Well, it seems like at least here in Tahoe we got a bit preemptively excited about winter and now we’re experiencing a lull of sorts in snowfall. I am extremely fortunate that my family lives in Washington so I got to go there for Thanksgiving–great food and family time and amazing skiing at Crystal Mountain. The coverage there already for the season is insane. Hopefully it’s snowing where you are; if not, here’s a little video by The North Face from their ski team last season to keep you occupied and stoked in the meantime.
Japan 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.
I know little about art except that I like looking at it; Seattle is a great place to do that. I recently checked out the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Garden, near downtown Seattle. The Garden was waiting patiently on my to-see list ever since I heard about it, but I was confused and thought it was something you had to pay to do, and therefore wanted to wait until I was off crutches to get full value out of. Turns out it’s free and outdoors, and awesome! Thanks to my friend Gareth for the nudge.
Seattle will always reward you if you can tolerate a little moodiness now and again.
Three weeks ago now, I went to Island Lake Lodge for the first time. This is a place I’ve always heard about; it’s sort of legendary for having excellent cat skiing, stunning scenery, and deep blower pow. Despite hearing that nearby Fernie was having a less-than-normal amount of snowfall this year and a lack of recent snow, I was excited just to go see the place. I was also looking forward to this trip because of the people who were going–several awesome folks from The North Face, plus celebrity badass Jimmy Chin and Island Lake legend himself, Scot Schmidt (see: Godfather of Extreme, inventor of the color yellow, etc.).
Skiing at Island Lake with Schmidt, I feel like, is akin to having Elvis show you around Graceland or something–nothing less than radical. Here, Scot and Jimmy prepare to drop in on some trees. It was snowing lightly when we took the cat in to the lodges the first evening, but I didn’t think it looked like much would come of it. However, our first run the next morning was the kind of magic carpet skiing–smooth, if a bit firm underneath, with a few inches of blower on top–where you can hero ski. Super fast, carving turns, flying through trees and ollie-ing off every little wind ridge in sight. So. Much. Fun!
It continued to snow off and on the first day and night we were there, and we woke on the second morning to partly clear skies and the most amazing 180-degree view of sunrise over the surrounding peaks. When you see the spot where the (super-nice, naturally) lodge is situated–right on a lake, with a massive ampitheatre of peaks and ridges towering above, you can begin to understand why this spot has been such a hot commodity over the years. Word has it that many people have tried to get their hands on it, including princes and oil barons, but thankfully the owners have held on. This is just some of the terrain we were drooling over continually.
We got lucky (or at least everyone kept telling us we got lucky, all the employees were saying, “You guys lucked out; it wasn’t supposed to snow, and we haven’t had it this good in a while!”), and scored a legitimate pow day on the second day. The partial sun allowed us to get higher up into the alpine, affording views like this one–looking back at some sweet mini lines in the direction of Fernie.
Mega-ripper-babe Karilyn Larsen and me, cat style. The whole crew was charging, ripping, super fired up–we played endless games of cat and mouse through the trees, hitting every little pillow and jump we could. If you were lucky, you got to either follow the guide or Scot Schmidt, as they know every little nuance of each run and so would hit the best fall line the whole way–plus, it was a rush just trying to keep up with the master of smooth style himself!!
I left with great memories of pow skiing, of course–but also a lasting impression of how much fun can be had when each member of a group is really charging and bringing the positivity. And Island Lake is a model of efficient cat skiing (each cat ride averaged 10-15 minutes for a worthy run, and our driver told us that for our group of 15 or 16 people, we burned under what would be a tank and a half of gas in my Subaru for a full day of riding–14 amazing pow runs) as well as amazing customer service (they take a drink order before your last run so you can enjoy a beverage of your choice on the ride back to the lodge–nice touch!!). It’s a crazy life sometimes–it just makes me shake my head in wonder and feel unfathomably lucky.
It has been said many times–and will be said many times again–Jack Hannan was a true, modern-day mountain man. His exploits on foot, on skis, and by sled in the Coast Mountains of BC the last several years are the stuff of legend. Jack and his merry band of super bad-ass companions–often Jon Johnston, John’s wife Susan Medville, and Jack’s wife Laura Ogden, among others–were at the forefront of sled-skiing and remote access backcountry skiing in the mountains near Pemberton since they began spending winters there a few years ago after relocating from Crested Butte, and were responsible for truly showing us what is possible when you set your mind and your legs to it (see, for example, Jack and Jon’s valiant attempts at a first descent of Mount Queen Bess, in 2008, and any of Team 13′s movies, circa the mid-2000s). Check out this video to get a glimpse of his serious ability–whoa.
Jack effortlessly embodied so many amazing qualities that the rest of us spend much daily time and effort trying to achieve–he worked harder than most to make his playtime possible, and then when it was time to ski or bike, he charged with consummate style. He never bragged about it, he had a true love and respect for the mountains, and was always quick with a smile (in face, I can’t picture his face without a smile on it!) and a kind word. Jack Hannan had a heart of gold.
I first met Jack at a freeskiing contest at Kirkwood, way back in the day. Showing up fresh on the contest scene, I didn’t know what to expect, and was definitely intimidated. Jack was one of a handful of people (along with Jamie Blair, and everyone at MSI, especially Dak, Lhotse and Sarah from NZ) who were genuinely nice, welcoming, and friendly right off the bat–Jack was nothing but encouraging, was always willing to patiently listen to my silly questions about line choice or judging or whatever. Then, when it was his turn to ski, he did not mess around–slicing his way precisely down the gnarliest billy-goat lines, his technical skills were matched by few–and then he would charge fast and strong through any open fields of chop or powder.
Jack passed away on March 31, 2010. It was an avalanche on Mt. Currie, and he was skiing with friends. I would like to send my most sincere love and condolences to his beautiful and amazing wife, Laura, and all of the family and friends he has who love him so much. Jack’s loss is immeasurable; but the lessons and inspiration that he brought and the light that he shone onto the mountains and onto the rest of us will continue forever.
(thanks to www.powdermag.com, where I borrowed the photos from, and where you can read Matt Hansen’s excellent tribute to Jack)