Posted on March 8, 2011 with 2 CommentsJapan has been at the top of my list of places to ski for the last several years for the alluring combination of deep powder, pillows and trees, and fascinating culture. Oh, and the food. And the monkeys that sit in hot tubs! (Didn't get to see them this time but here's hoping there's a next time...) So, I was thrilled to be a part of a Giro team trip there a few weeks ago. It happened to be with Jen Hudak, Mike Riddle, and Justin Dorey--some of the best pipe skiers in the world who also just happen to be bona-fide ripping pow skiers as well, and of course super fun to hang out with. It was a short trip and one of those where the first day we arrived I was already starting to plan how I could get back. Thanks to Giro, the skiers, the awesome crew, and the inimitable Chuck Platt for a super fun trip! These are called icefish...if you look close you can see their eyes! Yikes. Jen and I figured we would be sporting and cultural so we tried them, and I was floored to find they were actually kind of tasty. All that raw ginger on top didn't hurt. You always hear about the incredibly efficient public transportation in Japan; this was definitely not an example of that. But somehow being a total foreigner who doesn't understand the language and is expected to not 'get it' makes you feel like doing silly things just because...! Jen 'gets' that. Ooooooh! The payoff for 2 days of travel was that we arrived during a sweet storm, and our main man Mitch from Black Diamond Lodge (we were in Niseko, staying in the town of Hirafu, FYI) took us right up the hill to this zone on our first day. I love grocery stores in any country, but the Japanese ones were like a curiosity shop. Here, have a weenie! Or a winny, you pick. Sunrise over the volcano Yotei. Mitch said it is a sweet ski run in the spring--with a view like that the early start wouldn't be bad at all. The thrice-daily stops at convenience stores, filled with unusual and tempting treats, were thrilling until after a day or two you realize that, um, even if it's a novel Japanese convenience store, you're still eating food from a convenience store. Although they did have the best apples (a sort of cross between an Asian pear and a Granny Smith, they were some of the best apples ever!), and some pretty good cold soba noodles. And the cans of coffee in the HOT vending machines...I maybe had too many of those. :) We got to ski these pillows in amazing powder--it's right next to where Dane Tudor skied The Stairway to Hell pillow line. I could not begin to tell you how to get there, because Mitch blindfolded us every day before our 2 hour drive to the secret zones. Not really, but for all the crazy roads and mind-boggling stuff to look at on the way, he might as well have! It's somewhere between a forty minute to a three hour drive from the passport office in Sapporo is all I can tell you. I know what you're thinking--you're thinking, "Do those go all the way up?!" The answer is yes. Yes they do.