The Best Niseko Ski and Snowboard Videos
As a tribute to these filmakers (and to the snow itself), we present 35 movies about skiing and snowboarding in Hokkaido. Most of the videos below are about skiing and snowboarding in Niseko, but our list also includes some Rusutsu footage, a bit of Asahidake, some scenes from the Iwanai Resort, footage from Higashikawa, some snowboarding in Wakkanai, a film about Mt. Kariba; endless angles and coverage of Hokkaido backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and more.
The snow is truly magical. It’s almost like creamy butter, it’s the perfect mixture of light and dense snow… you feel like you’re skiing up in the clouds.
— JP Alchur, from Reasons
Here is the list:
The Original List of Niseko/Hokkaido Ski Videos, by Year
- Public Sentiment (2002)
- Car Danchi (2004)
- Long Story Short (2006)
- In Short (2007)
- Realtime (2007)
- Reasons (2008)
- Signatures (2009)
- Unicorn Sashimi (2012)
- Flow State (2012)
- Japan: A Skier’s Journey (2012)
- Japan Journals: Episode 2 “Pillows for Days” (2013)
- Japan Journals: Episode 3 “Night Ninjas” (2013)
- Japan Journals: Episode 4 “What Lies North of Niseko?” (2013)
- Night Fury (2014)
- No Turning Back (2014)
- Find Away: Episode #1 – The Northern Sky (2014)
- Salomon Freeski TV, Rusutsu SuperNatural (2014)
- Salomon Freeski TV, Dreamtrip (2015)
- Snowsurf (2015)
- 5 Niseko Stories (2016)
- Route One in Japan (2016)
- The Way East (2016)
- Hidden Mountain (2017)
- Beneath the Volcano (2018)
- Winterfox (2018)
- Konayuki (2019)
- Sunōkeru (2019)
- Green Lab & 241 Hokkaido Trip (2020)
- Wabi Sabi (2020)
- I Am Niseko (2021)
- The Meaning of Snow (2021)
- Karibayama (2023)
- Mori (2023)
- Land of Giants (2023)
- Kaettekuru (2024)
Below we provide a few words and details about each film, and usually a link to the film (or the trailer). You’ll find endless powder turns, each of them an invitation to come to Hokkaido to ski or ride.
We are more than certain this is the best Niseko ski video list on the internet. But we’re also certain there are more movies that could be added to this list. If you’d like to provide comments or recommendations for this list, please contact us.
List of the Best Niseko Ski Videos and Snowboard Videos
We spent several weeks researching this list, corresponding with many of the directors, photographers, and riders involved in the making of these films. Some details for each film are included below. They’re listed in chronological order, beginning with the oldest examples of influential films and videos of skiing in Niseko (and beyond).
Public Sentiment (2002)
As you dig into the history of snowboarding in Niseko, you will come across the name Taro Tamai again and again. Taro is Japanese, and is both a snowboarder and a surfer, and the founder of Gentemstick, a very special Niseko snowboard company.
We released an original movie in 2002 called ‘Public Sentiment‘, which received credits as being the pinnacle of alternative snowboarding of that era.
— From our conversation with Domi at Gentemstick
Public Sentiment is a grainy, 16mm film with scenes of the powder falling so hard, you might think the movie is filmed in black in white. It is also one of several movies on this list with a snow-to-surf crossover theme.
Car Danchi (2004)
Another super classic Hokkaido snowboarding favorite is the Car Danchi series, by Neil Hartmann. This is not one, but several movies about snowboarding in Niseko, Hokkaido, and beyond. This first episode of the Car Danchi series was released in 2004.
‘We are a strange, many-wheeled snake, a motley collection of cars, minivans and full-blown campers. This, in fact, is the origin of the name Car Danchi. ‘Danchi’ means ‘apartment,’ like low end apartment buildings, and that was the image,’ explains Neil. ‘It wasn’t people car-pooling, it was more about individual little units all lined up in the parking lot at night. ‘Car Slum’, basically!,’ he laughs. ‘That’s what the word means really.’
— Neil Hartman, from an interview by Ed Blomfield of Whitelines
Once I started sleeping in my car, home stopped being a place. At first it felt like I was sleeping in my car. Now it feels like I am driving my house.
— Shinji Ohmori, from In Short (see below)
Car Danchi #1 is about Hokkaido, but the series takes this style of life to Honshu and beyond.
Long Story Short (2006)
Long Story Short is one of several Level 1 Productions films, created by Josh Berman. The opening scenes of Long Story Short are of guys doing tricks on handrails in decidedly urban settings (in what looks to be Montreal, maybe?). But then… as the music changes, suddenly you’re freeriding in the trees in Hokkaido.
It was a curious thing that when we started this list we expected to see more skiers. And it was a surprise to discover that the movies about Hokkaido have a heavy snowboard emphasis, while films like Long Story Short create their own vein of explicit ski-driven Hokkaido love.
These guys make skiing look very cool.
Long Story Short is not a “Niseko video,” but as one of the earliest films to feature Hokkaido, they helped create some of the interest that would d draw kiers from around the world into northern Japan, looking for their own taste of our powder snow.
For more from Level 1 Productions, see our comments about Realtime (2007) below.
In Short (2007)
In Short from Blank Paper Studios is also not an exclusively “Niseko” film. In Short (by filmmakers Christoph Weber-Thoreson and the Benedek brothers) has five parts, and only one of them is centered on snowboarding in Hokkaido. However… it’s a beautiful film, and became one of our favorite snowboarding movies on this list.
What’s that, you say? Are there park jumps? Check. Backcountry booters? Check. Big mountain madness with an avi scare or two? Check. Urban jibbery, bomb drops, wall rides, down-flat-downs? Check, check, check and check.
— Mary Fenton, ESPN
While the Alaska footage steals the show, the Niseko scenes give you a different view of the Car Danchi crew. In fact we included a quote from In Short in our review of Car Danchi (above). And for more work by filmmaker Thoreson, check out Sunōkeru.
I’d also reference 2007’s Realtime… shot at Asahidake though… not Niseko… but won the award for Best Powder at the Powder Magazine video awards that year and really opened some eyes to what was going on in Japan.
— From our communication with Josh Berman
The opening scenes of the Japan segment from Realtime, you see Dan Marion bouncing through powder so deep you can’t tell he has any legs. That is exactly the kind of film we wanted to feature in this project. And we’re very happy to have this one on our list.
The award-winning ‘Best Powder’ segment from 2007’s Realtime, featuring Tanner Rainville, Sean Decker, Richard Permin, and Dan Marion shredding some of the most amazing snow we’ve ever witnessed in Hokkaido, Japan.
When we began the research for this piece, the film Reasons (from Poor Boyz Productions) was actually the first video that was recommended to us. As we talked to more skiers, riders, and producers, Reasons held up as a key example of the earliest ski videos about Niseko.
Back in 2008, JP Auclair and Chris Benchetler travelled to Niseko, Hokkaido to ski some powder. Ultimately, their segment in the Poor Boyz film, ‘Reasons,’ would give thousands of skiers and snowboarders reason to ski in Japan.
— Barclay, Unofficial Networks
When you are in the snow, and that snow is just blasting you in the face, it just runs chills through your body, it’s just so much fun. It just lets out everything inside. And you’re just free and stoked.
— JP Auclair
Reasons is a perfect calling card to skiers for what Niseko has to offer.
For this project we set out to find some of the most influential movies that helped spread Niseko’s appeal around the world, and Signatures (directed by Nick Waggoner) is a perfect example of that kind of film.
The opening scene has a board or two, but is mostly a beautiful slow-motion montage of skiers tearing into waist- and chest-deep powder. From there, the next section of the film begins with “noboard” (yukiita) designer Atsushi Gomyo talking about his inspirations in skateboarding. As the film progresses, ample time is given to Taro Tamai, and his meditative take on living with snow and waves.
Signatures uses a series of portraits to tell a story of the many facets of Hokkaido.
Watching Signatures, the sophomore effort from Colorado-based film company Sweetgrass Productions, I found myself initially asking, will anyone get this? And then, as the film’s ever-surprising moments of unforgettable beauty overwhelmed me, I wondered if anyone could possibly not love this film.
— From Andy Lewicky, from a review of Signatures at Sierra Descents
Unicorn Sashimi (2012)
Unicorn Sashimi (oishi-yo) came to us later in our research, specifically as it was recommended by other film makers we feature here on this list.
Felt Soul Media teamed up with Nick Waggoner and Yuki Miyazaki of Sweetgrass Productions in January 2012 to hunt the mythical Hokkaido Unicorn. The creature proved difficult to capture on film, so we just decided to do a little skiing.
Unicorn Sashimi opens with a slow-motion, night skiing, dream sequence. Then shots of Taro Tamai putting an edge on a snowboard. Slow and quiet and subtle. A shot of a snowboarder completely disappearing into a wave of dusty powder. No music, more of a theatrical score.
Expect some truly neck deep powder, and some shots in the trees that are quintessential Hokkaido freeriding.
Flow State (2012)
Flow State is a modern Warren Miller ski movie. The wide distribution of the Warren Miller films likely did help open some eyes to the potential of Hokkaido. This film and No Turning Back provide a more big-budget presentation of skiing in Niseko.
As we did our research, we came across a blistering, yet personal, review of Flow State by SunValleyMag.com:
In all likelihood, you’re going to see a better ski movie this winter than Warren Miller’s ‘Flow State.’ Releases by Level 1, Matchstick and Teton Gravity Research, to name a few, will feature gnarlier athletes, bigger lines, crazier rails, and superior soundtracks.
If the author of that piece is correct, you can see some of those “better ski movies” right here in this list; We have Level 1’s Realtime, Matchstick’s Land of Giants, and the film 5 Niseko Stories premiered on Teton Gravity’s site.
It’s hard to go wrong shooting deep powder shots in Hokkaido, Japan and the WME crew nailed that too.
Here SunValleyMag.com gets specific. And that is true. And that is why Flow State is on our list.
Japan: A Skier’s Journey (2012)
Director/producer Jordan Manley did a whole series of “location specific” videos including in Iran, Kashmir, and (of course) some special attention to Hokkaido backcountry skiing in the film featured here, Japan: A Skier’s Journey.
It’s a journey through the artistic side of powder—featuring not only the epic shredding in Japan’s untouched countryside, but also the cultural and the emotional revelations that can be uncovered in a new location.
— Lisa Hoehn, Explore.com
Japan: A Skier’s Journey opens with traffic, karoke bars, and shots from a capsule hotel, all of which feel like Tokyo. But then quickly jumps to “Niseko: Island of Hokkaido” (where the on-screen graphic of “Niseko” is done in a Nintendo style). That footage begins with some Niseko night skiing scenes, mixed with slo-mo shots of powder flakes the size of your fist.
Each winter, cold, dry winds from Siberia sweep down across the Japan Sea. It forms a winter monsoon over the island of Hokkaido, and drops more cold smoke, than almost anywhere on the planet.
Some great lines in the dialog and down the mountain.
Japan Journals: Episode 2 “Pillows for Days” (2013)
There are no less than three episodes of “Japan Journals” listed here (all of the Hokkaido-focused episodes). We became aware of this footage after a conversation with filmmaker Heath Patterson. We started out asking him questions about his role in the Hidden Mountain project (see below), and in that conversation, he pointed us back to his previous work on projects like Japan Journals.
The first of Patterson’s films on this list is the Niseko snowboarding video Pillows for Days:
We are in the Hokkaido wilderness right now, just kind of exploring the areas around Niseko resort. Just finding some really good snow off the side of the road.
— Nick Hine
We were very familiar with Niseko and had a base there but wanted to find something different. We’re all looking for something we hadn’t seen ridden in Japan and soon came across a few mining sights. Some of the mining sites had security so we had to sneak around the back, through the forest, and across rivers.
— Heath Patterson
There are at least five projects on this list from Heath Patterson. Making these films in 2012, his films are relatively early contributions to the history of snowboarding in Niseko and Hokkaido. His projects have a great combination of “good clean fun” and gnar, and show Hokkaido in all her glory.
Heath was very cool to us (many thanks to you, man).
Japan Journals: Episode 3 “Night Ninjas” (2013)
Here is another Heath Patterson contribution to Niseko-Hokkaido ski filmology. While you will see footage of night skiing in Niseko in several films on this list, in Night Ninjas Heath takes the idea completely out of bounds:
One of the coolest things about riding at Japan is definitely how you can ride at night. We’ve done that at the resort, but we knew we wanted to take the lights and get them into the back country. We managed to do that. And it ended up being one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.
— Nick Hine
In the daylight, the spray coming off a turn will create something white and glittery. At night, that same spray will create a curtain that blocks out the light, a wall of darkness that swallows the rider.
We started out just doing turns, and it worked out better than we thought, better than we could have imagined. It was cool, the snow was amazing… in the end we decided to have a jump.
— Nick Brown
From Night Ninjas, Heath goes on to produce the Night Fury snowboarding video.
Japan Journals: Episode 4 “What Lies North of Niseko?” (2013)
And now, one last inclusion of Japan Journals on this list: This time in Japan Journals: Episode 4 “What Lies North of Niseko?” Heath’s crew heads up to “Wakkanai, the top of Hokkaido,” for a bit of “a road trip adventure.”
We are on a road trip from Niseko to the very top of Hokkaido. Just kind of been scoping as we make our way up to the top.
— Nick Hine
Every single little feature, every knoll, every ridge, is filled with snow. It’s a snowboarder’s paradise, in a way. Everything we look at is an option to ride. It’s an opportunity, something to shred, it’s like a blank canvas for us.
— Alex Stewart
Having watched this one, we can say, they “didn’t get us any crab, didn’t get to Russia, either,” but they did bring some exceptional views from parts of Hokkaido that are rarely seen.
Night Fury (2014)
Night Fury is a fictional snowboard short film, shot almost entirely at night, in Japan’s Niseko back country. Our plan was to film the entire three-week project at night using generators and 10 massive lights, fair to say that it wasn’t an easy task and there were some hairy moments out there.
The middle section of the film is a series of these guys hucking themselves in the darkness, and wrecking into deep powder. And as the film progresses, there are a collection of really gorgeous shots, all black backdrops, the glow of a stadium light, and the silhouette of a rider mid-way though a revolution before he lands in a puff and disappears back into the darkness.
Considering it doesn’t stop snowing much in a Hokkaido winter you often find it hard to find light and visibility during the day, but at night under lights you can see so much more, even in a blizzard.
This is not another “night skiing at Grand Hirafu” segment. Night Fury adds better production value, bigger tricks, and a dash of horror-genre to bring you something entirely different, and a view of the backcountry you won’t see in other films. I’d like to say it all works out in the end, but… check the film to see for yourself.
And if you like what Heath has shown us so far, don’t miss the his Redbull-sponsored backcountry snow park project, Hidden Mountain (2017).
No Turning Back (2014)
If Warren Miller Entertainment knows how to follow the snow, and we here in Hokkaido have snow like no other place on earth, of course the Warren Miller’s legacy would end up here, again and again. Good for them. And good for us.
We included the Warren Miller film Flow State (2012) above, and now we include No Turning Back as it provides yet another relatively early view into the unbelievable snow in the Japanese province of Hokkaido.
Warren Miller’s 2014 film, No Turning Back, pays homage to 65 years of mountain culture and adventure filmmaking.
No Turning Back brings you ski adventure footage across eight destinations around the world, including some footage of skiing in Hokkaido.
Nothing compares to the depths of Japanese powder. Snowboarders Rob Kingwill and Seth Wescott explore Niseko on the island of Hokkaido and are not disappointed by the expansive playground laid out before them.
People that live here, ride a different way, they live a different kind of life, because of the way it is snowing. They have pow lines for days. Everywhere you look, pow, pow, pow, pow.
— Rob Kingwill
Find Away: Episode #1 – The Northern Sky (2014)
From a series of films sponsored by Patagonia comes Find Away: “The Northern Sky” (2014).
An arriving swell. Falling snow. Two forces, or one and the same? Two board sports legends, Pipeline master Gerry Lopez and snowsurf pioneer Taro Tamai, have spent a lifetime practicing the art of flow. The Northern Sky digs down to the roots of that shared sensation, as experienced in the mountains above Niseko, Japan. This Farm League film is the first episode in our Find Away series.
If at one end of the spectrum of ski movies, we have Warren Miller films, filled with quick-cut editing and rock and roll, The Northern Sky is a polar opposite; Taro Tamai narrating some private vision of snow and surf.
Whether it’s a skill or a way of doing things, ultimately, once you’ve let go of everything that doesn’t matter, you’re left with the nature of that thing.
— Taro Tamai
If you like the sea-meets-snow focus in The Northern Sky, you can look back at early Hokkaido snowboard movies like Taro’s Public Sentiment (2002), Sweetgrass’s Signatures (2009), at Shane Peel’s collaboration with Gentemstick in Snowsurf (2015), and more snow to sea cross-over references in The Way East (2016).
Salomon Freeski TV, Rusutsu SuperNatural (2014)
The Salomon company has done a good job of building themselves into a culture of freeriding. As Hokkaido has become famous for off-piste tree terrain and backcountry skiing, Salomon has put some effort into documenting the region. In Rusutsu Supernatural, the “Side Country Park” creates some exceptional footage and a one-of-a-kind view of skiing in the Rusutsu Resort in Hokkaido.
I got the idea of ‘Side Country Park’ from a backcountry snowboard competition. When I saw the contest, I knew I had to build something like that. I think the terrain we have and the features we have created will inspire skiers to try new things.
— Mr Yamanaka
Yamanaka’s park is inspiring, no doubt.
The film also fits into a unique category of movies about “man-made features” that might include what you’ve seen in Travis Rice’s original Natural Selection and Super Natural competitions, and carries on to Heath Patterson’s Hidden Mountain (featured below).
Salomon Freeski TV, Dreamtrip (2015)
Here is another contribution from Salomon, also from their Freeski TV production. Salomon’s Freeski TV’s Dreamtrip video is from season 9, episode 2:
Lucky bastard or what! Nick Porsh, winner of the Salomon Freeski TV Dreamtrip comp got to slay it with the legends in Hokkaido… how good does Teine look here?
While Salomon’s production team call this a “Japan” trip, it is specifically a Hokkaido trip. And most surprisingly, they provide some coverage of Sapporo Teine – a fantastic mountain in the Sapporo area (that is almost never discussed). There are some absolutely fantastic shots of these guys blazing down through trees completely encrusted with Hokkaido powder on beautiful bluebird day.
I have never seen the ocean from the skiing mountain before.
— Nick Porsh
That line is followed by a classic view from Sapporo Teine Highland looking down on the coastline around Otaru – a familiar site for local Sapporo Teine skiers and snowboarders.
The 2015 Snowsurf film by Shane Peel comes with the subtitle: “A Gentem Family Story.”
The Snowsurf snowboarding movie opens in the Fall, with some shots of Mount Yotei, and then, some rows of peeling waves on the Hokkaido coastline. In the various scenes you’ll catch a montage of powder and wetsuits, a strange juxtaposition of different board cultures. You’ll see this trend across many of these Hokkaido snow films, where the surf finds a way to co-star again and again.
As Gerry Lopez says about the snowsurf style, “It’s not just a way to ride the snow, it’s a complete lifestyle” (from Patagonia’s Find Away: The Northern Sky).
In our research for this film, we were happy to speak with Shane – he has been in Niseko a long time:
After a really good powder day at Mt. Hotham in Victoria when I first started to snowboard, my girlfriend and I asked around the pub about where we could find snow like that on a regular basis. Almost in unison the word ‘Japan’ was shouted. That was ‘99, and we never rode Hotham again. We have been in Niseko every winter since without fail.
— Shane Peel, from an interview on Oyuki
That quote from Shane helps us map out the history of how and when skiing in Niseko became something “world famous.”
5 Niseko Stories (2016)
5 Niseko Stories is a My House Pictures production, and another contribution to the documentation of Niseko by filmmaker Shane Peel.
The film differs from most snowsports films in that it takes you into the lives of each character and provides a look at winter in Niseko from a local and visitor perspective. Filmed on some of the best days of the season, ‘5 Niseko Stories’ provides a great perspective of the type of conditions and terrain you can encounter here in Japan’s #1 snow town.
— Experience Niseko
5 Niseko Stories is a mix of snowboards and skis, “filmed on location in Hokkaido.”
From a cinematography point (my strongest skill) I had a clear vision of the dreamy, misty snow forest feel that is Niseko, and after 17 winters it’s a feel as much as a look.
— Shane Peel, from an interview from Oyuki
Route One in Japan (2016)
Route One in Japan is a short film from a 2016 trip by the UK’s Route One Snowboards team.
Japan is one of the places I think that has made it’s way to every snowboarders bucket list. It’s known for such good powder snow.
The Route One guys call this a “Japan” movie, and they “skate” through Tokyo and Kyoto with some light travel scenes, but the focus of the snow is on footage from Rusutsu Resort, and some snowboarding at night at Grand Harifu in Niseko.
The best scenes in the film may be them screwing around on a natural “rainbow” rail in someone’s backyard. It’s a light treatment of Hokkaido’s potential, but for the shots of Rusutsu alone, we wanted it on this list.
The Way East (2016)
The Way East is a film by Mathais Kogel, starring two European skiers, Aline Bock and Lena Stofell.
Perhaps it is surprising that a snow movie would open with the noise of seagulls, but that sets up the flavor of The Way East, which is dominated by the snow, but rounds out to be a movie about the exploration of Hokkaido.
The trip starts with a traverse of the Annupuri range, which takes us from Niseko all the way through to the ocean, to the Sea of Japan.
— Photographer Aaron Jamieson (Aaron was involved in several films on this list)
Those scenes take place in the backcountry between Niseko and Otaru, but the film doesn’t stop there. There is additional footage from the northern-most point of Hokkaido in Wakkanai (also see Japan Journals: Episode 4 “What Lies North of Niseko?”) and then to the island of Rishiri. Other scenes from their trip include shots of the ladies in thick wetsuits working some longboards through very cold looking water.
The Way East came recommended by several Hokkaido insiders we spoke to, including Mr Charlie Wood (see Wabi Sabi below).
Hidden Mountain (2017)
Subtitled “Ultimate DIY Japanese Backcountry Snow Park,” Redbull’s Hidden Mountain is the film where we first learned about filmmaker Heath Patterson. Along with at least four other films specifically produced in Hokkaido, Heath is the driving force behind this unusual Hokkaido snowboarding video.
Hidden Mountain was a project that started out as a simple idea between Nick Brown and myself. We wanted to do something fun and at that point in time we both enjoyed building igloos while we were filmed in other projects…. because of our previous experience in Niseko we decided on a location in one of the mountain passes.
— From our conversation with Heath Patterson
The way the story goes, they hike back into the Niseko backwoods and build their own “snow park.” They start out with an igloo (complete with a heating system from DCM), and then build some nice kickers, gapping over gullies and other natural features.
Kind of nice, having a base, you get to cruise up to everyday. And then, tons of stuff around. We’ve just been smashing out little things every day.
— Nick Brown
The “do it yourself” label suggests a small, “backyard” production, but in Hidden Mountain they produced something really high-end and extraordinary. If you know Heath’s work on the Japan Journals movies (see above), the scale of Hidden Mountain takes this film to another level.
We have previously compared Hidden Mountain to Travis Rice’s Super Natural contests and to the film Rusutsu SuperNatural (see above). These films come from different visions, but they all focus on man-made features that work with the supporting landscape to create unique riding conditions and very entertaining footage.
Beneath the Volcano (2018)
The inclusion of Shane Peel’s Beneath the Volcano helps demonstrate our path as we produced this list of the best snowboard films featuring Hokkaido. We followed one lead after another, and kept stumbling on more projects documenting the range of experiences riding and exploring Hokkaido.
Beneath the Volcano is a companion piece to a book:
The photo book ‘Beneath the Volcano’ focuses on Hokkaido’s snow surf scene and its central players. Hardcover coffee table book. The DVD is a bonus short movie of approximately 12 minutes.
Although it is a short film, it is worth watching, including young Aussie riders Jye & Jesse Parkinson, Gentem riders taking on the steep slopes of Niseko, and footage of Nicolas Muller visiting Japan.
— From a review on Salt-life.com
Winterfox: “A Journey Though Winter” is the second film on this list featuring Lena Stofell (see more of Lena in the 2016 film The Way East). This film has less of a group perspective, and is more of a “video essay” starring Lena, “neck deep” in Hokkaido powder, and a supporting cast of long-necked birds, Hokkaido foxes, and Lena’s poetry.
I spend my days skiing. I spend my days hiking in the forest.
Expect more of the Hokkaido backcountry, and some relatively rare, but telltale shots of Iwanai Resort (near Otaru).
Konayuki is a Niseko snowboarding video by Darren Teasdale from 2019. The title “Konayuki” (粉雪) is Japanese, and means “powder snow;” and thus here we are, perfectly on track with the heart of this post. Konayuki is another special film about the remarkable snow of Hokkaido, Japan.
This film is all metal, and boys, and powder… it’s rumored to have been a fan favorite at Germany’s Sometimes Annual Testosterone Film Festival (don’t bother looking that up online). Lots of Mike Handford and Tim Black Hebert, then a little bit of Jack Spence, Tom Phillips and Rob Gannon. And almost no narration until Mike wraps himself around a tree.
We came to Hokkaido with the intention of summiting it’s highest and most remote peaks. We left under 28 feet of snow in 28 days of an endless storm cycle.
It is not always like that in Hokkaido, but sometimes, it’s like that.
For more from Darren Teasdale, check out I Am Niseko from 2021.
“Su-no-ke-ru?” What does that even mean? Sunōkeru is a Japlanglish mashup for how the Japanese might say “snorkel.”
If you’ve had one of those epically deep ‘only in Japan’ days, you’ll know what they mean by ‘Sunōkeru’ – the Japanese katakana pronunciation of ‘snorkel.’ Snow so deep, you’re struggling to breathe.
The first words come two minutes into the film: “Actually, dry powder.” No “drums” or belabored cultural footage, just riders disappearing into three meter high “rooster tails” of spray, often completely submerged, or engulfed in their own wake of “blower” coming off a deep carve.
It’s a mix of carving on the runs and lots of backcountry shots. For guys riding powder boards, they spend an unusual amount of time completely in the switch stance completely “up on the nose” (it’s rare to see a powder boarding with the tail pointed skyward).
Green Lab & 241 Hokkaido Trip (2020)
The Green Lab & 241 Hokkaido Trip film can be credited to 328studios, Niseko Films, and Shunsuke Takama. All of the voices you will hear in this snowboarding video are Japanese (which gives this film a special designation on our list).
This is more of a classic younger-guy’s “boardsports” video (sort of the snowboarding equivalent of Long Story Short). Their ‘Hokkaido Trip’ brings some footage of first tracks down super-steep treeless slopes that appear to be “blurry,” but only because it was snowing so hard when the footage was shot.
Once again we’d like to acknowledge that our list is almost entirely films produced by foreigners. There must be some excellent examples of Japanese filmmakers, and as you have examples of those films please contact us, and we’ll add them to this list.
Wabi Sabi (2020)
Wabi Sabi is one of several films by Charlie Wood, starring himself (pre-dislocated shoulder), his partner in crime Henry Johnson, as well as a few friends. The title refers to a state of being that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” in nature. We’ll leave it to Charlie to say why those words might fit with his film, but for our part, Wabi Sabi was an instant favorite in this collection of Hokkaido snowboard adventure films.
If you were in Niseko, Hokkaido this winter, you may have seen a quirky cabin on wheels touring around the neighborhood. This microabode built on top of a Japanese kei truck belongs to handyman Henry Johnson and filmmaker Charlie Wood, two snowboarders united through their love for Hokkaido’s powder.
— Rie Miyoshi, from OutdoorJapan.com
While there is something simple, honest, and straightforward about Charlie’s production, there is also some beautiful videography. Torin Barnes contributes lots of arial footage (from Niseko, but obviously beyond as well), and their little rig pulled off some top-shelf production value. Gorgeous views of Hokkaido.
I Am Niseko (2021)
In I Am Niseko, Darren Teasdale has produced a film that straddles the line of proper snow adventure and tourist propaganda, but manages to create something artful and worth your attention.
These days it’s just quiet. Really quiet.
If it were possible to tell the story of Niseko in the style of the 1972 classic “I Am Woman” (by Helen Reddy), Darren Teasdale seems to have done it. I Am Niseko is an introspective “Niseko pride” piece, told from the first person, how Niseko might describe itself.
I am board. I am beautiful. I am fun.
This movie uses some truly beautiful cinematography to tell a resurrection story of Niseko, rising from the trouble of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. I am Niseko does feel like a tourism film, but the visuals and the narration carries it though to something more soulful.
The Meaning of Snow (2021)
The Meaning of Snow is a production of Erica Tripp with ES Media. Erica spells out some of the meaning behind the title of her film when she says, “Through snow you see everything; community, culture, adventure, joy.”
I think for me, a Canadian, I started being drawn to the idea of skiing in Japan in the 2010s. There were more and more films showing up in film festivals with ‘Japan’ segments, that were mouthwatering powder segments, and I thought, I have to ski there!
— From our communication with Erica Tripp
In The Meaning of Snow, it’s Erica’s turn to show what so many visitors to Hokkaido have witnessed first-hand: shockingly perfect conditions in which to play, explore, and lose yourself in the best powder on earth.
You’ve all seen them. Mind-bending, powder-snorkeling, best ski videos of Japan.
That is right. And many of those videos are right here on this list.
We discovered Patagonia’s Karibayama film late in our research. The subtitle of the film is; “A Backyard Ski Adventure in Hokkaido, Japan.” The meaning of the title is about; Kariba, a mountain in southwestern Hokkaido (“yama,” of course, means mountain in Japanese).
The film was directed by Masaki Sekiguchi and credited to ebis films, and is a rare addition to this list in that all the dialog is in Japanese (with English subtitles).
The whole experience meant a lot to us. Walking along the ridgelines, scouting the mountain, exploring the possibilities, traversing and coming down the mountain.
Karibayama is another “Hokkaido adventure” movie; hiking and exploring (and surviving some less than ideal weather) in some terrain in western Hokkaido you won’t see anywhere else. There is a lot of consideration of snow conditions (and presumably avalanches), so much talking and walking and then… wow; like a pencil mark on a sheet of white paper, you see a skier sliding down, leaving a faint but furious trail of powder behind him.
We sampled one quote from the film, that hits hard:
You have to make decisions in the mountains. I go to the mountains because I enjoy the decision-making process.
If you have ever skied or ridden in challenging terrain, that is exactly what it’s like; a series of decisions, often quickly made, and occasionally with serious or magical consequences. As the powder flies up into your face, that “decision making process” is the whole thing, one big turn or deep carve at time.
For more from Patagonia, check out Patagonia’s “The Northern Sky”.
Mori is a film by Dylan Robinson, with support from Arc’teryx AU and Mountain Safety Collective, and features skier Drew Jolowicz. The word “Mori” means “forest,” but of course the film is as much about snow as it is about trees.
It’s easy to see why. The powder is amazing.
It’s true, we never get tired of hearing things like this.
For me, when I am coming to Japan, I’m not necessarily looking for high, alpine terrain, I’m looking for powder in the trees.
— Dylan Robinson
When the Sea of Japan turns on its own weather-maker, and the snow switches around to the northwest, it just dumps copious amounts of snow.
In a series of shots in Mori you see Drew’s orange puffer jacket, and blue backpack, against the powder-white background. Beautiful.
“Really slowing down and letting the terrain set the pace. I enjoy the uphill just as much as the downhill.” Well, you put together a great Hokkaido ski movie, but about that last line; I don’t know about that, Drew.
Land of Giants (2023)
Matchstick Productions Land of Giants is less of a Hokkaido film, and more of “big production,” like the Warren Miller series (see Flow State and No Turning Back above).
That’s the premise of The Land of Giants, a new ski film that explores the most iconic mountains on Earth.
One thing we love about the focus of Land of Giants is that when they go through the credits, they list the locations like stars in a Hollywood movie; all eight locations, including scenes as diverse at the Lyngen Alps in Norway to the Smokey Range in Idaho. And mid-way through that list, they show “The Niseko Range”, and that is why this film makes our list.
Every powder skier, and every freeskier, just dreams about Japan because of this!
From the look of the trailer, it’s a really intense and beautiful ski movie.
In early January 2024, just when we thought our work was complete, yet another contribution to the list of films about skiing in Hokkaido was released: Kaettekuru is a “freeriding documentary” by pro snowboarder Antti Autti (with support from Haglofs).
As the movie opens up, we hear that Antti Autti has been to Japan to ride before. Several times. But over the years, he comes to want something more than he got on those earlier trips…
At some part it started to feel like I’m doing the same thing all over again. During those trips I’ve seen the potential and places that are higher up there.
Kaettekuru is about Antti Autti’s experience “coming back,” to ride Hokkaido from a different perspective. Leaving the comfort of Niseko, he sets out to tackle some more remote spots in Higashikawa in northern Hokkaido. What follows are some of the triumphs of his adventures, and some of the challenges of putting together a project in the middle of remote locations in deep winter in Japan.
Maybe today, is not the day for this. I will say ‘no.’ And, maybe that is all good. Maybe some lines can be done later. Or maybe some lines are just something you can admire.
Much like the experience of the Karibayama crew, you can tell he didn’t get everything he wanted on this trip. And both the footage of avalanche conditions and the earnest quality of this commentary make this film as honest as it is beautiful.
Okay. There you have it, the best snowboard and ski videos about Hokkaido and Niseko. What started out as a “quick project,” turned into a labor of love.
We wanted to know which ski videos helped make Niseko famous, and we think this effort more than answers the question. It’s incomplete (we know), and we welcome comments and suggestions.
We leave you with this last comment from our conversation with Shane:
I think early 90’s would have been the magic zone, 98 or 99 was my first time here.
— Shane Peel
Shane was a part of the early wave of skiiers and snowboards coming for their chance to sink into Hokkaido snow. And while we couldn’t find many films from the 90’s, any time you’re deep in the trees in Hokkaido, or feel the cold powdery splash of snow in your face, you’re in that same “magic zone” that Shane found so many years ago.
Our thanks again to everyone that took the time to talk to us, to make suggestions, and to help us look a little deeper into the history of skiing in Niseko and the lore of Hokkaido backcountry snowboarding. So many adventures here – it was a pleasure to help get them all together in one place.