Archive for the 'Snow' Category

16
Jan
17

Snowboarding and Skiing In Japan – Jetstar Asia Magazine October 2016

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After my two trips to Japan in early 2016 I was briefed by Jetstar Asia Magazine to produce a travel article about  snowboarding and skiing in Japan. My words and photos ran as a four-page feature article in the October 2016 issue of the inflight magazine for the Singapore-based airline, which is seen by 350,000 passengers each month. As a bonus, I was pleased to be able to sneak in a photo of myself and Mary G, and also of my brother into print. Please take a read of the text from the article, and I hope it inspires you to travel to Japan too…

POWDER PERFECT

Whether you have just one day or more on your itinerary, hit up Japan’s ski fields to get your winter fix.

The Land of the Rising Sun is every snow-lover’s dream: think consistent dumps of light, dry powder, terrain that ranges from the easy to the epic, as well as world-class backcountry riding and ski runs through the trees. And with easy bullet-train access from Tokyo or Osaka to some of the best skiing on Japan’s main island of Honshu, the only decision you’ll make is: how long is your snow holiday going to be?

SUPER-EXPRESS DAY TRIP: GALA Yuzawa

El Rad enjoying the view.

El Rad enjoying the view.

If you’ve only got a weekend in Tokyo, you can still fit in a quick day trip. GALA Yuzawa is located roughly 200km north of Tokyo and is famous for having its own bullet train station at the base of the mountain. In fact, Japan Rail can transport you in high-speed style from Tokyo station to the resort in just 75 minutes. Step off the train to rent some gear next to the platform, collect your packagedeal lift pass and then walk straight onto the gondola without leaving the building. How’s that for instant gratification?

Once you’re set up, you’re sure to love what’s on offer: Yuzawa has beginner, intermediate and advanced ski runs across its 17 pistes that can all be accessed by 11 lifts. You can also buy a combined lift pass to access two connected resorts – Ishiuchi Maruyama and Yuzawa Kogen – for even more variety. The top of the resort is 823m higher than the base, giving you a plethora of vertical metres to ride. Plus, Yuzawa receives almost 12m of snow on average each winter.

So next time you’ve got a spare day in Tokyo, grab a bento box breakfast on the early shinkansen (bullet train), hit the slopes at GALA Yuzawa by 8am, then celebrate back in Tokyo with yakitori and Asahi beer in the alleys next to Shinjuku station (after changing trains at Tokyo station). And for ski novices, GALA Yuzawa has a snow sports school with English-speaking instructors.

Nozawa Onsen is arguably Japan's most picturesque ski town, particularly when it dumps.

Nozawa Onsen is arguably Japan’s most picturesque ski town, particularly when it dumps.

SHORT SNOW TRIP: Nozawa Onsen

If a day isn’t enough to satisfy your snow craving, Nozawa Onsen provides the ultimate Japanese snow experience over a few days. It’s about two hours from Tokyo by bullet train and bus and is the quintessential Japanese ski town. It is one of the largest ski resorts in the country – an all-in one resort where the runs funnel back to a quaint, historic village. A maze of laneways hides more than 100 traditional restaurants, as well as bars and Western eateries. It was the famed 13 historic soto-yu public hot-spring bathhouses that attracted visitors to Nozawa before Austrians introduced skiing to the locals in 1912. Now, it’s the snowboarding and skiing that keep the town buzzing in winter.

Beyond the historic temples and shrines, tucked among the towering cypress trees on the edge of town lie almost 300ha of skiable terrain and 50km of runs with a huge kilometre of vertical drop.

For authorised tree riding (skiing through wooded areas), head to the top of the resort where a large section of forest is accessed by two lifts. Being that high means the powder stays light and dry and the trees are powder-coated a shimmering white.

If fresh, groomed runs are more your thing, Nozawa has wide leg-burners, steeper high-speed runs and winding forest trails for all abilities. You’ll find one of the better terrain parks in Japan, with small to large jumps, rollers, some rails and a fun half pipe. If you don’t ski, explore the labyrinth of shops and eateries in town and the picturesque shrines and temples nestled in the forests nearby. Then, don a yukata (traditional dressing gown) and geta or zori (clogs or sandals) and stroll through town to take a steaming dip in one of the famous Nozawa onsen.

Radman and Mary G getting lost in translation at Cortina.

Radman and Mary G getting lost in translation at Cortina.

A WINTRY WEEK: Hakuba Valley

A world-class ski destination, the Hakuba Valley, three hours from Tokyo, has been attracting serious snow lovers from all over the globe for at least 70 years. With more than 200 runs, including some of Japan’s steepest, and 140km of pistes accessed by 135 lifts across 11 separate resorts, it’s easy to see why some consider it the jewel of the Japan Alps – and then there’s the huge 14m of annual snowfall.

Happo-One Ski Resort is the main resort in Hakuba, and it provides all levels of skiing and snowboarding, as well as abovethe- tree-line alpine terrain and The Happo Banks Snow Park. Head to the top of Happo: a 30-minute hike up the ridgeline gives you backcountry options for kilometres down to the valley.

The view atop the Alps is mesmerising, and the endless powder turns on offer are hypnotic. Book yourself a mountain guide with all the backcountry avalanche gear and you’ll be in for a day you will never forget. Afterwards you can kanpai those powder grins and goggle tans with an icy cold beer from one of the traditional pubs, or izakaya, in Happo Village.

For some of Japan’s best tree riding, trek to the Hakuba Valley’s northernmost resort, Cortina. It’s a bit more out of the way, but that generally means fewer crowds – except for when fresh flakes have fallen. Cortina has a full-access tree-riding policy.

If you’re not a skier, you can still imagine you’re Eddie ‘The Eagle’ by taking in the dizzying view from the top of the 90m and 120m ski jumps at the Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium. Take the easy option of a chairlift up to the museum at the giant structure that was built for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Or, take the hundreds of stairs up and down, and afterwards a steaming bowl of ramen cooked in the natural hot spring water at Happo Bijin will taste even better.

CULTURAL EXCURSION: Matsumoto

If your legs need a break, take the local train from Hakuba station one hour south to the 16th-century castle town of Matsumoto.

From the station, cross the bridge to Nawate-dori, a picturesque laneway of traditional wooden stalls along the riverbank, and try some of the local delicacies and treats. Soon, you’ll spy the towering black-and-white wooden tiers of Matsumoto-jo in the distance.

A slice of Japanese history awaits with a visit to Matumoto Castle.

A slice of Japanese history awaits with a visit to Matumoto Castle.

Construction of the Matsumoto Castle began in 1592, and it was saved from destruction during the late-19th-century Meiji period when Japan went through modernisation. There are only 12 Japanese castles that survive today, and as well as being the oldest, Matsumoto is also one of only two with five visible floors from the outside with a secret sixth level hidden inside.

Look for colourful koi fish as you cross the shimmering defensive moat to enter through the wooden Black Gate and into the fortified bailey. Don’t be too startled if a costumed samurai greets you with a flick of his gunsen war fan and presentation of his jumonji yari spear. Even if you want to give your legs a rest, be prepared to scale the steep and narrow wooden stairways to climb through each lowceilinged floor inside the tower. You’ll glimpse the surrounding snow-capped mountains from one of the 115 archer’s and marksman’s slits – but to feel like a real lord, climb to the highest level and imagine life as a conquering clan. Reality will likely set in as you head back to ground level but by then you’ll be ready to conquer the pistes again.

El Rad trying (and failing?) to blend in with the locals on the train.

El Rad trying (and failing?) to blend in with the locals on the train.

GETTING THERE: Bullet trains (shinkansen) and express trains depart from Tokyo Station in the centre of the city, as well as the nearby Ueno Station, to all destinations in Honshu. Express trains run from Tokyo Narita Airport to both Tokyo and Ueno, and you can purchase all train tickets at the station counters as well as at the airport station counter.

To find train timetables and plan the quickest trip, visit hyperdia.com

The fastest way to get to the Hakuba Valley is a 90-minute bullet train to Nagano, then a one-hour bus to Happo Village. You can also take express and local trains to Hakuba train station.

Hot tip: Consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass from japanrailpass.net to save money if you’re going to be catching lots of trains.

 

And below is how the printed article looked. Click on the images to see them larger…

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To see more of Japan, see my blog posts here.

06
Jan
17

Japan Backcountry Snowboarding Photos – Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen

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In early 2016 I was fortunate enough to tag along on a media snowboard trip with Olliepop films to Japan. I had been to Japan on holiday just a few weeks previously, and we experienced mostly low-tide and marginal conditions at the start of what was to be the worst snow season in Japan for many, many years. But luckily when I returned with Jeremy and the guys on the Olliepop Snorkel Squad trip, we well and truly scored some epic days: typical blower Japan pow and epic tree riding.

Yes, there were also some marginal days in there too – even with some rain – but from the photos I managed to take, it goes to show that with some luck, and making the most of conditions on offer, you can get some really nice shots.

Jeremy Richardson did a great job of hooking up the trip with the assistance of Liquid Snow Tours, and the “action-models/good mates” in Jeremy Burns, Tim Nelson and Liam Peter Ryan worked super hard to get the shots. Thanks, guys.

Below are the action photos I tookin the Hakuba valley, from the high-alpine above Happo-One and over the back at Cortina, and off piste at Nozawa Onsen. Enjoy … and I hope it inspires you to get some turns this summer/winter.

Click the photos to enlarge them in all their pixelly goodness!

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Above: I’d never shot with fellow Falls Creek alumnus James “Singo” Singleton before, but he certainly knows how to shred! 

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Above: Mat Galina always knows where to find the goods and works harder than anyone else I know to get the shots … including the epic photo at the top of this post from the back bowl above Happo-One.

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Above: Jeremy Burns surfing the white waves of Happo-One on our way down to the carpark (and bus stop) at Hakuba 47.

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Above: Liam Peter Ryan (“LPR”) finding some launching pads as we descended from Happo-One to Hakuba 47.

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Above: Tim Nelson stylin’…

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Above: Jeremy Burns and LPR found a side hit out the front of our hotel, and with a van tow-in, the boys gave me an opportunity to use my Elinchrom Ranger Quadra and Skyport flash set-up for the first time. To see more about the flash system, click here.

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Above: We scored the first epic couple of days of the year at Cortina. Tim Nelson (red jacket) and Jeremy Burns (maroon jacket) got the goods.

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Above: Nozawa Onsen is a pretty magical place, especially when fresh snow turns the trees all-white, and Tim Nelson made a mere 10-15 of fresh dust-on-crust look pretty epic.

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Above: Another opportunity to use the Elincrhom Quadra and Skyport at a Bhuddist temple on the edge of Nozawa Onsen. Jeremy Richardson shifty.

And make sure you check out Olliepop Films feature from the trip here.

06
Jan
17

Japan Backcountry with Olliepop Films – Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen

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OlliePop Films’ Jeremy Richardson capturing Mat Galina’s rooster tail in the high alpine above Happo-One.

An epic adventure with a great crew. To see the action photos click the link, and for some lifestyle photos, go here.

Take a look at the feature film below.

And to see some extras and behind-the-scenes check out Olliepop Films webpage.

With thanks to Liquid Snow Tours.

01
Sep
15

The Mile High 2015: Snowboard Photography

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All eyes, and lenses, on 15 year-old Aussie up-and-coming ripper, Josh Vagne during the foggy Mile High 2015.

The Mile High presented by Carlton Dry has become a highlight of the Australian winter, and it draws the best snowboarders in the world to Perisher’s terrain park. It’s not just the World Snowboard Tour International points rating of the contest that brings the best shred boys and girls to Jindabyne, but Perisher’s epic and inventive park built by master shaper, and good mate, Charles Beckinsale.

So many of the international pros I spoke to said how much they enjoyed the freestyle set-up at Perisher – easy access to the mountain, fast laps of the park on the T-bar or 8-seater chair, a fun halfpipe also in front valley and a fun park around the corner on the Leichardt T-bar. They all said that they enjoy their summers in Oz much more than New Zealand, and that Perisher has become “the new Snowpark”. High praise, indeed!

This year I was fortunate to spend two and a half weeks in Jindabyne, to compete in the Transfers Banked Slalom at Thredbo, have a bunch of days riding the resorts, and then working for The Mile High writing the press releases, running the website and taking photos. Unfortunately the weather rolled in for the four days that the contest was scheduled, literally putting a real dampener on proceedings. The competition finally ran on the Wednesday, but due to the misty fog, the last two jumps were excluded. It was a shame, as in the clear days earlier on in my stay, the riders were displaying some seriously mind-blowing riding and uber-inventive lines. But, a result was obtained, photos were sent out and video edits posted … and the all-important WST points were awarded to help set up a bunch of riders for the forthcoming northern comp season. Congrats to Jess Rich, who I shot with back in Tahoe a few years ago, for winning the women’s.

Click the link to read the write up from The Mile High presented by Carlton Dry 2015.

Click the images to open a gallery of some of my photos from my time in Perisher.

And scroll down for a wrap-up video edit of the event. 

ESPN put together a great little edit about the whole competition. Take a look here: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:13525680

And here is the official video:

I can’t wait for next year…

11
Feb
15

X Games 2015 Superpipe And Big Air Photo Gallery

X Games 2015 Aspen Snowmass

What a view! Buttermilk Mountain’s 22-foot perfect superpipe, flanked by the slopestyle jumps on the left, and big air booter on the right.

The X Games is the self-described biggest and most important winter action sport competition … outside of the Olympics, of course. And after finally getting to experience my first X Games just a couple of weeks ago, and seeing the transformed Buttermilk mountain with it’s huge mounds of snow, lighting arrays and TV and spectator infrastructure, I’d tend to agree. The fact that so much is packed into such a small portion of the mountain is quite amazing. One chairlift accesses the SBX track up higher, the slopestyle course, superpipe and big air jump in front of the base lodge.

It was an awesome few days in Aspen, checking out the resorts by day, and the X Games craziness by night. The highlights were seeing Scotty James throw down and Torah Bright securing a bronze medal on the big stage. A shot or two from the trip should make it into Australian-NZ Snowboarding Magazine this season, so keep an eye out. If you ever get a chance to experience the X Games I couldn’t recommend it higher. Yeah, it’s very “Yee haw, ‘Merica rules!” with it’s Navy sponsorship, simplified narrative and questionable judging catering to ESPN audiences and the mainstream spectators (ie it certainly ain’t a core, cool event like the US Open or Stylewars in Oz), and it really does get frigidly cold outside at night. But the huge crowd, the TV razzle-dazzle, smooth running of a legitimately big event and the insane feats of snowboardery you get to witness more than make up for any negatives.

And in the meantime, enjoy these snaps.

Click on the photos below to open up the gallery and read the captions…

And in case you missed it, take a look at Danny Davis’ gold-medal-winning run which he threw down on the last run of the night. Epic.

23
Sep
14

Snowboard Photography From 2014 Australian Slopestyle Tour

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A few weeks ago the director of The Australian Slopestyle Tour called me up asking if I could help out with some media services for both The Mile High by Carlton Dry at Perisher and Stylewars at Falls Creek. He had me at hello …. beer!

It was great being back in the epicentre of the snow scene, with the best snowboarders and skiers in the world congregating on Jindabyne for their off-season, and our winter. Charles Beckinsale, had helped fashion an epic and inventive slopestyle course in Perisher’s Front Valley, and with all the big dawgs in town, the level of snowboarding (and skiing) was way beyond what has ever been witnessed in this land. I was primarily employed by Rich Hegarty to help write the press releases and add to social media, but of course I couldn’t be surrounded by all this snow-shredding awesomeness without giving my new-ish Canon EOS 1D Mk IV a work out.

Perisher’s slopestyle course is always a bit tricky to shoot, and I certainly took my best photos at the ol’ stomping ground of Falls Creek’s Ruined Castle terrain park during Stylewars. But it was a nice change to be able to act as a second shooter, alongside ANZ Snowboarding Magazine’s Alex Roberts, in order to cover all the action across the park. And it was a pleasant surprise to see The World Snowboard Tour use my shot of winner Kyle Mack for their news article.

A great two weeks filled with fun and friends … and quite a bit of that free Carlton Dry. It was so good to be back!

For a closer look, click on the photos to open them up in a gallery…

25
Jun
14

The Best All-Mountain Snowboard: 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing Review

Radmania Nitro Blacklight Gullwing 159

If you had to ride one snowboard for the rest of your life, do you think you could choose just one board that could do it all?

There’s certainly something to be said for building up a quiver of boards – to show the sideways-riding world that you are serious shredder who has the right equipment for every conceivable condition. But after a few years of accruing all manner of boards, you can get too spoilt for choice: your powder weapon ain’t much good when you hit the park at the end of the day, and your freestyle stick (usually) won’t float much when you hit the deep fresh. And no-one wants to be that whiney guy on the chairlift who complains that he should have grabbed one of his other boards instead.

So what if one board could do it all?

After getting my hands on a pre-released Nitro 2015 Blacklight Gullwing for my 2014 overseas trip, I reckon I’ve found the board that can.

 

Rocker vs Camber … or the best of both: Gullwing Rocker

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Now that some of the euphoria around reverse camber has died down a little bit, there has been a minor pushback against the banana boats in favour of good ol’ stable and secure camber, or even zero-camber for something in the middle. And yes, it is true that rocker lacks the control and edge hold of traditional camber boards at high speed … but nothing can beat it for a neutral float in powder.

Nitro’s Gullwing rocker– or to use Burton-speak, Flying V – aims for the best of both worlds: the playfulness and powder-float of rocker, and the groomer control and response of camber. It does a great job … but, having ridden my old Nitro Team Gullwing on steep and Coke-bottle-icy early season St Anton slopes a couple of years ago, I was that complaining dude on the chairlift wishing that I had brought one of my stiffer, regular camber boards. The Gullwing was just a little too playful when maximum control was required on the slippery, icy slopes. But that’s where Nitro’s new Power Pods come into play…

 

Power Pods:

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See that lil’ bump on the rail? That’s a Nitro Power Pod … and it’ll make you a carving demon!

The sidecut of the 2015 Blacklight contains a short and long radius, so that just in front of your leading foot, and behind your back foot two seemingly innocuous bumps protrude a few millimetres. They’re highlighted by fluoro green sections of sidewall, in case you hadn’t noticed them when you first picked up the board. These Power Pods give outrageous edge grip, and cut through snow like a proverbial hot knife through butter, or perhaps more like a serrated blade through crusty bread.

I was amazed at the insane angulation I could achieve on wintry hardpack, whipping through high-G euro-carves and loading up the pop so that I’d actually spring out into the next turn like a PGS’ing Olympian. And in my wake I left 4cm deep perfect-arc gouges in the groomers.

If you know how to lay it out and execute proper carves, you’re gunna want these Power Pods on your rails. And although this season’s California lean snow year meant Northstar didn’t build its normal epic superpipe, I reckon the Power Pods would give amazing grip up and out of the icy walls too.

 

The Short Board Revolution:

Epic 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing 159 topsheet and base graphics.

Epic 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing 159 topsheet and base graphics without all the stickers.

As a 100+ kg, 196cm-tall (6’5”1/2) shredder I understand that the gear I ride is outside the normal parameters for a regular 5’10”, 75kg rider: and in the (camber) past my all-mountain board was 163-164 and I stepped up to a 167 for powder. However, riding Nitro’s Team Wide Gullwing I have been able to step down to 159cm in length for ALL forms of riding, including the deep Niseko powder. During the ultra-snowy February of 2013 I just set back my usual wide stance an inch and the 159 Team Wide Gullwing gave me a more neutral-stance float in the Hokkaido powder than my 167 camber board ever did.

And with the Blacklight, the longer nose will help even more with powder float, but with a directional setback of only 15mm, it’s easy to set the board up for a pretty neutral twin-tip feel for park riding. During pow days in Tahoe I could stand more upright, lean back less and save the back-leg burn, as well as ride a shorter, more manoeuvrable directional-twin tip board straight from the steep(ish) and deep backside of Northstar to Pinball park and pipe.

Riding powder on Nitro’s Gullwing rocker boards feels more like the sort of float you feel when pumping through the face of a fat wave, or across the flats on a wakeboard: it’s playful and forgiving, light and loose, and the reverse camber allows you to really lean into pow turns much more without fear of the camber catching and the nose diving. And I have a sneaky feeling that the reverse camber shape of the base actually helps you spray more snow on those turns, flying radially off the rocker … or maybe it’s just that it’s easier to imagine yourself as Jordy Smith laying over a rail to bury the nose and spray your mates, allowing the rocker to pop you up as you prepare for your next turns with a huge grin on your face.

 

2015 Blacklight Specifications:

Nitro Oz’s Darragh Walsh hooked me up with the Blacklight as the up-spec version of the Team Wide that I was used to riding, and the Blacklight does share a lot of similarities with it as a freestyle-focussed all-mountain board. However, the Blacklight is listed at a higher price point, and it’s a little bit stiffer, it’s a mid-wide, a little more directional in profile, and it is equipped with a faster base and the Power Pods … and of course it comes with typically Nitro epic ghost-Viking, Game Of Thrones-esque graphics.

Scroll down for all the board’s specs from the 2015 Nitro catalog.

 

So, should you buy one?

If your next overseas trip is to Minnesota or Montreal, or you wanna get jibby wit it on Sundays In The Park, the Blacklight might not be the sort of freestyle noodle that you’re looking for. But if you like to ride the whole mountain, charge steep lines and deep powder, lay out high-G carves on wide groomers, hit big jumps and freestyle features in the park, and launch out the top of a superpipe, the 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing is the one board for you. You too can have a one-board quiver.

 

Want more information? Check out Nitro’s 2015 Blacklight Gullwing here and take a look at Nitro Snowboard’s full 2015 catalog here.

Wanna buy a 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing? Ask at your local Nitro Dealer, or online in Australia at Twelve Boardstore.

2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing from the brochure.

2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing features listed in the brochure.

Click to expand. 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing specifications and measurements.

Click to expand. 2015 Nitro Blacklight Gullwing specifications and measurements.