Snowboarding and Skiing In Japan – Jetstar Asia Magazine October 2016

Jetstar Asia Magazine – Snowboarding and Skiing in Japan: Whether you have just one day or more on your itinerary, hit up Japan’s ski fields to get your winter fix.


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…


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?


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.


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.


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

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 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…




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


Snowboarding in Vegas?

What the…? After reading the heading I bet you have the same puzzled look on your face that I got from everybody in Sin City when I told them I was there on a snowboard magazine trip to Vegas. They would just look at me blankly, thinking that the strangely-accented guy dressed in snowboard pants and jacket in the lobby of Bally’s Casino was just part of the entertainment…like the Elvis impersonators. But it’s true, you really can go snowboarding in Vegas at the inventively-named Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, roughly 45 miles from The Strip.

Last year on a drive from Vegas to Tahoe I noticed some signs to a “Snow Park”, but didn’t think much of it until Radical Gloves‘ Jeremy Burns suggested we do a magazine trip there. I didn’t need much convincing to head back to Party Town, USA…especially when I could pass off all the partying and drinking as a “work expense” to the Tax Man!

I hit the road early Thursday morning with Darragh Walsh, Cohen Davies, and Darragh’s mate Casey, for the 800 or so kilometre drive through a dusty, windswept Nevada desert. There were a few sites to see on the way, but mostly it was just endless highway, punctuated by military installations, atomic test sites and roadside brothels.

We hit up LVSSR Friday and Saturday; it was a shock going from almost 30 degree heat in the valley floor and climbing 5500 feet to the resort carpark to be surrounded by SoCal-like spring snow conditions less than an hour later. The resort is quite small, with only three chairlifts and a rustic “Mom and Pop” vibe. But the park was decent, with at least six medium to large jumps, and a bunch of other jibs and small jumps. And above the resort there is some epic freeriding lines if you are willing to hike. There are plans to put in a few more lifts to access some good terrain, and it will be great to see how the resort progresses over the next few years. Everybody treated us amazingly, showing us around and helping us in any way we wanted. And we felt a little bit like rockstars as word had gotten out about the visiting Australian “pro riders”, and we even had some TV interviews for the local news organised for the Sunday (which unfortunately we had to miss: three nights in Vegas got the better of us and we also needed a day to see the sights in the sunlight).

Vegas, of course, was epic. And it started out well with me winning $250 on a $1.25 bet on a little mechanical horse table game at MGM grand on the Thursday night. Thanks for showing me how it’s done, Jez! My brother, El Rad, flew into Vegas Friday, and as my parents were already there, I was able to combine snowboarding, photography, fun and family holiday all in a few days in Sin City. Perfect! We made sure we got into the party spirit with beers for the drive back down to Vegas each day, and at night me and the boys hit up a lot of casinos, bars and clubs…and made a few new friends.  We kept it classy of course, having a few chilled beers in the room before we hit The Strip.

And the rest? Well, like they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…unless it gets written up in an Australian-NZ Snowboarder Magazine article! Ha.

When our four nights were over, well, it was a loooonngg drive back to Tahoe. And after chilling by the Paris pool under brilliant sunshine, it was tough to come back to cold, snowy Tahoe…well, that was until we woke to 20 inches of fresh pow overnight! Eeeepppppic!

Keep and eye out for the “Fear and Shredding in Las Vegas” photos and article in Issue 2 of Australian-New Zealand Snowboarder Magazine coming out in a couple of months.

Go Ride a Custom Craft!

Every man should own at least one fully tailored suit in his lifetime, but unless you get some dodgy polyester three-piece from a pushy Indian on Khao San Rd, you’re going to have to save some serious money to get a sartorial suit. Equally, hand-made custom Italian shoes, or even bespoke Australian hardwood furniture will set you back a pretty penny. However, if you want to stand out from the bland crowd and have your own custom fix, all is not lost. Instead of grabbing one of those boring white surf sticks off the rack, why not go to a local shaper and get a custom board?

With the international push for factory-manufactured surfboards, hand-shaping is certainly a dying art. And where it once was a burgeoning life progression for surf bums and failed pro-surfers, lately, small-time shapers have been struggling to even find grommets to come in and sweep away the shaping booth floors. It has become such an issue that lately the surf industry even consorted with Creepy Hitler (ie Tony Abbott) in a push for surf shaping to be regarded as a legitimate recognised trade that can then employ certified apprentices. See the article from Surfing World here.

The Gold Coast is littered with world-class surfboard shapers, with DHD and JS Industries creating boards for a huge proportion of the top surfers in the world. But as these boards are in high demand, the price and waiting list was a little longer than I wanted, and so after seeing how well El Rad rode a 6’1″ Stuart Surf FX1, I few weeks ago I ordered a 6’8″ version…and for just $100 more got an all-over orange spray and hand painted silver lightning bolt! And less than 3 weeks later I picked up my bespoke board, complete with my name along the stringer, handed directly to me by Stu himself. Oooh…how I love the smell of fiberglass in the morning!

There really is something satisfying about the whole process: checking out a bunch of different local shapers, chatting to them about your surfing ability and immediate aspirations, seeing the shaper work on similar boards in his shop, scoping his finished boards and lairy paint schemes, getting quotes and prices, ordering your custom stick, then picking it up and giving it that first careful test drive out in the surf…and strutting along the beach with your new colourful creation with a huge smile on your face afterwards. And as El Rad took advantage of a buy-two-at-0nce discount, we both got bespoke boards for a similar price to an off-the-shelf Studio Italia suit from Myer!

Surfing World Magazine recently had a whole issue focussing on hand-shaped and custom boards, and Base Surfboards (a co-op of DHD, Bourton, Simon (Anderson) and others) has a great page which outlines all the steps that go into making a board. Basically, cutting machines carve down a foam blank to within 70-85% of the finished board shape before the rest is sanded back by hand, then it’s fiber-glassed, artwork is painted, fins inserted and final glassing is done to the board.

And El Rad even went a step beyond the hand painted scheme that I ordered from Stuart’s collection – with modern advances in colour printing any image can be bonded to cloth which is then laminated under the fiberglass. And so taking influence from classic art, and willing to wait the extra week or more to finalise the printing that I wasn’t willing to wait, take a look at his “Liberty” HPX2 (a model which received a great review in ASL’s 2010 Surf Bible)! The half naked woman is in fact the central figure from Eugene Delacroix’s famous revolutionary painting, “Liberty Leading the People”. The board looks amazing, with a great painterly print effect – I’m jealous – it makes my orange bolt look tame, and puts the other boards in our collective quiver to shame. And not only is El Rad bringing some art to the sometimes shallow world of surf…and he gets to rub up against a beautiful topless woman every day out in the water…even if she is 180 years old!

Gold Coast V8 Hotlap


Like any good country town, they love their cars up here – take a look at the “Green Gremlin” XR8 and “Fully Sic” ute I spied round the streets recently! There are a few rice rockets clogging up the roads with their wheezing turbo boosts, but really, the Goldy locals love nothing more than a classic Falcon or Holden V8. And I can understand why…I too have a soft spot for big Aussie donks.

Over the long weekend we drove up past Dreamworld and Movieworld through the endless sugarcane fields to the Holden Driving Centre as El Rad was fortunate enough to score a seat in a V8 hotlap! El Rad had given a two-person passenger pass in a V8 for his mate A-Fin’s recent 21st birthday…and when A-Fin’s dad couldn’t make it, El Rad put his hand up to live out his Mark Webber dreams. I just went along for the ride and to listen to the sweet, sweet sound of thundering V8 engines reverberate across the open grassland. And driving a 6-cylinder Ford Falcon myself, I was happy to see all the other hotted-up Falc’s on show. I could have upgraded to a second-hand supercharged XR6 Bullet 400kw custom rocket, but I didn’t have a spare $38,000 for the asking price. It was nice to take a look though.

Although a couple of the cars were stickered-up and pimped-out, they weren’t quite the real deal V8 Supercars you see on TV, however the Falcon that the guys got to take a ride in was a slightly de-tuned former racecar…and it had a spartan interior to match. And you can see from the smile on the boys faces they were pretty pumped after a few laps round the track.

So here are just a few photos of the fun. I realised that using a fast 1000th of a second shutter speed didn’t really capture any feeling of the speed of the cars, particulalry as I couldn’t get all that close the corners. So I took a couple shots at 100th of a second and panned the camera to get some background motion blur and wheel spin. And the final shot even has some exhaust flame out the back. Cool. I can still hear the rumble of engine and exhaust in my head right now…

Bi-Coastal Surf Sessions

My last weekend in Melbourne was action-packed, helped by a 3 day visit from brother El Rad, who was keen to try the cold waters off the Surf Coast. Fortunately on the Saturday the weather was actually warm and sunny, the water retained a lot of its summer heat and the waves were pretty clean and off-shore. Annoyingly, an amateur surf comp was on at Jan Juc, clogging up the beach, so we headed down the road to 13th Beach, where all we had to dodge was a few horses. Yes, horses. They allow them to gallop along the beach – maybe they were inspired by Old Spice?

We made it back in time to Melbourne to join our cousin James, who’s on dog-mauling injury-leave from his Northern Territory Thunder footy team (see the front-page article here…but which is nothing compared to James’ brother’s wife’s boobs-inspired front page effort! Most popular story on Check it here). I hadn’t been to the football in ages – man it has changed, and not really for the better. But it was good to sit in the new(ish) MCG northern stand, even if it does feel a bit like you going up the escalators to a shopping centre to get to your seats.

El Rad was keen for a bit of a bi-coastal surf mission on monday: the waves were forecast to be all right on Monday morning, and with a 1.30 pm flight back to the Gold Coast he was hoping to hit the waves up north too. We set out well before dawn – it was a nice sight to see the city in the golden morning light, but not really worth giving up a comfortable sleep in and warm bed when the thermometer showed 4 degrees going past Geelong! After a hard-work short session out in heavy overhead waves at Torquay back beach (a couple of dudes were absolutely ripping, almost getting barelled) it was straight to Tiger Airways at Tullamarine for El Rad. Two hours later he walked through the gates at Coolangatta with his carry-on bag, picked up his car and was straight to Currumbin Alley for another hour-long surf till the last light slipped behind the hinterland. It’s pretty epic to be able to get two surf sessions in during one day, basically in two separate oceans and 1800km apart!

The next day it was my turn – sort of. I flew up to the Goldy, surf board in tow to spend some time in the warmer weather with waves at the front door…not an hour and a half’s drive away. It’s great up here – and pretty relaxed according to the postcards! Unfortunately the bogans over the road have found another piece of junk car to clog the street up with, but their house is on the market so they’ll be moving their infestation along soon I hope. There’d been a huge storm the night before I arrived and couldn’t replicate El Rad’s Currumbin surf – the water coming out the rivermouth was as brown as strong tea! I didn’t want to risk paddling through that, even if it is mostly just silt and leaf tannin, it means there must be all sorts of other chemicals and pesticides washed down from the hills.

As fun as it is up here, it’s going to be tough to handle when the snow starts to fall and the lifts start to run down at Falls Creek – I think that might be my cue to head south again. So take a look at my photos – we caught some great sunsets down south, but really nothing compares to the light and sunsets up here. There’s something about the water, mountains, storms and setting sun that consistently creates the best evening visions of anywhere I’ve ever seen.