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Andy Mahre Unplugged in Japan
Posted on March 3, 2015

Andy Mahre white-rooming himself on one of the many epic backcountry storm days that we spent in Hakuba.  Sometimes seeing where you are going is completely overrated.

Before the Skier’s Cup, Andy Mahre was on a mission. But unlike most pro ski trips, where a formula of live Instagramming and daily Facebook updates gives all of us followers a sense of the good life and a sense of social envy, the latest journey of the younger Mahre was much less hyper-connected and much more hyper-aware. Mahre and a team of pro skiing’s finest put their phones away for the duration of a trip to Japan’s fabled powder locations, from Niseko and Nozawa Onsen to Myoko and Hakuba. They found a more immersive experience in the deep powder and cultural vortex of Japan, signing off social media until they landed back in the States with a deeper story to tell. This is the first report of what they discovered and what they found. —LYA Editor

After getting up early to take advantage of an abnormally crisp and sunny morning in Japan, Andy Mahre and I headed out to the backcountry to get some shots while our other crew members took the morning off to rest. Rime, fresh pow and blue skies… resting can wait.

Words and Images by Shannon Skouras

Neon lights, buildings as far as the eye can see, the smell of diesel fuel slowly dulling our senses, and trains filled with so many people that the only way to physically stand upright is to lean against the passengers surrounding you while trying not to fall in the lap of the sweet little senior lady that you just helped to her seat a few minutes prior. For those brought up in the city, the everyday happenings of Tokyo may feel like the normal comings and goings of daily life, but for country-born and raised Eddie Bauer athlete and adventurer Andy Mahre, these sights and sounds are completely alien and normally avoided.

We were in Japan to film a ski movie: three athletes, two filmers, a photographer/writer, and a four-wheel-drive van piled with our seemingly endless bags of gear. With five weeks to travel to, explore, and document six different cities and ski areas on the main island of Japan, we knew that no matter what, this trip would be a grand adventure. One differentiating factor between this movie and other ski movies filmed in this powder-filled corner of the world was that all of the members of our team agreed to disconnect from social media and the Internet (except for business emails) for the entire duration of the trip. Thirty-five days without social media may not have been too far from the norm for the old-fashioned ways of Andy, but for the rest of the normally uber-connected members of our crew, this time away from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter must have seemed like an eternity. For five weeks, we put our phones and laptops down and focused on the people and the culture right in front of us. We took time away from the time-consuming task of following what others were doing to instead concentrate on what was happening in the now. We lived in the moment, observed the beauty of the mountains and terrain surrounding us, and enjoyed the one thing that we all felt equally passionate about: skiing.

Arriving in Nagano after three days in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, our senses were instantly rejuvenated. The fresh mountain air filled our lungs and the chill of winter nipped at our skin, bringing goose bumps of excitement and anticipation of the days ahead. The next four and a half weeks were a blur of endless powder–day after day of steeps, chutes, drops and pillows–pillows so perfect that prior to this trip, we believed they only existed in our dreams.

“Photos tell a story, but sometimes the most special memories are those that you don’t have physical proof of ever happening–the moments that you replay over and over in your head before you fall asleep at night, the lines that everyone reminisces about over post-shred sake at dinner.”

 

The snow fell so hard at times, it was as if someone was maniacally shaking a powdered sugar sifter over our heads, instantly refilling the tracks that we had just left behind. Myoko gifted us with some of the deepest powder of the trip, a new love for hard-boiled eggs, and some of the most scenic shots of our trip. Shirakawa-go came next, a town brimming with traditional Japanese culture and surrounded by big mountain lines that could be compared to those found in Alaska. Then we were off to Mt. Kurama near Kyoto to explore ancient temples and shrines built within a forest that legends say is inhabited by Kurama Tengu, a human-like creature with a red face and large nose, who boasts the highest proficiency in martial arts skills.

In Nozawa Onsen, we explored ridges and wind lips, built one of the biggest step-ups I have ever seen, and enjoyed the piping-hot dumplings and Nozawa Onsen ice cream that beckoned to us after long days out on the hill. Our last destination was Hakuba, which boasts 9 resorts within 30 minutes of each other, with any type of terrain a skier would ever want or need. From epic spines and alpine descents to fluffy pillows and cornices begging to be dropped, we spent our days in Hakuba bouncing between resorts and terrain options based on avalanche and weather conditions.

 

After that classic Japow experience, all six of us piled into the rental van, with snowy winding roads in front of us, yesterday’s lines behind us, Zeppelin and coffee filling us with instant stoke as we made our way to the starting point for yet another day of exploring Japan. The last day of shredding with the crew was going to be bittersweet, but like every adventure, they must all come to an end. For the second half of the day, photos were few and far between, hoots and hollers were present during every run, and pillows and drops all over the mountain were plundered one by one. As the light began to dim and the fresh tracks became harder and harder to find, we slowly made our way back to the van, playing back the favorite parts of our day in our own minds.

During our drive back to Nagano to drop the rental van off before catching our flight back to the States, I asked Andy what the highlight of the trip was for him. His answer wasn’t related to a particular photo, video clip or glory moment. “Shredding powder, touring up into the alpine to see some of the bigger mountains, and getting a chance to ski some of the surrounding lines,” he replied.

“The next time that you catch yourself focusing on capturing a moment, stop yourself. Don’t take a photograph for Instagram, don’t use your POV camera to get footage for your next edit, just enjoy the moment for what it is.”

 

Photos tell a story, but sometimes the most special memories are those that you don’t have physical proof of ever happening–the moments that you replay over and over in your head before you fall asleep at night, the lines that everyone reminisces about over post-shred sake at dinner.

The next time that you catch yourself focusing on capturing a moment, stop yourself. Don’t take a photograph for Instagram, don’t use your POV camera to get footage for your next edit, just enjoy the moment for what it is. Remember the feeling of powder spraying off your face as you charge through waist-deep freshies; the utter weightlessness and slight panic as you land that last pillow drop in your line that turns out to be twice as big as it looked from the top; the sheer giddiness and joy of your skis slicing effortlessly through powder as you make massive S-turns down the line that you thought only existed in your dreams. Enjoy the next moment for yourself: I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Arriving at the snow monkey park 40 minutes before closing, we high-tailed it down the several miles of snow covered trail to get some shots of the monkeys before the gates were shut for the evening. Monkeys brushed against our legs as they walked past us, jumped from branch to branch overhead in the trees, and smashed pillow lines more epic than we could possibly do ourselves… although we would all try in the days that followed.

Captions: Top: Andy Mahre white-rooming himself on one of the many epic backcountry storm days that we spent in Hakuba.  Sometimes seeing where you are going is completely overrated. Above: After getting up early to take advantage of an abnormally crisp and sunny morning in Japan, Andy Mahre and I headed out to the backcountry to get some shots while our other crew members took the morning off to rest. Rime, fresh pow and blue skies… resting can wait.

Gallery L to R: 1. We spent the day exploring a new zone in Hakuba after yet another solid dump of snow overnight. Fresh powder lines winding through perfectly spaced trees could be found on every run and we were hitting untouched pillow poppers until dusk. Here, Andy Mahre shows the composure of a pro as he launches off a pillow on one of our many runs through our new favorite zone. 2. A sunny early morning tour in the alpine rewarded our team with views of big mountain lines that resembled the spines, shoots and jagged peaks of Alaska. After all of the crew bagged some fresh turns, Andy hiked back up to get some soul turns on one of the ridges across the valley. 3. Andy Mahre setting the skin track for the crew while scoping zones normally unseen due to heavy storm cycles bringing dense snow at higher elevations in Hakuba. Bluebird days are far and few between in Japan, so it is a definite must to advantage of them when avalanche conditions are stable and the sun is shining. Light powder in the morning turned into corn in the late afternoon, and after a long day of shooting and shredding, a beautiful mountain sunset brought us home.

Gallery L to R: 4. Due to heightened avalanche conditions Andy Mahre takes the safe route down the ridge, getting some surfy turns in while staying out of the danger zones on the way down his line. 5. We were welcomed with over two feet of light, fresh powder on our very first morning of exploration in Myoko. Pillows, perfectly spaced trees and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys kept us out until dark every night that we stayed in this sweet little Japanese ski town. 6. Andy Mahre taking in the views of the jagged peaks and epic spines across the valley from the zone we were lapping for the day. Heavy snowfall and an unstable layer kept us from making the trek out to some of the lines that he picked out, but he couldn’t really complain – He hit an steep, pillow lines instead.

Bottom: Arriving at the snow monkey park 40 minutes before closing, we high-tailed it down the several miles of snow covered trail to get some shots of the monkeys before the gates were shut for the evening. Monkeys brushed against our legs as they walked past us, jumped from branch to branch overhead in the trees, and smashed pillow lines more epic than we could possibly do ourselves… although we would all try in the days that followed.

Check out the First Ascent series of Eddie Bauer gear Andy rocked in Japan at eddiebauer.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: - Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
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