With an average of 15m of snow between November and May; Niseko, Japan surely is a dream for many, and the "Sinkflug" crew just had to see it for themselves. Freerider Tobias Wohlmannstetter is one of them. His heart beats for powder days and the eternal search for the best lines. Recently, we got a chance to sit down and talk with him about his dreams, the perfect gear for perfect Japanese powder days, and rice balls.
Tobias, you did a movie on freeriding in Japan. How did the idea first come up?
Tobias Wohlmannstetter: We've produced quite a few movies in the last few years with the "Sinkflug" crew. Last summer we sat down together, talked about future plans and dreams and Japan kept coming up. None of us had ever been to Japan and we all wanted to go. So, we did!
Before your trip: How did you image winter in Japan? And what was it really like?
Of course we're hoping to see some epic high snow walls alongside the streets forming a corridor. And as soon as we reached Niseko, the ski resort, this is exactly what we saw.
We're curious to know what the legendary Japanese snow feels like. Can you tell us a little bit about your impressions? What makes it so unique?
Definitely and first of all the amount of snow Japan gets. Secondly the never-ending way in which the snow falls in Japan. We were there for three weeks and we didn't have a single day without fresh snow. The first day we got there we were covered in fresh pow up to our hips and it was actually hard not to get stuck on the flats. In Japan you ski, and you have no idea how deep the snow really is - it's that fluffy.
Why is snow so good in Japan?
It's called “sea-effect” snow. The ocean around Japan doesn't freeze, so moisture goes up into the air all the time, and cold air streams from China and Siberia capture it and drop it in the mountains. The temperature was usually from -5 to -10 degrees Celsius and it was still snowing. Those temperatures make sure the snow falls light, dry, and soft - and that it stays that way.
For such special snow conditions you probably need perfect equipment. Which things you took along proofed invaluable?
In my opinion there are two items that should be chosen wisely: First, skis: Better bring some wide skis. It's so much more fun to glide effortlessly through that perfect pow than getting stuck all the time with to narrow skis.
The second very important item for me are good goggles. Fogging can definitely be a problem when the snow is deep or when you take a crash from time to time. So, bring a second goggle or, my advice - bring some spare lenses can save your day.
How do you protect yourself form the constant snow falls?
I like riding with a bandana or a balaclava, which keeps your face warm and cosy. Additionally, I always have a second one in my backpack, so I can change when one gets too wet. A small thermos bottle with some hot tea can also boost your mood and save your fingers when it gets getting really cold - it's definitely worth the extra weight. A hipflask can help too! ;-)
What kind of lenses did you use mostly for the goggles?
Concerning lenses: For the snowy days I like to bring some bright lenses or some that really boost the contrast. Those are the two I had in my backpack most of the time during our stay.
Traveling a country in which we can read signs or speak the language must be hard at times. What should we expect from a skiing trip to Japan?
Full service and friendly people. At the cable car an employee will take your ski and make sure they're stored for each ride up - and of course they'll hand them to you after you've gotten off at the top as well. Nodding and saying “Arigato” (Thank you) is part of the daily routine.
So what does a ski resort look like in Japan?
Most runs are fairly flat and there are lots of trees. Very often the trees are birches. Image trees with white skin in a snowy area - certainly an impressive view.
Was it hard to find spots to ride off-piste?
We drove around in a rental car with an open eye. Most spots we found we stopped at the street, hiked up to a ridge and descended back down, but we also got support from the Hokkaidō Backcountry Club – a business which specializes in helicopter and cat-skiing tours.
How do you stay on top of your game while skiing long hours?
My personal favorite: rice balls filled with salmon and cranberries. We took them with us on long hikes. To warm up after a long day out in the cold we ate all sorts of ramen noodle soup. Delicious!
Interviewer: Lea Hajner
Photo credits : simonrainer.com