Kodama's Whisper

Posted on Tuesday 28th September, 2010 Times Viewed: 4310
Kaz Willmer finds her fairytale ending with the Animal Snow Camps in Japan.
The very word 'fairytale' conjures up images of magical, far-fetched stories, with folklore characters and make-believe surroundings, all enveloped with happy endings.
Well Japan was just that – a fairytale. Eight-metre-deep, glistening powder, never-ending snowfall, and Kodoma (Japanese tree-spirits) whispering at you through the trees. It wasn't until Animal Snow Camps gave me the chance to swap my seven dwarves with 22 snowboarders, that I finally discovered reality behind my snowboarding fairytale.

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Moiwa was where it all began – a picturesque snow field with very few people and just two lifts. Crystal white snow pillows were piled up higher than the lodge, and two-metre-long icicles winked at us in the morning sun. The only sound was the crunching of the untouched snow as we walked the five minutes to the base lift. You could hear the hum of the chair and the faint metallic sound of tinny American country music, but that was it. Two other people loitered at the bottom, but the resort was empty – except for us. Something had to be wrong, didn't it? The groomers themselves could hardly be called groomers – maybe 'powders' would be more apt. Untouched, soft, fresh powder, waiting for our tracks. And then there was off-piste.

Off-piste is out-of-bounds for many Japanese skiers and riders – messing with Kodama could cause unspeakable consequences, so we didn't argue otherwise and carved up a never-ending supply of that glistening white stuff we'd travelled so far to reach. It was the fairytale powder we'd read about, drooled over on snow movies, and just spent every working day dreaming about. The texture was unreal – like the talcum powder you put on babies – fluffy, cotton-like, and sparkling. It was so fine, we struggled building kickers. But when you've continuous, untracked, heart-racing powder, kickers weren't a worry.

We visited a whole array of resorts – each with their own character. And everything Japanese has it's own character. Hanazono had a samurai platypus. Rusutsu had Japanese men in lycra, lined up military-style in a stretching routine. Annapuri had retro single-seater chairlifts. Niseko had a conical-shaped Hilton Hotel. They all had toilets with heated seats, your choice of music, and waterjets, and they all had their own interesting methods for ordering food from vending machines. But then they all had their own snow traits which added to an Animal Snow Camp tour to remember.
We found ourselves riding in the dead of night, flicking through the trees under the distant floodlight. We found ourselves in the most perfectly-groomed snow parks, with no one else around. We found ourselves surfing the fresh stuff to the backdrop of the Mt Yotei volcano, sitting like a cardboard cutout in the distance. Powder fields were abundant in every direction, in every resort, and not one day passed without continuous smiles. On more than one occasion I just had to stop to take in the location. To breathe a speck of reality into the trip – to believe I was actually there.
What made it even more special is that I got to share this experience with 22 other Animal Snow Campers. We had Johno Verity and Steve Addicott to give us professional tuition along the way, which meant we gained as much as we could out of the trip. They showed us the best routes through the trees, led us towards the best pillows of powder, and found us some incredible cliffs, rocks and windlips to throw ourselves off. Without them, the experience would not have been what it was because not only did I learn so much, but they gave me the confidence to try new things in such a relaxed way.

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By night, Japan awoke into even another world. Forget Euro-saunas for apres – once you've had an onsen, you'll always want an onsen – steaming hot fresh-water bath, with a Japanese temperature-cat to tell you how hot was your pinkened skin. Then the hot sake takes away the aching limbs, and the excitement of the DIY bbq, not to mention the sushi train. Even the supermarket trips were an adventure in themselves. We wont even start on the hot coffee in a can, or ice cold beer from vending machines. In fact, the vending machines on every street corner were a story in themselves.

Japan was everything I hoped, wanted and dreamed it to be, and the fact I went with the Animal Snow Camps meant I got the most out of the whole experience. In just a week we managed to ride a never-ending supply of powder, both day and night, with the added cherry of empty slopes and a whole cocktail of outings, trips and good times I'll never forget.

This trip was something very special and I know everyone went home with the same outlook. I look back on it now like a daydream I learnt so much from – culturally, improvement in my riding, and making new snow buddies. But unlike a fairytale, it didn't just have a happy ending – we couldn't wipe that unbeatable snow grin through all the adventures - beginning, middle and end.

To check out the Animal Camps dates and further details click here.


Video made by Justin North
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Comments (264)  
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