Ask any pro skier, filmmaker, or photographer where to go to get guaranteed, incredible deep powder, and they will say Japan. Yet while it may have just recently arrived on the radar to the West, skiing on Japan’s snowy, volcanic north island of Hokkaido is celebrating its centennial this winter.
Overhead powder shots, soulful tree skiing, pillows galore and 100 years of history cannot be passed up. With that, a crew from Warren Miller Entertainment headed over to check out the history of faceshots – and actual faceshots - in Japan this winter.
In 1912, Austrian Major General Theodor von Lerch introduced alpine skiing to Hokkaido. Lerch had been sent to Japan as part of a delegation from the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army – and ended up teaching alpine skiing to the Japanese Imperial Army.
Apparently, the local civilians were just as interested, and Japan’s first ski club was formed that winter. Fifty years later, the first chairlifts were built in Niseko, allowing the sport to grow in what ski photographer Grant Gunderson calls “the deepest place on earth, absolutely bottomless blower pow.”
The people of the region have not forgotten the Major’s impact, with a monument and a place in Sapporo Winter Sports Museum for Lerch. To celebrate this season, people can take a “Lerch Quiz” to win a ski trip to Austria, and a ‘Major Lerch’s Moustache’ contest is giving away free lift passes for photos of the best imitations - if sporting 1912-era facial hair is your thing.
On the snow, it has been yet another very deep season for Japan, and Warren Miller Entertainment athlete Tyler Ceccanti was along for the ride for a couple weeks this season. Traveling to Niseko, the main resort area on Hokkaido was his first trip outside of North America, and Ceccanti expected a big culture shock. “I was little worried…but everyone in Japan is so polite and helpful, everything went super smoothly,” he said.
“I’ve dreamed about going to Japan and skiing that powder ever since I first saw footage of it,” said Ceccanti. Shredding the pow with him was fellow Warren Miller Entertainment skiers Tatsuya Tagayaki and Roman Rohrmser. all fittingly celebrating 50 years of Niseko lifts on 50 years of K2 skis technology.
“The skiing was everything it was supposed to be. The first three days were bluebird, then when it started to snow, it snowed the hardest I have ever seen it snow in my life,” said Ceccanti. “It just comes in off the ocean, and does what it does. And there’s natural hot springs everywhere. We did onsen [hot spring soaking] every single night. It was awesome.”
There may, however, be one downside to skiing in Japan. “I can’t eat sushi back here in the States anymore,” said Ceccanti. “In Japan it was so fresh, right off the boat – it was untouchable. Perfect.”