From Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today for 15% off the GP Store.
There’s something transcendental about skiing the endless gray of Hokkaido, something so far removed from the Alps or the Rockies that it makes you wonder why more people don’t hop across the Pacific and try it themselves. To put it in its simplest terms, it’s just fun. Sure, there’s an exhilaration to threading your way down Corbet’s in Jackson or arcing GS turns across a hardpack glacier in the shadow of Mont Blanc, but I’d argue that neither are particularly fun while you’re actually doing them, instead requiring that handful of seconds huffing and puffing at the bottom of the run to look back up and grin at your accomplishment. Hokkaido’s not like that.
The physical cause for Hokkaido’s intoxicating effect is the result of two pretty simple things. The most immediately noticeable from afar is that the mountains of the stingray-shaped island on top of Japan aren’t particularly big. While the Rockies will oftentimes put you north of 12,000 feet and alpine terrain is nearly all above tree line, the major resorts of Hokkaido hover around 3,200 feet, and the tallest, Asahidake, only just manages to break 7,500. As a result, you won’t find too much gnarly high-alpine or steeps skiing; the best stuff on Hokkaido is found on the relatively mellow runs through old-growth spruce forests. The second, and most amazing, phenomenon is the snow. Sure, the Rockies will catch a solid powder day every couple weeks during a good winter, but the snow in Hokkaido is just unyielding. Constant gray skies and snowfall mean that it’s not unusual for five inches to pile up during the day and even more to come overnight. Our first morning at Niseko, reports were saying that somewhere around 10 inches had fallen overnight. The locals’ verdict? Just another day.
This combination of factors leads to an amazing mentality among those who ski Hokkaido. There seems to be less of a sense of one-upmanship than you’ll find anywhere else. You’ll never impress with the concrete: how steep, how fast, how big. What really makes an impact is the abstract: how genuine, how stylish, how much fun you had doing it.
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Refugitive Jacket by Patagonia $499
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Mission Pro Pants by Black Diamond $549
Deployment Hybrid Hoody by Black Diamond $249
Alpha AR Jacket by Arc’teryx $549
Stryka Hoody by Arc’teryx $129
Procline AR Pant by Arc’teryx $399
A version of this story appears in Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 286 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Buy Now: $20