Back to the Future!

Sandra Hillen goes full fairytale in Japan!

Sandra Hillen on the GNU Spam in Japan

What if I told you there was a place where trains travel nearly 200 miles per hour, snow is measured by the foot rather than the inch, sushi is bottomless and costs next to nothing and every toilet seat is heated? You’re probably thinking, “Doesn’t exist,” right? Wrong. This fairytale place is real and you can find it in the future, just 16 hours from Mountain Standard Time. Welcome to Japan.

Sandra Hillen in Japan for GNU Snowboards
Sandra Hillen on the Japan Subway

Japan is known for cherry blossoms and its beautiful spring and summer landscapes, but in winter, it’s all about the snow, and I’m on a quest to find it. Journeys like this are always better with friends, so I had to bring Michaela, our personal photographer who also happens to be a doctor, and Kristin and Stephen, a couple who quit their jobs last spring to travel full time, learn about the world, and write blog posts for jealous people back home.

Stepping off the plane in Tokyo, we rushed through insanely busy-yet-orderly train stations to jump on the bullet train, or Shinkansen, up north to the region of Hokkaido. Most people have heard of Niseko, but we’re headed for a paradisiacal resort that’s slightly off the beaten path but worth the extra effort. I’m talking about a little place called Rusutsu. I’ve been to Japan before, but this is my first time to Hokkaido. Flying north through the countryside on the smoothest train ride of my life, I drifted off dreaming of what was to come slashing through perfectly spaced trees and bouncing off untouched powdery pillows.

Sanda Hillen in Hokkaido, Japan
Sandra Hillen Japan Cabin
Sandra HIllen Japan Cabin Chandelier

On the hour-long taxi ride from the train to the resort, I watched as the small snowbanks on either side of the winding mountain road gradually turned into walls. The resort area of Rusutsu is fairly small, but it’s got tons of amenities. They have a wide variety of restaurants, convenience and souvenir shops, a wave pool with a waterslide, an onsen (think traditional Japanese group hot spring, suits not allowed), an arcade, and even a couple reindeer hanging out at the base.

We were lucky enough to stay in one of their private ski-in/ski-out log cabins, complete with a beautiful fireplace and cozy pajamas. As we settled in, we were as stoked as kids on Christmas to see the snow outside piling up.

Sandra Hillen on the GNU Spam snowboard
Sandra Hillen rings the bell in Japan

The next morning, we woke up early to see what gifts Mother Nature had brought. Powder panic hit us hard when we realized she’d delivered nearly a foot of fresh snow overnight, and she wasn’t done yet. We couldn’t wait to get out and explore. As soon as we stepped off the gondola, we quickly realized you don’t have to be a local to find the white stuff because the snow everywhere was EPIC! Some of the best pillows are directly under the gondola and with every new run leading to the discovery of fresh snow we were convinced it was endless. The only sounds cutting through the beautiful, heavy silence of the snowy trees were whoops of joy. It was hard to stop even for a moment, but we had to get a few shots to try and capture the magic

Sandra Hillen in deep Japan Powder

The trees looked like huge cotton balls, it was like being Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and wanting to try everything and being overwhelmed with excitement. The crazy part was we re-lived it day after day. Japan was delivering the powder it is famous for. For three days in a row we were able to find new and fun terrain all over the mountain. We didn’t want to stop, we rode until our legs were jelly but another great perk of Japanese resorts is the time spent warming up to refuel.

Guys, now’s time to tell you about the food. Resort food has a reputation for being overpriced, mass-produced, and not what you’d consider fresh by any standard. Not here. For less than half the price of most resorts in the states, you’ve got made-to-order choices of fresh food to warm your insides up, such as ramen, udon and Japanese curry. At night we constantly amazed at how good the food was at the resort restaurants. We couldn’t go wrong with anything we ordered even if we didn’t always recognize what they put in front of us.

Sandra Hillen Japan Food
Sandra Hillen Japan Sashimi

When asked what their impression of Japan is, many visitors simply say that their expectations were met 100%–that literally it’s as good as advertised. Rusutsu is no exception. This natural playground’s abundant snowfall and accessible tree lines are begging to give you the best pow runs of your life. Throw in hardly any lift lines, incredible food, the nicest people and a crazy cool culture and you’ve got the winter adventure of a lifetime.

Mother Nature blesses this land with over 42 feet of light and fluffy snow each season. I’ve shown you the future, so what are you waiting for?

Sandra Hillen in Japan
Categories | GNU X Airblaster, Sandra Hillen