Flow Snowboarding Ambassador Dru Williams and his crew took a trip out to Japan this winter in order to hit the legendary treeline powder runs in Hokkaido. Williams has been living in Utah where he owns his own media broadcasting and media production company, 43 Productions. He can be normally found riding resorts like Brighton or Powder Mountain or even his own Backyard Park called Mt. Wood. This time Williams grabbed his passport and some of his closest friends and they all hopped the Pacific to Japan. Flow sat down with Williams to talk about the trip. Have a read and take a look at some of the epic shots taken along the way by Ian Matteson & Shelby White.
So how long have you been planning this Japan trip?
We had been planning our trip for about four months prior to departure. We had a good idea of where we wanted to ride in Hokkaido. However, we also wanted to experience Tokyo and a few other cities on the South island (Honshu). We planned accordingly and did a lot of research before hand. In the end, we stayed in Narita, Tokyo, Sapporo and Niseko. We rode four different resorts over a total of six days while we were out there. Our total trip duration was 13 days.
Any advice for Flow readers wanting to plan a trip to Japan?
Get an international license and plan with someone who has been there before. We luckily had a friend with us who had lived there for two years while in high school (his dad was a military pilot back in the early 2000’s). We planned most of the trip and the other guys approved. The best thing we could have done for the trip was rent an 8-passenger van while snowboarding on the North island. This allowed us to drive to different resorts when we pleased without the hassle of using the public buses. We stayed in Sapporo for two nights in the city and were able to go to a few different places to ride. We then stayed in Niseko for three nights, but only ended up riding at that resort for one day. The snow was too damn good at Kiroro.
Who did you travel to Japan with?
Corbett Simon, Ian Matteson, Shelby White, RJ Gardner & Brett AlIen. Shelby and Ian are both super talented photographers, so we were able to get some great photos while visiting. I was also able to shoot some great footage while we were both on the mountain and in the cities. Needless to say it was a solid crew and we were (for the most part) on the same page the entire trip.
What resorts did you hit up there?
We hit Teine, Rusutsu, Kiroro, and Niseko. Never in my life have I snowboarded on a volcano or had a view of the ocean while scoping my lines down the mountain.
How were the snow conditions?
They varied quite a bit, but were still excellent. When we first arrived to Teine…it was too foggy to shred. The visibility was so bad that we couldn’t see our hands in front of us. We had two amazing powder days at Kiroro and a few sunny park days at Rusutsu & Niseko. It was wild how much the weather varied over there. If it were sunny and hot in Niseko, we would just drive the van an hour to Kiroro where it was dumping all day. The first day at Kiroro, we had two feet of fresh with endless refills. Keep in mind that the peaks at these resorts are only around 3,800 ft max.
Did you guys hire guides out there?
We didn’t need guides for where we were going. We studied maps online and talked to a few locals about the terrain and expected conditions. What’s funny is how strict trail markers are in Japan. You can get into some major trouble for ducking under ropes and not getting what they call a “backcountry pass.” Because all of the locals abide by these rules and we didn’t really care, we had some of the best snow we had ridden all year…right beside the main runs of the resort.
What was your best day out there?
Our first day at Kiroro was hands down the best riding day. Like I mentioned above…most of the terrain was very easy to access and the snow kept falling all day. The snow out there is much lighter than the snow in the U.S. It was crazy to throw a slash and be in the white room for 3-4 seconds compared to the average 1 second of whiteout like we are use to. You really had to scope a line and remember where the trees were before you through up a white wave. Rusutsu also had an extremely fun park set up and the weather was sunny and perfect. We got some fun gimbal follow footage that we are working on cutting at the moment. It was a full on huck fest consisting of lazy rodeos and front side 1080’s. There was also pony’s in the middle of the park run…which was odd. Do a trick…pet a pony. It ruled!
What setup were you riding? Did you bring more than one setup?
For those deep days, I have been helping test the new Darwin and Fuse Hybrid bindings for next season. The board is unreal and is much softer than previous years. The boards cosmetics are all time, but the look of that thing is eye piercing. For those park days, I had been helping test next seasons Era, which again is just sick. I am on a new line of boots for next year called the Tracers. Flow fans are in for a real treat next season…
Where else did you travel to?
We hit Sapporo, Tokyo and spent a night in Nagoya. I also had a layover in China and Hawaii…which I had no complaints about. The city life in Tokyo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Fast paced crowded sidewalks and street crossings. There is music, lights, and advertisements on every single street. No grid system for roads, they just go all over. And when you think you’re walking into an alley, it’s just another side street with amazing shopping and sushi.
Any other stories about the trip that you wanted to share?
While in Niseko, we went to this bar (a few nights) called Wild Bills. We stumbled into a private “going away” party for one of the workers there. The entire bar was owned and full of Australians, so we fit right in when walking past the door greeter. We were there until pretty much last call, and we had a good time. However, we all pretty much forgot we were in Japan and thought we had landed in Australia. It was a nice break away from all of the Japanese language we didn’t understand and we met some amazing people that night. It was eye opening to be in a different Country with newly discovered friends who were also not from there. It was just a wild night to say the least…
How long a trip/flight is it out there?
Too damn long. I flew standby on a buddy pass, which made for a little more of an adventure. I flew from Salt Lake to Portland, to Hawaii, and then to Tokyo. I made all of these flights as planned, which was lucky. We all then got on another flight the next day to head to Hokkaido (the North island of Japan) where all of the snow and mountains are. The way back was much more stressful however. My buddy Corbett was also flying standby home. We first tried 3 flights at the Narita airport…no luck. We then took a bus to Haneda airport to try a midnight flight to LAX. There were open seats, but the weight of everyone’s baggage exceeded the weight limit…therefore screwing us over. We then had to book a late night capsule hotel (that was an experience in itself) to wake up early to take a 2-hour bullet train ride to Nagoya airport. All while doing so with heavy snowboard bags, camera equipment and backpacks full of smelly clothes. We were guaranteed on this flight because there were 65 open seats available. They even let us check in early, which is rare when flying standby. We waited around all day, just for them to inform us that the weight of the checked bags was exceeding the planes limit. I guess the volcano in Alaska that erupted caused flights to have to take an alternative route to the U.S. Therefore; they tried to keep the weight of the plane as light as possible for fuel purposes. After we were told this, I got fed up with flying standby and purchased a last minute ticket home on my computer inside the airport. I slept in the Nagoya airport anxiously awaiting my guaranteed flight home the next morning at 8 AM. I made it home safely 15 hours later. The trip was totally worth the hassle…
Where is home base for you?
I’m located in Cottonwood Heights, which is a suburb of Salt Lake City. I am 15 minutes from some of the best resorts and backcountry terrain in the world. I’m stoked to call my area home.
How long have you been riding Flow?
I have been with Flow since I was 17. Currently, I am a Flow R&D team rider. The ride and development team is responsible for riding and testing future products. Essentially, I shred as much as I can and log my day on a spreadsheet or make my review into a video. What I like, what I don’t like. How did this binding felt with this strap compared to this strap? You know, that kind of thing… I also occasionally help Flow with their video needs.
Is your backyard park still firing with all this late snow?
We had an excellent run this season with Mt. Wood. Over two months of snow coverage and 30 riding days/nights total. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been covered for the last month or so. However, these late spring storms up in the mountains are even better. We have received over 30 inches this last week up top and are expecting more by the weekend. I was planning on having no more pow days after my Japan trip, but I dug right back into the deep stuff when I returned…jet lagged and all.
Ian Matteson Photography: http://www.ianmattesonphoto.com
Shelby White Photography: http://www.shelbywhite.co