We Tested the Best Gear for Deep, Wet Snow While in Japan
Tools that can handle the intense weather skiers are sure to find in Niseko, Hakuba, Nozawa, and beyond.
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While the videos and the photos that come from skiers visiting Japan always look amazing, the weather there is actually incredibly harsh. The jet stream takes cold air from Siberia to the Sea of Japan, where it picks up moisture and then dumps it in the form of fat, fluffy snowflakes on the mountains of Hokkaido and Honshu. In other words, if your ski gear isn’t up-to-snuff for these trying conditions, it can ruin your trip.
After spending two weeks skiing around Niseko, Rusutsu, Hakuba Valley, Nozawa Onsen, and touristing in Tokyo, this was the gear that made the cut. Most of it I still use often when skiing during storm days anywhere in the American West, because if gear can handle Japan, it can handle weather anywhere.
Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130 GW Ski Boot
In January and February, skiing in Japan mostly involves deep snow, but there are plenty of places where snow is groomed, bumped-up, tracked out, and, if you’re adventurous, even encourages some uphill ski touring. Having a lightweight boot that can handle all of these conditions is critical, and the Atomic Hawx Prime XTD boot checked all the boxes. At a mere 1,668 grams, this boot is easy to travel with, yet the Energy Backbone, Prolite construction, and high-performance Mimic liner make the boot burly enough to enjoy the downhill. [$975, atomic.com]
- Read our 2020 Gear Guide Review of the Atomic Hawx Prime XTD GW
- Related: This Season’s Best All-Mountain Ski Boots
- Shop for the Atomic Hawx Prime XTD: REI | Backcountry | evo | Skis.com | Amazon
Backcountry Cottonwoods Gore-Tex Bib Pant
Love them or hate them, bibs are a key part of staying warm and dry in Japan, and not just because the powder is so deep it gets everywhere. The winds can howl towards the top of chairlifts, and with them comes heavy precipitation and chills. The Backcountry Cottonwoods Gore-Tex bibs outlasted the elements and made for comfy days out on the hill. While the performance was undeniable, the fit is a little baggy and more of a “relaxed” freeride style. That said, the pockets are spot-on for skiers who like to come prepared. [On Sale: $245-350, Backcountry.com]
- Pair it with a Great Jacket: Stio Objective Pro in Gear 360
- Buy Now: Backcountry
SHRED. Simplify+ with CBL Blast Mirror Lens
On my first trip to Japan a few years ago, I had a pair of goggles from a different brand that couldn’t handle the moisture of Hokkaido and completely ruined a day of skiing. On a two-week trip around Niseko, Hakuba, and Nozawa last season, however, the SHRED. Simplfy+ didn’t disappoint. The Contrast Boosting Lens (CBL) was the perfect lens for cloudy and partly cloudy days, which are very common winter conditions in Japan. It seemingly eliminates flat light and stays comfortable and fog-free, plus the Big Show style looks great in photos when skiing deep powder. [$200, shredoptics.com]
- SKI’s Top Helmet and Goggles of the Season
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Atomic Backland 117 with SHIFT Binding
Yes, you want fat skis for skiing in Japan. The snow is deep enough that skiers can still sink deep even with girthy skis underfoot, but the extra float makes it easier to ski powder and will help your legs stay stronger for longer. With influence from pro skier Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, the Backland 117 is one of my favorite skis of 2020-’21, and it was the only ski I brought to Japan last season. Pair it with the versatile SHIFT binding and it’s a set-up that can handle everything.
Goldwin Coaches Jacket
Every once in a while a jacket hits a bullseye for both functionality and style. Japanese brand Goldwin did exactly that with the Coach Jacket. I wore it as a midlayer while skiing in Hakuba, but also put it on during nights out in Tokyo, a notoriously fashionable city. Made with Pertex fabric for a delightfully soft feel as well as Dot Air to help deal with moisture while wearing a backpack, the Coach Jacket is designed to perform as good as it looks. [On Sale: $315, GoldwinSports.com]
- Now on Active Pass: This Guide Service Will Turn Your Japanese Powder Dreams into Reality
adidas Terrex Swift R2 Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Shoes
Everything in Japan can get wet. Whether you’re dealing with meters of snow melting in the road between the hotel and the bus stop, or exploring temples tucked into various corners of the country in a steady drizzle, having comfortable and dry feet is important. The addidas Terrex Swift R2 Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Shoes are made for walking in wet conditions, but are also cushy and comfortable for long days of urban exploration (or just walking to the dumpling stand and public onsen after a day of skiing). Additionally, the low-profile and neutral colors mean the Terrex Swift boots don’t look like hiking boots, which is always a plus. [$170, adidas.com]
Sapporo Premium Beer
While I’m certainly partial to Sapporo Classic when traveling around Hokkaido—it’s only available on that island—I find myself reaching for Sapporo Premium during après in Japan. It’s a habit I’ve taken back to the U.S. as well, so much so I wrote an essay about it.