Japan is known for its amazing snow. People literally cross the planet for it. Japan gets meters of deep fluffy white powder snow every year making it one of the best ski destinations in the world and Madarao is no exception when it comes to receiving bucketloads of white gold. Japan gets so much snow, the snow has a name… Japow! (Sort of like the Chuck Norris of the snow world).
Ever since Back To The Future 2 pretty much everybody has wanted to hoverboard. The feeling of floating on powder pillows has got to be better than hoverboarding. We live for it, we seek it out, we go insane when it’s on and we drive ourselves to exhaustion to get just one more perfect powder turn.
Skiing and Snowboarding in really good powder is a whole new skill that is so much fun to learn and opens up a new way of getting around a ski mountain you never knew existed.
Riding deep light powder is very different to getting down groomers or hard pack and requires a different skill and different equipment to really enjoy it. There is no feeling in the world better than being on big fat skis or a snowboard and floating down the runs as though you were riding the clouds. Riding powder becomes more like surfing because you don’t really use your edges in the same way as you do on hard pack. You literally plane on the snow under your base, which is not to say you are above the level of snow because you can be planing even if you are chest deep in the good stuff. To get enough float so you are effortlessly gliding you need a big enough surface area to allow the floatiness to ensue. This means crazy fat skis or a long board with very little or no camber or even negative camber.
Powder Snow Gear
If your gear is too short or not wide enough you will be sitting right back trying to keep your tips out of the snow so you don’t go head over heels. You lose turnability and have way less control. It’s still ridiculously fun but really tiring and you miss out on the super floaty joy potential. If everything is just right though, you can stay right over the center of your gear giving you the possibility of doing some of the best turns of your life. It is likely nobody will see your perfect turns because you will be in the white room with a leading edge of snow puffs issuing from your tips.
There is a special skill knowing when to dig in for a massive turn creating a wave of powder in front of you and riding through it to your next turn and when to snake down the mountain avoiding the inevitable face shots as long as possible so you can see the trees before you collide in an explosion of powder, pain and enormous sense of loss knowing your friends (at least they were before the powder day) are going to attempt to track out the mountain in your absence.
My favourite snowboard at the moment for the deep powder days is a 164 Jeremy Jones Hovercraft. The 2017 model and beyond has a spoon shaped nose making for an increase in powder joy. The base has a channel between the tail edges which helps with the flow of snow under the board and I can tell you from personal experience it is perfect in anything from 15cm to 1m of fresh powder… Yep it get’s that good at Madarao. For those of you who are trying to work out which board to get I am 173 cm tall and weigh 78kg. The stated weight range for this thing is 77kg to 100kg but because the powder is so light in Japan the extra length makes for perfect riding. The hovercraft also comes in a split-board setup so can be used for serious backcountry missions with perfect rewards for your hard earned turns.
Avalanche Safety & Gear
It doesn’t matter where in the world you are you always need to be considering avalanche especially when you get massive amounts of new snow like we do in Japan. Mostly things are relatively safe in japan because temperature stays pretty stable however most side country ski areas in Japan are right in the avalanche sweet spot as far as angle of the slope goes and if there are weak layers in the snow care needs to be taken.
If you are off piste on runs that receive little or no traffic or which face the sun you absolutely need avalanche gear. We always ride with beacon, shovel and probe because we always want the best of the best powder and we know we are going to get out in the wilderness to get it. With the gear and training you can get all the fresh turns you could ever want and do it with a high degree of safety. We dig a quick snow pit at the top of descents when conditions indicate potential issues. Almost all the pits indicate a high degree of safety but sometimes it reveals major weaknesses in the snow-pack and so we always know when not to drop in.
Last year we added the Black Diamond Jetforce avalanche airbag backpacks to our kit. We never wear these so we can go into areas we know are dangerous. Nature is unpredictable however and even if all the indicators point to safe things can and do go wrong. Having an extra layer of safety is absolutely brilliant. The backpacks are not cheap and most of them weigh around 3-4kgs but the increase in safety if somethings goes wrong is enormous. The idea of an avalanche airbag is that it increases your surface area so that you float to the top of an avalanche if you do get yourself into a bad situation. It also provides a potential improvement in trauma protection because you have a big balloon near your head, back and shoulders which may prevent injury from collision with trees, rocks or falling over small drops.
The nice thing about airbags like the Black Diamond Jetforce and the Arcteryx Voltair is that you can travel with them on aeroplanes, they cost nothing to recharge and in the field you get multiple deploys. This is totally unique to these two packs because they are battery operated. It also increases a user's ability to practice using the devices meaning there is far more likelihood that the pack will be deployed when necessary. There is no data yet about failure to deploy because of inhibition or uncertainty however it is a known factor amongst people who are avalanched with packs that remain undeployed.
English Speaking Ski School and Backcountry Tours
Madarao has three great English speaking ski schools which ensures you can progress your powder skiing or snowboarding way faster than learning on your own by cartwheeling down slopes or getting stuck in chest deep snow. One powder lesson will make the rest of the pow days epic like no other days you have ever had on snow before. At Madarao there are also fantastic guided tours that get’s you out into the backcountry off the back of the resort. They provide Avalanche beacons for all customers and the guides have great training in avalanche safety so you can come back for more, powder day after powder day. Off the back of the resort there are courses for intermediates or advanced riders with some truly fantastic steeps that and some amazing terrain. It’s just super fun and a must when you visit Madarao.
Posted on Sun 18 June 2017