Words by Arc’teryx athlete Pia Nic Gundersen with photos by Angela Percival
It was Wednesday, just past midnight. A text from Arc’teryx photographer Angela Percival pops up on my phone: “Hi Pia! Heard you’re back on your skis, and that your knee is doing fine. What’s your plan the upcoming week? Can you come to Japan for a shoot this Friday?”
That’s how my trip to Japan started. The mission was to find snow for the Winter ’16 catalogue shoot. Fellow Arc’teryx athlete, Greg Hill received the same text and just a couple of days later we were all settled in at the Black Diamond Lodge in Niseko, Japan. In Whistler, where Angela lives, the conditions where less than great, the deadline for the catalog shot was creeping closer and winter had taken a break in some parts of western Canada.
Locals say this season has been a crazy one, even for Japan. During our stay it snowed constantly, dropping 1.5 meters of fresh snow in five days. As Greg put it, (this being his first trip to Japan) – “Being on a photo shoot in Japan is really just a tease of what you can expect. Focusing on getting good pics means more work than play”. Even with the ‘work’ part of the trip, our short stay in Japan was one for the books.
We’ve all seen the pictures: not just waist-deep powder, but neck-deep faceshots with snow leaping over your shoulders. You learn to appreciate each and every turn. That moment of pure happiness that only the feeling of being one with the snow and the elements can give you.
We explored the Niseko backcountry with short hikes just from the road, cat-skiing into unknown territory, fighting first tracks and freezing in the resort. On our last day we tried to get to the top of Mount Yotei. Greg, being the experienced uphill-chaser, reached the top in total white-out.
The rest of the team turned around shortly before reaching the top, not knowing how long of a hike was left, and with a need of just a couple more pictures and a bus to catch. On his solo-mission, Greg was lost for a moment in a total whiteout on his way down from the top. He was one big smile when he caught up with us half way down.
On the bus ride to Sapporo, where we stayed our last night before leaving the amazing country of Japan, we shared a well-deserved Sapporo beer and memories from our short but intense stay in Niseko. Angela, the photographer with a mission, was happy; which means that our stay was a successful, spontaneous decision.
Pictures of deep powder turns, funny Japanese toilets, Greg’s fear of karaoke and longings for just one last Onsen (japanese spa) were the topics on our way home.