The basic idea of the Onsen Tour was to travel around Hokkaido searching for great spots to ride and stay the nights near hot springs–also known as onsens. That’s it. Some might ask what’s so special about it, but let me tell you: there’s nothing un-special about it.
First of all, you just can’t plan trips like these. They happen if they happen. For a western snowboarder, it’s hard or even impossible to find the right places in Japan: for that, you have to know the right people. And even if you knew the right people, you have to know them well. And to know someone in Japan that well, you have to earn his trust.
Car Danchi crew has been establishing a movement where riders drive around Hokkaido by sleeping in their DIY tuned cars. They are the true pioneers of snowboarding no one knows, but they have a major role to what freeriding is today. When some of the biggest heroes of snowboarding come to Japan, the Car Danchi crew is there to show them places–the places they have found by themselves!
The first time I met Neil Hartmann was in my early contest days. He was a commentator of the biggest contests in Japan, and I was an invited rider. So we got to hang around quite much back then. Later, when I heard about his Car Danchi crew I was blown away. I was so excited; this must be the greatest way for backcountry snowboarding! But yet it took over ten years to get the chance to travel with him and another master Shinya Nakagawa. This time I knew it was now or never–and I was so honored of the occasion.
As partners to this special trip I needed riders who would share with me the same passion towards riding, so I could not have been more excited to get Enni Rukajärvi and Nicholas Wolken riding with me. Enni, the Olympic silver medalist, is just starting her freeriding career, but her mentality is very similar with me, and the joy I see on her face as she meets something new tells it all.
Nicholas is my longtime co-pilot. The Swiss sure can turn! Let me tell you that making a smooth turn like Nico is possibly the hardest trick on a snowboard. He’s also very experienced freerider, so every day there’s something I can learn from him.
And let’s not forget my filmer Matti Ollila, photographer Harri Tarvainen and journalist Tuukka Tams. They’re the best on their field, but they can also shred–much better than you’d think. In the end, we’re all there for the same reason.
For me to get the right crew around is really important, and this time it could not have been any better.
As we started planning to tour from onsen to another, I obviously felt like it’s going to be something very unique. I knew there couldn’t be any better way to combine great riding with getting deep into Japanese culture. It might sound like a cliché, but the rich culture of the Snow Country is one the main reasons I want to travel to Japan year after year. Even the riding is more comprehensive as you understand a little of the land’s culture.
To understand Osen Tour, you have to understand onsen. The true onsens get their water from volcanic soil–from volcanoes to be precise. As you hike and ride around the hills there’s nothing sweeter than to dip into volcanic water and let your body and mind have a break. To Japanese people onsen is a bit like sauna is in Finland–a place to relax and to recover–but it’s whole lot more. It’s also a place to heal yourself, even to meditate.
The other part of our tour was to get to spots no one else goes. I knew I would get to some unique places but I would have never guessed how good they could actually be. We rode a lot around the national park of Daisezutsan, where I’ve been many times before, but these spots something completely different.
And they were gourgeus. For instance, to ride next to the biggest waterfall in Hokkaido at Tenninkyo was astonishing. And the mountains of Tokachidake were probably even more mindblowing: incredible hills just kept spreading around a valley where you could just pick spots for days. These were something I’ve never seen in Japan before, and I know I would never have without this trip.
To me, at Tokachidake I experienced something special as I got to make a hike with our guide Shinya just by two of us. The ride itself was actually a first descent, but more importantly I got to share it with a guide I really admire. On that day I learned maybe more about Japanese riding and culture than ever before.
Many times you plan your trip even too accurate, so it’s hard to really get surprised. Don’t dot that–give yourself a break. As you drive around with no certain destination, you might find yourself in some spontaneous occasions. On this trip we witnessed very unique Sunkyo Ice Festival with lots of wonderful sculptures made of ice, and also Asahikawa Sake Festival–the celebration of Japanese national drink. Again, it’s all about the culture–and you just can’t get enough of it.
All of that was due to our guides Shinya and Neil. Without them we would have never even thought of visiting those festivals, but also those tasteful meals in local restaurants would have left without eating. It’s really hard for western people to find the best places.
Speaking of food, and you can’t mention Japan without speaking of food, I have to say that we western people have a lot to learn about Japanese cuisine. For instance, their breakfast contains the same ingredients as lunch and dinner. By that way, you get a good basis for the day.
And remember, Japanese food is a whole lot more than sushi and seafood. In fact, there might even be the best cuisine in the world. I really recommend for everyone to try it out! Let go your prejudices and taste whatever you get a hold to. It’s the best key to find out about the land of the rising sun.
I recommend Onsen Tour concept to everyone. We got to ride far away from the overcrowded ski resorts and experience what the real Japanese freeriding is all about. We didn’t have a single lift up, everywhere the snow was epic and every day we had a new onsen, new ryokan and new meals. Although we traveled a lot, the routine gave us peace of mind.
After this trip my thoughts about riding itself has developed even more to the point that I need to explore a lot more and stay off of the resorts. Every trip in Japan has taught me more about the culture and has given me new friends.
Snowboarding is an amazing thing. With snowboarding you get to experience some incredible things, meet wonderful people and see gorgeous places. Japan is one those destinations that never leaves me cold.
I’ve been to Japan already 17 times. First, the biggest reason for going there was the trust on good snow. But now as I’ve made so many dear friends there I have a much bigger reason. After all, it’s all about friendship.
Statements video series starts october 10th with edit from our Onsen Tour in Hokkaido, Japan. It’s all about energized powder First chapter is all about energized powder riding in land of the rising sun.
Make sure to tune in!