The team from Snowbiz on the Gold Coast set off for Japan in February for an epic two week tour through the Japanese Alps. Jacque Janet – Snowbiz manager and his crew hunted down some great Japow conditions, stopping in at Madarao for a few days.
Kuma caught up with Jacque to talk about the Japanese snow experience, gear and Madapow.
Kuma: What draws you to ski / board in Japan?
Snowbiz: Powder Powder Powder
Kuma: How many snow trips to Japan so far?
Snowbiz: 6 times
Kuma: What is the one piece of gear everyone needs for Japan?
Snowbiz: Good goggles! It snows so much in Japan that there is often quite variable conditions, from warm sunny days to full whiteout snowy conditions. Fortunately the tree runs across Japanese resorts are excellent so get amongst it, just make sure you can see where you are going!
Japan and Madarao:
Kuma: Why might someone want to choose Japan as a snow holiday destination over North America or Europe?
Snowbiz: There are a couple of great reasons that Japan snow holidays have increased in popularity these in the last decade. The amount of snowfall has got to be the number one reason – fresh powder never gets old!
A relatively economical snow holiday by world standards helps too, as well as only a 2 hour time difference (meaning no jetlag to speak of).
Thirdly, visiting a country with such a wonderfully different culture, language, and approach to life is both exciting and refreshing. The personal memories of simple ‘lost in translation’ encounters are lasting ones.
Kuma: How did you find travelling around Japan?
Snowbiz: Travelling in Japan is really efficient. Many holidaymakers choose the exciting Shinkansen, or bullet train, to get from the city to near the resort. Then it’s a simple case of getting the local bus up to your accommodation. Many lodges may even have a pick up service from the local train station.
Another possibility is to get a mini-bus transfer from the airport directly to your accommodation, and yet another option could be to get a hire car and self-drive. While this is not a particularly popular option, it can be handy if you intend on visiting a number of different areas. This year we chose the self-drive option and it worked for us (skiing at 9 different resorts on 14 days).
Kuma: Why Madarao compared with some of the famous Japanese ski resorts?
Snowbiz: Madarao was a pleasant change. A small village style resort, walking around it is easy.
Kuma: Is Madarao suitable for the family?
Snowbiz: Very suitable. Having the mountain naturally funnel back to the main area is a plus for families. The friendly laid back vibe of the village suits families too.
Kuma: Did you check out any of the Madarao back and side country?
Snowbiz: Nestor and Taka-san took us up along the ridgeline to Mt Madarao and down to the road. It is a smooth easy run with little risk of anything going wrong.
Kuma: Anything else you want to add about Madarao?
Snowbiz: For a Japanese resort Madarao has quite steep groomed runs – a big plus! The size of the mountain (even including Tangram) is smallish for a longer stay. If there was an option to visit nearby resorts (Nozawa or Ryoo) I feel this would really boost guests experience.
Kuma: Any funny cultural stories to share with us from your Japan travels?
Snowbiz: Karaoke is a must do, #singyourbest. Getting nude in the Onsen with a whole heap of people is definitely an experience in itself.
Getting the right gear for deep powder:
Kuma: What sort of gear do you need to make the most of the powder?
Snowbiz: Riding in powder is a little different than groomed runs. To make you life easier consider buying or hiring “fat” or powder skis. They really help in making powder turns easy and fun. For snowboards, also consider a powder board for that amazing “surfy” feel. At the least adjust your binding stance towards the tail for powder riding.
Kuma: How often should you look at upgrading gear like, skis, boards and boots?
Snowbiz: A good quality setup will last you many years. Emphasis should be placed on choosing the right boots as these can make a huge difference to your holiday enjoyment. In most cases a special footbed or orthodic in your boots will boost feel and function, enhancing your trip even further.
Kuma: How much have skis and boards changed in the last few years? Does new gear really make a difference?
Snowbiz: Improvements are being made all the time. In recent years “fat” or powder skis have revolutionised the ability of more people to access side- and back-country areas with ease. In a similar way rocker profile snowboards help with float and feel in deep powder. The number of different shapes available now is mind boggling, so take the time to think about the type and style of riding that you really enjoy doing, then go with equipment that suits what you want to do.
Kuma: What are some helpful tips for tuning your gear in Japanese snow vs Southern Hemisphere conditions?
Snowbiz: Most Northern hemisphere resorts are quite a bit colder than Australia/New Zealand. A colder temperature wax on your skis/board can really help in enjoying a smooth fast ride. For the often icy conditions in the Southern hemisphere make sure your edges are sharp to hold a firm edge when carving.
Kuma: How cold does it get in Japan and what sort of outerwear did you need?
Snowbiz: Japan often has quite moderate winter conditions compared with other Northern hemisphere resorts. A very pleasant 0 to -10 degrees is often the case. The classic “3-layers” rule is hard to go past. Good thermals as a base layer (merino wool or bamboo blends are excellent), a fleece or hoody as a mid-layer to trap lots of body heat, then a waterproof/windproof jacket to protect you from the elements. A good ski/snowboard jacket can range anywhere from $200 – $1000.
Kuma: What else can people do to get ready for Japow?
Snowbiz: Make sure all your equipment is in good condition. Get fit – skiing and snowboarding is hard work, the fitter you are the longer you will be able to hike and ride for.