The Lost Files : Rachel Delacour In Japan
Last season, evo‘s very own Rachel Delacour ventured away from her northwest home and out to Japan in search of bottomless powder. Although she ended up finding her holy grail of zones, the article was eventually lost, never to be found again, until now. If this story doesn’t make you want to ski in Japan and join us on one of our evoTrip adventure vacations, check your pulse.
By Rachel Delacour, Japan: The flight attendant smiled and nodded at me as she held out a plastic tray containing some dubious shrimp pasta. I was five hours into the eleven-hour flight to Tokyo, and the novelty of my window seat was wearing off. I was ready to be in Japan, where I would spend the next 4 weeks skiing and traveling. I slept for a few hours and before I knew it, I found myself sitting on the airport floor outside customs, heaps of baggage piled around me.
Later that night I arrived at the Wadano Lodge, a quaint green house in the Hakuba Valley of central Japan. I lugged my sixty-pound ski bag up the front steps and was greeted by AJ and Louise, an adorable Australian couple who had been managing the lodge for several months. It was snowing heavily and I was excited to find that the snow level was well above the main floor windows.
The next morning I was up by 5am, ready to ski the foot and a half of fresh that had fallen overnight. A few of the very kind lodge employees allowed me to tag along with them at a nearby ski area called Happo One. Happo is a relatively large resort that offers some excellent storm skiing, as well as incredible views when the weather is clear. We made deep turns for the first half of the day, and then I met up with my friends Josh, Ryan and Andy. The three Lake Tahoe locals had flown in a week before, and had been skiing and taking photos non-stop ever since.
Just a few days prior to my arrival, the temperatures had dropped considerably and a layer of surface hoar had formed in what is typically a very stable, predictable snowpack. This resulted in persistent slab avalanche danger in terrain I am largely unfamiliar with. A number of skiers, snowboarders, and climbers were caught off-guard by the snowpack during this time, serving as a grave reminder of how deadly the familiarity bias can be. We decided to pay extra attention to terrain selection and ski conservatively until the cycle passed.
After skiing all day I walked to Lawson’s, a Japanese convenience store chain, to buy my cheap cup-of-noodle dinner. Exhausted and feeling the sixteen-hour time difference, I passed out around 20:30. If you think military time is confusing, try interpreting wind speed in meters per second.
The next day we caught a bus to Cortina, a small, popular resort on the Northern end of the Hakuba Valley. The sun was out all day, and the fresh snow set-up quickly, resulting in mashed potatoes and goggle burns. We managed to find some fun avalanche fences to jump off, and I ate a delicious steamed meat bun for lunch at the lodge. Many people fail to realize how incredibly affordable Japan is; for just over $30 you can get a lift ticket, a lunch voucher and an onsen pass. An onsen is a traditional Japanese mineral hot springs that you bathe in nude. It is also possibly the best way to end a full day of skiing.
The following day, we all woke up at 5am to watch the Seahawks play. It snowed heavily overnight, and after the emotional rollercoaster of the NFC Championship game, we headed for Happo. The snow was indescribably deep. We storm skied laps of what seemed to be bottomless snow. I remember airing off of a small cornice and being completely submerged and blinded by snow for at least the next fifteen seconds.
We made a long slack-country lap down to a river and came across an incredible zone filled with pillows and spines. Excited about skiing what looked to be the line of his life, Josh began setting a boot pack up. Just moments later, three search and rescue helicopters and a media helicopter flew into the valley and circled above us. They hovered for nearly half an hour, attempting to land several times and getting alarmingly close. Feeling scared and a bit confused, we backed off and skinned out of the valley as quickly as we could. We later learned that three climbers had gone missing and we may have been mistaken for them, unknowingly apprehending a rescue.
A few days later the sun came out, allowing us to explore the valley successfully with excellent visibility. We toured out of a small resort called Norikura, and made some great tree runs. Norikura also has some very steep, well-groomed runs, so we shamelessly skied groomers in our sunglasses the last few runs of the day.
As a ski bum, I am always looking for ways to acquire inexpensive drinks in the evening. Japanese grocery stores sell a canned mixed drink called “Strong;” a name that is telling of the substance. For about 200 yen, or $1.70, you can get a 16oz. can of 9% alcohol that tastes like carbonated grapefruit. Jackpot. That night we discovered some live music at a nearby spot called Recovery Bar, and we sang 90’s classics with some rowdy Australians, and I passed out on the couch at the lodge.
The next day, my close friend and fellow evo employee Chris Shalbot arrived in Japan, and the two of us went to Happo. Though it hadn’t snowed in several days, we were able to find awesome lift accessible terrain that was completely untracked! It is difficult to comprehend how Japan manages to get so much snow, and so few skiers to ski it. I don’t dare question it.