3 GIRLS, 12 DAYS, 1 RV IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN
What avid skier doesn’t have Japan on the top of their Bucket List? We’ve all heard the rumors of the legendary powder, the best sushi and ramen in the world and enchanting onsens from the Land of the Rising Sun. With another disappointing start of the season in the West, we figured we’d set out to find out what all the “Japan-uary” hype was about!
SEA EFFECT SNOW
Japan is known for receiving a copious amount of some of the lightest, fluffiest snow known to man, especially in the month of January. How much snow is a copious amount you ask? Some resorts in Japan report getting more than 1,200 inches of snow a year with Niseko averaging over 600” a season! The reason for this powder phenomenon is Japan’s ideal “Sea Effect Snow”. Freezing cold winds travel across Siberia and into the Sea of Japan where they pick up an abundance of moisture. As they hit the coastal mountains and rise, they then drop that sweet, light JAPOW!
Having never been to Japan and wanting to see as much as possible, we figured renting a 4X4 camper van would be our best bet. You can’t beat the freedom of being able to travel with your own space and spend extra time in places with no time restraints. Space is limited though and things get messy – we booked a 5-person RV with 3 ladies and it was perfect. We were a bit worried about finding proper places to park her but it worked out well being able to stay in resort lots and at 7/11s!
Not gonna lie – the RV company seemed a bit concerned handing it over to us. We later found out that we were the first group of only girls to take an RV to Hokkaido.
*Note: The road tolls in Japan proved to be quite pricey. If you’re ballin’ on a budget, we wouldn’t recommend traveling far!
HONSHU VS. HOKKAIDO
Ahhh…the ultimate question when you venture to Japan: Hokkaido or Honshu. Don’t stress over it too much – you can’t make a bad choice! While Hokkaido is known for its endless powder and wild nightlife, it can be crowded and tourism can drown out the full Japanese “experience”. The resorts in Western and Northern Honshu are steep and rich with authentic culture, but you can gamble on getting that true champagne “japow”. Although we lost a couple days to travel, we decided to hit the road and get a little taste of both islands for our first trip to Japan. Jet lag turned out to work in our favor by allowing us to wake up early and start driving for full days of skiing!
The first stop on our tour of Japan brought us to the quaint town of Nozawa Onsen. This authentic onsen village was one of first places that skiing took hold in Japan and was brought on the map after it hosted the some events in the 1998 Olympics. As we drove in, it immediately started nuking and barely stopped snowing until we departed. The village is littered with traditional public onsens around every corner with steam seeping up from the gutters along the narrow cobblestone streets. The slopes proved to be equally as enchanting as the charm of the town. We were blessed with a decent layer of fresh snow and refreshed to not feel the “powder panic”. We quickly found out that most of the locals don’t ski in the trees, which meant freshies for these ladies all day!
The second stop on our trip was 4 hours North to another hot spring town called Zao Onsen in Yamagata. The mountain of Zao is famous for its “Juhyo” or Snow Monsters which are trees covered with ice, blown down by the fierce Siberian winds. It is a beautiful scene riding up the old school gondola looking down at these beautiful “monsters”. You aren’t going to find the steeps at Zao but you can find fresh snow and travel into the Juhyo for some fun rides! Note: Fitting your powder skis in the tiny gondolas are quite the struggle. Also, you will definitely be getting strange looks when your skis are twice as big as any of the locals!
Foodie Tip: Head into town and check out Kiraku Sushi for some traditional sashimi!
If you are into boundless tree skiing and heaps of powder…head to Rusutsu! We were welcomed with more fresh snow after a morning of driving from the ferry and blessed with an empty parking lot. After a habitual stop at the local Seven Eleven, we were ready to explore these famed woods. Have to say we were not dissapointed. Head up to Mt. Isola and you can’t go wrong! Take a minute to take in the scenery with stunning views of Mt. Yotei and Lake Toya.
A trip to Hokkaido would not be complete without spending a day or two in Niseko! Just driving into town you get the feel like you are in the “Vail of Japan”. With a popping nightlife and an expansive string of resorts, Niseko is the heart of Hokkaido. The snow faucet just doesn’t turn off here. After arriving at night, we woke up to an unexpected foot plus of that sweet, sweet JAPOW! After crushing gondola laps in Hirafu all morning with untracked lines we ventured off the the Annupuri gates that did not dissapoint! After skiing head out the the Yugokorotei Onsen and soak those powder-worn muscles. Looking for some sushi? Go to Yoteimaru for a “sushi-train” conveyor belt experience!
Insider’s Tip: Want to escape the crowds and get in the backcountry? Look into Niseko Photography to take you on a tour or a cat-skiing trip. Better yet – their guides are professional photographers who will get that epic powder shot that you need! Their shop also seconds as a bar where you can enjoy a cold one after spending an all-time day out on the mountain. Trust me – try the espresso martini!