Japanese Powder F.O.M.O. (“Fear Of Missing Out”) ran rampant the winter of 2014/15. You all know the North American tales of woe from last season: low snowfall amounts and warm temperatures all over the West made for dismal conditions. Thanks (or no thanks) to the prevalence of social media, reports of epic conditions in Japan were a dime a dozen. Everyone follows a pro skier or friend on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/MySpace/etc that had no qualms about reminding their circles of the glorious time they were having in this far-off powder utopia while the general populace toiled and struggled on the barren North American slopes. Many vowed for this to never happen again, myself included. Plans were hatched, and flights to Japan purchased. Hotels and guesthouses booked up in the anticipation of a similar story unfolding this season. The previously FOMO-stricken rubbed their hands in glee, hardly able to contain themselves, and beyond excited to start posting glorious images of Japanese powder to all their social channels, once again beginning the cycle of Japow FOMO all over again.
However, Murphy and his Law are never too far behind. The early season across the West has been one for the books, and skiers everywhere are remembering how good it feels to slash a pow turn or two in old familiar haunts. Meanwhile, Japan had one of their slowest starts to a ski season in recent memory. Hakuba Valley, the multi-resort epicenter on the South Island, looked grey and desolate most of December. Resort snowfall totals before Christmas were about 30cm, compared to over 200cm the year previous. The web reports were looking grim (i.e not FOMO-inducing) as I prepared to head to Hakuba to guide several groups there for Whitecap International, the adventure travel division of Whitecap Alpine, the legendary ski touring lodge located north of Whistler, BC.
I arrive in the valley to spring-like conditions. A Christmas Eve storm apparently dumped up to a metre of fresh, but there’s no sign of it at low elevations. My guests are concerned as well, all having flown from places that are having banner early seasons like Whistler and Tahoe. On our first day of skiing however, our concerns alleviate as quickly as the gondola gains us elevation. The depth of snow increases as the gondola climbs high up the Tsugaike Kogen resort. Being a ski touring trip, the snow is piled up even deeper as we climb above the lifts and beyond the crowds. We’ll experience this elevation dependent snow phenomenon several times on our trip. It’ll lightly snow in the valley and on the resort runs, and we’ll be pleasantly shocked by copious amounts of blower pow in the backcountry. It’s an anomaly we can live with, and it makes for amazing ski conditions up high, despite the lackluster looks of the lower reaches of the mountains.
It’s a great time to be in Hakuba with ski touring gear. We’re there smack-dab in the middle of the Japanese holidays, so the mountains are packed with people all enjoying their time off. The lack of snow lower down means there are limited runs open at most Hakuba resorts, jamming the throngs of skiers and snowboarders onto a few select runs. Like any holiday crowd, the skill levels are frighteningly low, making for roller-derby style scenes on the groomers. We are very happy to don the climbing skins and ascend above the resorts, away from the chaos, and into the deeper snowpack of the higher reaches. Despite the slow start to the season, the skiing, and the culture beyond the slopes are worthy of any envy-inducing social media feed. Amazing food, stellar views of the Japanese Alps, all the elements are in place. We soak it all in, content in the fact that our Japow FOMO has been cured.
About Joe Schwartz:
“What I do keeps me young, it keeps me engaged and happy. I really truly find myself in the mountains, and I know it’s a place that will always remain special to me. I’m a connoisseur of good times.”
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