long as possible,” he said.
Here’s a look at Japanuary from their perspective.
“It’s the perfect tree skiing – all deciduous trees so you don’t have to worry about tree wells. Beautifully spaced, with nice canopies,” Crawshaw said. Gunderson photo.
“The only thing you have to worry about is hitting the trees, because you can’t see anything when you’re in the white room all day,” Crawshaw said. Gunderson Photo.
“Surprisingly few skiers go out of bounds in Japan,” Gunderson said. “They stick to the groomers, so there’s no rush to get the good snow before it gets tracked out.” Gunderson photo.
“The snow piles up along trees and creates pillows and ramps. It’s like a natural terrain park,” Crawshaw said. Gunderson photo.
“Cold air masses come down from Siberia, pick up moisture over the Sea of Japan, and dump that moisture in Japan’s mountains,” Gunderson explained. “The best way to describe the snow is Utah quality, with better-than-northwest quantity. It’s the best of both worlds.” Gunderson Photo.
“This was an easy tour to get to a 3,000 foot run right back to the RV,” Crawshaw said. Crawshaw turns, Crawshaw photo.
KC Deane backflips off a pillow near Myoko. “A Baker skier would be right at home there,” Ü said. Gunderson photo.
“Natural hot springs, called onsens, are everywhere. You ski down, take off your gear and you’re in.” Crawshaw said. A local macaque enjoys a good soak in the onsen. Gunderson photo.
“These avalanche barriers make the perfect man-made pillows. It’s popular to hit them now because of ski movies, so a lot of them say no skiing or snowboarding, but there are different highways where you can still hit them,” Crawshaw said. Gunderson photo.
“You’ll definitely be a fish out of water when you first step off the plane in Japan, but the culture is super friendly. Pro tip: If you just stand there and look completely lost, an English-speaking person will come up to you and help you find where you need to go,” Ü said. Gunderson photo.