Everything you need to know to snowboard in Japan.
For the last few years the Boardertown crew have been heading to Japan to snowboard. After a few hits and misses we have it pretty much dialed on what gear to take (and not take). Making sure you have the right gear is an art and there is nothing worse than leaving something at home or having too much gear and having to try and negotiate Tokyo rush hour with extra bags...Follow our guide and pack the right gear to get you through...
Packing the right gear is the difference between riding first chair to last call and spending half your day sitting in the cafe. Whether you are cold, wet, tired or you have a gear failure, packing the wrong gear can at worst ruin your trip or at best limit the fun you will have. Check your gear, make sure it is suitable and if in doubt, come and see the Boardertown crew for some advice.
- Outerwear (Jackets & Pants): A good quality jacket (or jackets) and pants are a must. There are a couple of factors that are really important:
Waterproofing/Breathability: This measures how much water the jacket can keep out and also how much moisture the jacket can let out through the farbic to keep you dry. It’s shown as two numbers (e.g 10,000mm, 10,000gm). The first number is the waterproof rating and measures how much water the fabric can resist in a single day. At a minimum for Japan you will need 10,000mm but can go as high as 30,000mm. Above 30,000mm you can also get Gore-Tex. Jackets with Gore-Tex fabric are bullet proof and regarded as the industry standard. Each jacket is independently rated to ensure it meets the Gore-Tex standard and will ensure that you are dry and comfortable. The second number is the breathability rating. This should be at a minimum 5,000gm but will ideally be the same as the waterproof rating, allowing moisture to pass out through the jacket to keep you dry and comfortable. Remember, the ratings are only a guide and although two jackets might have a similar number they aren’t all created equal. Go for a reputable brand like 3CS, Burton, RPM, Analog or DC and if you are looking for a jacket or pants, make sure the are snowboard specific and designed for use in the snow.
Seam Sealing: Snowboard jackets generally come as either critically taped or fully taped. A critically taped jacket has all the major seams welded to prevent moisture entering the jacket and heat leaving the jacket through the seams. Full taped jackets have 100% of the stitching welded making the considerably warmer. This is a huge plus for riding in really cold conditions as you don’t need as thick a jacket when you have a fully taped jacket.
Insulation: The temperature in Japan can fluctuate significantly. This is why it can be an idea to carry two jackets – a thicker one for colder days (like when it’s -25c) and a thinner jacket for when it’s warmer. Insulation is either synthetic or down. Down is very warm but generally bulkier than synthetic and if it gets wet it is prone to clumping which will have an effect on warmth. Synthetic fabrics are more versatile than down and function better if wet. The downside is that they are less breathable..
- Gloves: Gloves come in a range of qualities and finishes. For Japan we recommend a Gore-Tex glove. Choosing a glove will give you better dexterity and movement while a Mitt keeps you warmer if you are prone to the cold. Generally 1 – 2 pairs of gloves are recommended and I would highly recommend a removable liner which will help push moisture away from your skin and keep your hands dry and warmer.
- Snowboards: You can ride any snowboard in most conditions but for a powder experience you can’t go past a shaped board like the Yes 420, Capita Spring Break, Burton Mod Fish or Jones Hovercraft. For the girls, the Burton Day Trader or High Spirits are ideal. Powder boards are designed with a longer nose and shorter tail which reduces volume behind you, making the board plane better through powder. This gives you more float and means that you will use less energy (and fall less) and deep snow.
If you want something more versatile that will ride in well in Japan but also back in New Zealand, a directional twin (all mountain) shape will be ideal. Boards like the Burton Custom Flying V and Lib Tech Travis Rice or TRS will be ideal. The directional stance sits you back further on the board than a twin shaped board but can still be ridden switch. Looking at the board profiles, hybrid camber (Flying V, etc) will give you more float than traditional camber boards.
Whatever board you choose, make sure you have a fresh tune and re-wax your board during the trip.
- Boots: When you are riding in deep powder (hopefully) for long periods you want a boot that fits nice and snuggly. This will reduce heel lift, improve control and reduce the amount of energy used when riding. Boots don’t need to be expensive but it is important that they fit your foot well. Your riding experience depends on it. If you want us to check them out and make sure the fit is good, drop by one of the stores for an honest opinion. Not all boots are created equal and we recommend Thirty Two, Burton or DC boots.
- Bindings: Bindings are easy to forget when they work well but when something goes wrong it can be a nightmare. Make sure all your screws and hardware are tight, ratchets are working well and that there is no wear and tear on the ladders (the plastic straps that go into the ratchets). Finding parts in Japan can be a nightmare so it's worthwhile stocking up on parts. If in doubt, drop by a store and we can check them out and replace any parts or recommend a new pair. As always, choosing a reputable brand like Burton, Union, Switchback, or Now means you will be less likely to have parts break and if something does go wrong will make it easier to find replacement parts.
- Helmet: With all the trees in Japan, riding with a helmet is a must. Your helmet should fit well (gently touching your head), have good ventilation and should have no visible signs of impact. If you are in the market for a new helmet, lightweight helmets with one piece construction are a lot lighter than helmets with two piece construction which can help when you are riding for long periods. They are also significantly lighter for packing in your luggage.
- Goggles: With changing conditions it’s really important that you have good quality goggles so you can see! Make sure your goggles aren’t prone to fogging (if they fog, replace them) and that they have two lenses – one for sunny days and another for cloudy days. It can be good to look at a goggle with a quick change feature like the Anon WM1, M2 or M3, or an advanced vision goggle such as the Oakley Prizm lens.
- Facemask/Balaclava: It’s cold, very cold. Temperatures can go to -25c in Japan so get a really good facemask that is lightweight and breathable. Mons Royale do great Merino neck warmers and facemasks and Burton, Analog and Anon have good synthetic options. It’s important that they are breathable and won’t hold moisture.
- Beanie: It’s really cold. If you aren’t riding with a helmet you will need a beanie (or 3).
- Thermals/Layering: When the conditions get colder you will need good quality thermals. A the lower end you can get polyprops or go for a higher end synthetic (Burton or Analog) or Merino layering (Mons Royale). For a normal trip riding 7 - 10 days we recommend 2 – 3 tops and 1 – 2 bottoms. Better quality thermals (Mons Royale) can be worn for multiple days so even though they are more expensive the value is much better. Good quality thermals are anti-microbial and moisture wicking keeping you dry and smell free.
- Socks: Due to a lack of blood flow, feet and toes in particular will get cold so snowboard socks are critical. I would recommend at least 2 – 3 pairs of good quality socks. They need to be snowboard specific so they are very thin but warm (you will get less movement and more control from your boots). Socks come in either synthetic or Merino. Both are great and it comes down to personal preference. We recommend Burton or Mons Royale socks.
- Snowboard Bag: Last but not least you need to keep your kit together. We recommend travelling with a wheeled snowboard bag like the Burton Wheelie Gig or Dakine Low Roller bags. They will fit all your snowboard gear AND most of your clothing. Having wheels in Tokyo is a MUST, as it saves from having to carry your heavy gear around. Ideally fit all your gear into one bag. Trying to negotiate Shibuya Train Station with two bags is virtually impossible. Having a snowboard bag big enough to pack the essentials (and only the essentials) is a must.
Back/Side Country Gear
Snowboarding can be dangerous, especially out of bounds in the side and back-country. Avalanches can and do happen regularly and it is CRITICAL to be prepared. The minimum you will need is a transceiver, probe and shovel. If you would like to learn more about the back-country we recommend going with a guided tour where you can learn about avalanche safety and do a hike into the backcountry. The best way to stay safe is knowledge so if you are planning on going back-country (with the on piste riding you definitely won’t need to) then do some research on avalanche safety.
- Transceiver: A transmitting/receiving device used to locate someone buried in an avalanche.
- Probe: A lightweight pole that is used to check where someone is located under the snow.
- Shovel: A lightweight aluminium shovel to dig people out.
- BCA Float System (optional): A backpack that contains a self-inflating bag which will aid in holding you above the snow, should you get caught in an avalanche.
Day to Day Gear
Don't forget the essentials. Japan is a fun country to travel to but it can be a nightmare if you forget any of the essentials.
- Clothing: Travel like you normally would in winter. Jeans/pants, hoodies, etc. Take a couple of pairs of shoes in case you get some wet in the snow.
- Snowboard Insurance: A must for all travellers. Do your research and check that it specifically covers snowboarding. Note that virtually every insurance policy will exclude off-piste (backcountry) snowboarding.
- Passport: Check you have a current passport.
- Phone: Don’t forget to set up roaming and check the charges. Alternatively you can get a Japan travel sim in Tokyo.
- Google Maps: Google Maps will help you negotiate Tokyo. As well as general directions it will also recommend public transport and tell you which train to catch to get there.
- Cash: We recommend getting cash out in NZ. While many places take credit card it isn’t assured and cash machines are few and far between. If you need cash in Japan you can get it from specific international ATM's but they can be difficult to find.
- Travel Adaptor: Stay charged with a travel adaptor.
Japan offers some of the best powder riding in the world with an average of 20 metres of snow per season. The dryness of the snow is unbeatable and the tree riding is next level. Pack everything you need, nothing you don't and have an epic time shredding!
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