Curing FOMO in Hakuba

Story by Whitecap | September 21, 2017

Words and photos: Joe Schwartz

Japanese Powder FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) ran rampant the winter of 2014/15. You all know the North American tales of woe from that season. Low snowfall amounts and warm temperatures all over the West made for dismal conditions. Thanks (or no thanks) to the prevalence of social media, reports of epic conditions in Japan were a dime a dozen. Everyone follows a pro skier or friend on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/MySpace/etc that had no qualms about reminding their circles of the glorious time they were having in this far-off powder utopia while the general populace toiled and struggled on the barren North American slopes.

Many vowed for this to never happen again, myself included. Plans were hatched, and flights to Japan purchased. Hotels and guesthouses booked up in the anticipation of a similar story unfolding this season. The previously FOMO-stricken rubbed their hands in glee, hardly able to contain themselves, and beyond excited to start posting glorious images of Japanese powder to all their social channels, once again beginning the cycle of Japow FOMO all over again.

Your typical FOMO-inducing forecast in Japan.
…and your typical FOMO-inducing views in Japan.

However, Murphy and his Law are never too far behind. The early season across the West last year was one for the books. Meanwhile, Japan had one of their slowest starts to a ski season in recent memory. Hakuba Valley, the multi-resort epicenter on the South Island, looked grey and desolate most of December. Resort snowfall totals before Christmas were about 30cm, compared to over 200cm the year previous. The web reports were looking grim (i.e not FOMO-inducing) as I prepared to head to Hakuba to guide several groups there for Whitecap International.

I arrived in the valley to spring-like conditions. A Christmas Eve storm had apparently dumped up to a metre of fresh, but there was no sign of it at low elevations. My guests were concerned as well, all having flown from places that are having banner early seasons like Whistler and Tahoe. On our first day of skiing however, our concerns vanished as quickly as the gondola gained elevation. The depth of snow steadily increased as the gondola climbed high up the Tsugaike Kogen resort, and even deeper as we skin up above the lifts and beyond the crowds. We experienced this elevation dependent snow phenomenon several times on our trip. It would snow lightly snow in the valley and on the resort runs, and we’d be pleasantly shocked by copious amounts of blower pow in the backcountry. It’s an anomaly we could live with, and it made for amazing ski conditions up high, despite the lackluster looks of the lower reaches of the mountains.

Hard to believe there’s blower pow in those hills.

It was a great time to be in Hakuba with ski touring gear as we were smack-dab in the middle of the Japanese holidays, so the mountains were packed with people all enjoying their time off. The lack of snow lower down resulted in the jamming of the throngs of skiers and snowboarders onto a few select runs at Hakuba’s resorts. Like any holiday crowd,  skill levels are frighteningly low, making for roller-derby style scenes on the groomers. One never regrets packing skins on these days to ascend above the resorts, away from the chaos, and into the deeper snowpack of the higher reaches.

Boom! FOMO cured.

Despite a slow start to the season, Japan was the furthest thing from a let down. The skiing and the culture beyond the slopes are worthy of any envy-inducing social media feed. Amazing food, stellar views of the Japanese Alps, all the elements are in place. There’s only one way to cure Japow FOMO. Go there.

Avoid the pow FOMO this winter. Learn more about Whitecap Alpine’s trips to Hakuba, Japan.

See more of Joe Schwartz’s adventures here