I sit down. My boardbag is locked from the strap into a wall and I’ve cramped by myself in between two Japanese gentlemen. I’m tired. It’s middle of the night back home but I’m keeping myself awake with the power of vending machine coffee. It is not particularly good but I’m a Finn and I want to have my coffee, no matter weak or strong.
I’ve just arrived from Finland to Tokyo and I’m on my way to Minamiuonuma. A place that’s only 1hr 30minutes Shinkansen train ride from Tokyo. This is an area known as Snow Country. The stories from locals say that the big snowfall in Minamiuonuma is heavier than anywhere else in the world. ¨But how can it be?¨. ¨ It’s such a short amount of time from Tokyo that how can there possibly be so much snow in this area? ¨
Shinkansen moves fast, travelling through Japanese countryside towards the mountains. There is only 10 minutes left of a train ride and no sign of snow. I’m desperate and feel anxious. ¨Where is the snow?¨ Then, train goes into a tunnel and after a short time flies out and stops. Quickly, I hustle my gear and jump out to a train station dock. I look outside and I can see some white covered hills and trees. I start to feel more relaxed. ¨I can snowboard here¨. ¨If there is snow in the town, there’s gotta be a good amount of it up in the mountains.¨
I gather my gear and walk out from the station. My friend Takumi, a local mountain guide and city counselor is waiting for me in front of the station.
¨Konichiwa, how are you¨ I greet. ¨We are all fine ¨, Takumi says. ¨We have a lot of snow this year. Our season started a bit late but now we have over 3 meters.¨ ¨It all came in 2 weeks and now you are here. Perfect timing ¨, Takumi smiles.
I’ve been a frequent visitor in Japan since 2003 and yet still the power of snowfall in here never stops to amaze me.
We jump into a car and travel to Minamiuonuma. I feel so tired but I can’t allow myself to take a nap. I’m excited. My anxiousness about lack of snow has turned into this childless eagerness that my friends usually keep making fun of me. I’m having a serious powder fever.
We arrive in Minamiuonuma and the place where I’m staying, Muikamachi Hutte. The Hutte is run by Hosoi family who greet me with such hospitality. I enter my room. Tatami, futon, onsen, calm vibes and simplicity. That’s all I need for my base camp and this is exactly what Muikamachi Hutte is.
I unpack my stuff and almost fell in sleep. Time is around 4 pm in the afternoon. If I’d manage to stay up five more hours I’d be good. Luckily it’s time for dinner and onsen so I will most likely make it!
Fast forward few hours and I’m back in my room. I fall in sleep, then I wake up. I’m fully awake and ready to go! I check the time. It’s at 10 pm. ¨Shit, This is jetlag!¨ back to bed I go. I wake up again. Now the clock shows that it’s 1.30 am. Third time makes the charm they say. Well, not in this case. It is 3.30 am but I can’t fall to sleep anymore. Time for a coffee with no rush. There is still many hours before the local powder heaven Hakkaisan opens its gondola.
After having my long coffee moment Takumi comes to pick me up. He wants to take me to his ¨area¨ in Hakkaisan resort. Apparently, this is a place where you can enter only with permission and Takumi has it. ¨If you like the area, you can lap it with gondola while I guide clients.¨ Takumi says. Sounds interesting. Own place to ride the resort with no other people. What an offer!
We arrive in Hakkaisan. There is a lot of snow in the ground and the small spider looking sprinklers are melting it to create a better walkway to gondola station. It’s middle of the week. Not so many people are waiting in the line. My heart is pumping. ¨Come on a gondola! Take me to the top. I’m in desperate need to unleash few slashes!¨
We arrive in top and strap in. ¨Follow me¨ says Takumi. I start riding behind him. I’m on the groomers and there’s a bank. I take speed and make a turn on the bank. Snow is deep and light. It sprays so much! It’s everything I want from my first powder turn of the season. Then suddenly we stop. ¨Antti, now I take you to my area¨ Takumi shouts. We hike towards a small ridge. After 10 minutes of hike, we start riding again on the ridge. It’s so beautiful up there with perfect trees and snow. Slowly I follow Takumi on the side of the ridge and keep looking down into this field of banks and pillows. It looks like a dreamland. Then I ride next to Takumi and he says to me.
¨Welcome to Snow Country Antti! Go for it and enjoy!¨
I hope you enjoyed this little taste of this yet internationally unknown powder heaven of Japan. Over the course of next few months, I will be dropping punch of content about a new short film YUKIGUNI which was made in association with Minamiuonuma City.
I worked together again for YUKIGUNI with filmmaker Iisakki Kennilä with whom I made CLOSER. Photography for the project is by Jani Kärppä from Kota Collective. The full film will be available later this year but make sure to follow the project and stories in social media in channels: @anttiautti and @closersnow
Thanks for checking this little piece! Cheers!