Niseko, Japan - a Vertical Integration Trip

I recently returned from hosting a Vertical Integration trip to Niseko, Japan. I first went to Japan a decade ago for athlete work with Sweetgrass Productions on their film, Signatures. I immediately fell in love with the area and have found a way to go back nearly every year since. This latest trip was my first time hosting a Vertical Integration trip there, and I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends to take with me to the powder paradise.

^My oldest son, Amos, always likes to play in my bags as I pack at home for any trip. I think it is pretty adorable too! The travel slog to Niseko Japan is legit. Some big flights, layovers, and some buses all come into play in getting there. However, it is usually worth it once it is settled. 

^The backcountry scene is where it is at in Niseko these days. The word is out that Niseko is a powder paradise, and the resort shows it. Niseko United has gotten much busier over the years since I first came a decade ago, but there is still plenty of good skiing in the resort when you hit the timing right. The backcountry still provides in spades though nearly as good as always. 

 ^Spencer Porter is getting some of that resort loving in this picture above.

 ^Erik Sorenson putting in the work for the backcountry bliss.

^It is best to make sure to clean up your car. It can get away from ya pretty quick.

 ^The food though... The food is one of my favorite parts of the yearly migration to Japan. Legit.

^Tasty views too. Mount Yotei lingers in the background collecting local clouds as Spencer Porter approaches Annupurri peak. 

^Erik's disappearing act in the deepness of the trees.

^Stormy days are the norm in Niseko in January. Seeing the sun is typically more rare then seeing stormy refills. Good news is that there is plenty of tree skiing to ride in the storms. 

^Sure does lift the spirits when the sun does poke out though. Makes it feel that much more blessed when the sun graces the day. Even if for just a little bit. 

^Stoked on those lines.

^Luke Buckland is going steep and deep in this zone near Iwoanupurri in the Niseko backcountry.

^Adventure takes many forms!

^Old and new friends on skin tracks in beautiful places. That is what it is all about.

^Crossing steamy hot sulphur smelling pools in the Niseko backcountry is a truly unique experience. The onsen nearby this spot is a classic "must do" in the zone as well. 

^Me, Matt, Erik, and a steamy pool.

^Matt pushing up through the storm. Days like these it is staying dry that is harder then finding good skiing. 

Mount Yotei.

^Erik telemark turns, and some beautiful views. Both worthy.

^Just outside Moiwa with Annupurri looming in the distance.

^My friend, Max, that owns the hostel I always like to stay at is married to a talented woman. Yuko and Max are always such gracious hosts to me and my friends. Yet, all these years I had no idea that Yuko(left side of pic) was a talented Koto player. She has played for many years, but having children did not allow her to play as much as she liked. Now that her and Max's kids are getting a little older she has found some time to play with some of her local friends again. We were fortunate to catch one of their local concerts at a Hirafu art gallery. I was truly impressed.

^Luke sat up to the bass Koto to check it out with a little help from a master.

^He also saddled up to plenty of skin tracks. 

^Each of the crew nailed their last days in town. Erik got this stormy goodness pictured above, and Matt coined the phrase of the trip as he dropped into his last backcountry line, "Until next time, Japan!". Each of the last few days, one after the other all boarded busses back to the airport to start their travel slog home until the last day came when I dropped off Erik at the bus stop. On my way back to the hostel I had to pull over to take a moment at sunrise emerging over Mount Yotei. 

^I turned on one of my favorite new motivational tunes, sprinkled some Niseko powder into my entirely too hot green tea, and snapped this picture of the sun's light just starting to break over the ridges and the "dream mountain". I was so grateful for a successful trip with a great group of folks. I really could not have asked for a better group. With that I was off onto my own return travels back home.

^Sayonara Tokyo.

^I have a saying, "I love to travel this wonderful wide world, and I love coming home too." I don't see it as one or the other. I see it as equally rewarding to be able to travel the globe, and also to feel the emotion of missing my family to then return home to feel the joy of seeing and squeezing them again. They come with each other, they are compliments to each other. 

^Then there is getting a day back at the home resort with the homies as well. Gotta love that too. Local bro, Bretton Carasso, getting some goods above some of the rocks and cliffs of Snowbasin in my winter home base of Ogden, Utah. Travel means a lot to me, and it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life as a skier. Coming home always feels so good too. The whole process of it is the kind of spice of life that I live for. I am grateful to be able to do the work that I love to do, and I am also grateful for a family at home that understands and supports it all as well. My boys will grow up with a Dad that travels away from home often in their lives, and that is certainly a sacrifice. However, I think that being a living example of following your true path is one that I value sharing with them as well. I wish I could do it all, but I think I am doing it well, and certainly the best I can.