Our first night in Tokyo, we see a guy getting beat-up in an alley. We’ve been rubber-necking our way through the mean streets of the Shabuya district, on the wrong side of Forever 21, when he’s ushered right passed us by several men, off of the main strip, but still in full view. “Well, this is weird,” we all say to each other.

We linger nearby, unsure about what to do exactly, not knowing the backstory (maybe he deserved it?), or the cultural protocol for this sort of thing. Is this some Yakuza type shit? We have heard that it’s rude to intervene with the Yakuza and we do not want to be rude—not on Day One. Besides, it’s looking like a warning-beating, jail-yard stuff, nothing too serious.

So, we head down some stairs nearby, into an enthusiastically lit tavern, where some of us dance in a conga line around a costumed karaoke “maid,” and some of us consume green-tea ice-cream sundaes that are decorated to look exactly like cartoon turtles. And there is beer. “Well, this is also weird,” we say to each other.

Then, Matt Belzile, who likes to plan ahead, says, “Let’s go snowboarding tomorrow in Hakuba.” We all agree that that is a good idea. A dangerous one, sure, but one that just might gain us some new Instagram followers.

All Photos, @ChadChomlack

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Common wisdom is to fill up on noodles before heading to Hakuba, so in the morning, we locate a bizarre ramen alcove where disembodied hands appear through slots in the walls and pass us our meals. You could come here for ramen every day, and be served by the love of your life or your mortal enemy, and you’d never know it. There’s a lot of constant beeping in this place. And toilet paper. For some reason, there’s a wider variety of toilet paper in the bathroom than there are food items on the menu. I end up trying two of the different toilet paper options and fear that it might become one of my biggest regrets—that I sampled so few. Rusty Ockenden tries four. That’s what living is.

Well fed, we spend the next five hours navigating transportation stations in an unwieldy fashion, gear in tow. We force ourselves upon a train that takes us to a bigger train, that takes us to a bus, that takes us to a smaller bus.

“Holy crap. Welcome to Hakuba!” is what Chika San, the lady that owns our lodge, says when we arrive. “You must be the Manboys. Rusty, Jody, Robjn... Yup. Oh, and there’s Belzile and Mark. Where’s Rasman? Oh, there he is! And I see your filmer, the industrious Nate Laverty, and oh, cool, you brought Chad Chomlack to shoot photos? No way. Hi Chad!”

She’s speaking Japanese, of course, and there’s no translator, so it’s tough to be sure, but that’s the gist of it. She quickly becomes our favourite person and later that night, she even calls a friend of hers to translate over the telephone in the off-chance that it might help some of us find our toothpaste. Actually.

“There is no doubt that to those witnessing, we look like a trio of very capable geniuses and not at all like bumbling foreign idiots.”

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Matt Belzile, tree trimming


We wake up early, frothing and chomping. Have to get into the snow. Chika serves us breakfast, featuring an orb of cabbage, and we head straight to a resort called Goryu.

We get off the chairlift, snowshoes attached to backpacks, backpacks attached to backs, avalanche gear tested. The media team has their fingers on the triggers and we are ready for the prom. We just don’t know where it is. We slide around a bit, looking for clues, and when Rasman does a Front 3 off of a bump on the run, I think, “Oh my god. It is on.” We duck off the side into what we hope will be some of Japan’s famous pow trees. It is. We lose our shit and so begins our Gollum-level obsession with getting useable clips. Our precious.

Everyone spreads out and starts building features. Mark hits a button on his jacket sleeve that says, “Activate Method.” Jody shovels a booter so kicky that he gets inverted three times in two jumps, when he only meant to get inverted zero times. Rasman is a hot minute away from dropping into his cutout that’ll boost him into a nearby gully when Goryu ski patrol suddenly arrive to say, “Hi.” They also say only two other English words, which they happily recite for us numerous times, “Confiscate.” “Punishment.”

We are not allowed to be off-piste, which is something that we had cho- sen to not really understand, and so we get kicked off of Goryu pronto.

That night, we eat at a restaurant with lumpy stone walls that serves a plate called Ghengis Khan, although I would not describe that plate as overly Mongolian, unless I was in Mongolia and I saw Ghengis Khan holding it.

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Mark Sollors, activated method


If Jody jumped off a bridge... never mind. 


We take a bus to a resort called Cortina and the lodge there blows our mind. If the place had auditioned to be the Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson would have freaked out. But holy, this is a wet day. It’s raining violently at the bottom and blizzarding dead sideways by the time we get to the top of the second chair. It’s pretty obvious that successfully filming in these conditions will cost us a mir- acle we can’t afford right now. So, we leave our heavy packs in a pile and spend the day scoping for locations, GoPro goofing, and running into things—trees, chairlifts, and occasionally Belzile.

Later, some of the team gets naked and checks out the onsen, which is a Japanese bath that’s heated naturally by volcanic activity and human nudity. Meanwhile, I try to toss my lift pass a couple of floors down to Mark in the lobby of the hotel area and it flutters onto a two-inch wide ledge, accessible to no one. So, Belzile and I extend our avalanche probes, full blast, and start poking around from 15 feet away, at various angles, determined to knock it free. Mark paces around below, waiting to catch it, and there is no doubt that to those witnessing, we look like a trio of very capable geniuses and not at all like bumbling foreign idiots.

We actually spend the next few days going back to Cortina because we like it so much. It gets sunny each day and storms through the night. That’s the golden goose right there. We access everything by snowshoeing from the top, further and further each day. It’s so tranquil in these woods that filming feels a bit like ruining a nice painting. Like, we’re drawing on it with a magic marker, trying to insert ourselves into the art without anyone noticing.

We end up getting a lot of iconic tree-riding footage and the best powder days that any of us will experience for the rest of the year, throughout four different continents, although we don’t know that yet.

“Some of the team gets naked and checks out the onsen, which is a Jap- anese bath that’s heated naturally by volcanic activity and human nudity.”

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Rasman, backflipping half-way Onsen style 


We finally rent a van and we love it. It’s the greatest van in Japan. We pile all of our gear and dreams inside, and set out on the highway, ready to stack clips together, us and the van. Ten minutes later, its engine dies and we hate this van so much. While we wait on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere for the rental company to bring us a new vehicle, one that doesn’t fill us with rage, Jody decides to open a package of something that he thinks is cheese. But it is not cheese. The anguish he feels is overwhelming and he crumples to the ground, motionless, the weight of the world upon him, squashing him. This happens to him a lot, actually, and it’s awesome.

Our backup van arrives and we tag it in. Driving for hours and hours each day, “highway boarding” becomes our new program. We scout furiously, looking for good snow and exotic features. When appropriate, we pull over and ride our snowboards down barriers, off of dams and tunnels, under bridges, and over waterfalls. We try it all out—the precious. Mark does an interesting tree flip maneuver, where he lands mathematically flat and three kilometres later, Rusty and Belzile Ollie over a Bergstrom gap into a natural whale tail. That sort of stuff.

The road twists relentlessly through remote villages and we stop at occasional shrines to explore. During one of these breaks, we see a special forces unit of abnormally large snow monkeys traverse the nearby hillside and Rasman wants really badly for us to go interact with them in some way. But these aren’t like the suck-up monkeys that hang out at the onsens. We’re far in the sticks and these ones are wild, carnivorous, and maybe don’t speak English. Collectively, we convince Rasman that they could probably tear us in half if they wanted.

The last of these driving days, we come home especially late and Chika cooks us an insane udon dinner with lots of tentacled appendages. It boils on the table we kneel at and we’ll be damned if it isn’t our favourite meal. Chad fascinates us with stories of courting his wife on the war-torn border of India and Pakistan. In no way does it resemble the trip we’re on now.

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Rusty, pits deep

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We link up with ex-Whistlerite, Jon Conway, who brings us to a mountain called Tsugaike. Rasman Crails a cliff that we all approve of and we try to shoot some group mobbing stuff lower down, but the trees here don’t behave as well on camera as the trees at Cortina do.

Belzile Cab 5s his way through some branches that send him a bit hay- wire when he hits them, but he holds steady and then explodes through a pillow before stomping and riding away. It looks exciting and rowdy in person, but the shot is questionable. Getting clips is a tough game, people! So many variables. There’s always a hobbit hiding your shit in his stupid pockets.

Later, for the very first time in Japan, this happens: We go to a grocery store. Oh, hell yes. I get a bunch of mystery bite-sized items that are packaged singularly, like everything here. I pray that some of it is cheese.

Afterwards, we go night boarding at Yanaba Resort because we’ve heard they have a little park and we want to combo some rotations for bonus points. Rasman disappears for five minutes and comes back drunk, and starts backflipping everywhere. Still don’t know how that happened.

Back home, we’re exhausted, but we spend a couple of hours practicing karagami, which is the deadly art of karate-chopping pieces of colourful paper into animal shapes.

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Chris Rasman "get low, it makes the snow look like way deeper." 

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We have to head back to Tokyo tomorrow, so this will be our last day of snowboarding. We go to a resort we haven’t been to yet with a sinister name: Hakuba 47. What’s that 47 all about? No one knows. It’s a really grey-bird day, the snow is shitty, and we’re confused about what we can possibly shoot. After a lot of debate and finger-pointing, we agree that we’ll leave the packs at the bottom and go rip a lap on the mountain. We’ll come right back to the same spot to have the same conversation, but only after pumping much needed blood through our veins. This is a killer plan and one that is executed with gusto. We get some wind in our hair, lay down some rocket carves, and start feeling pretty damn positive about not only snowboarding today, but about life in general.

Some of us get a little unsure of the direction we’re supposed to take to get back to the meeting point, and so we cut off of the run to traverse over a ridge to take a look. That’s right—we cut off of the run. Boom! Ski patrol

is there to say, “Hi.” Confiscate. Punishment. They would really rather we stick to the runs is what we’re finally learning. We get kicked off of Hakuba 47 pronto.

It’s fitting that this is how we started the trip, grounded by the mountain authorities, and we’re beginning to accept that this is how our snow- boarding in Japan will end. We get back to our lodge to pack everything up, but realize that this is our first time at home this early in the day and we’re all hopped up on delicious, thirst-quenching Monster. So, we start up a session in our front yard, where we drop in off a snow bank and then jib the long patio. It starts snowing really hard and the good times escalate quickly. Jody impro- vises more change-ups than Jake Kuzyk could shake his fist at, Rusty and Mark choreograph a postmodern snowboarding fight-dance sequence, and Rasman starts lighting fireworks that he originally bought thinking they were cheese.

We decide to start digging out some hits all the way down our street and end up turning our wintery residential road into a super slopestyle course that no one can finish without falling. It’s starting to get dark and we are hyped that we were (kind of) accidentally able to take our day into our own hands. We officially call it a wrap on our Japanese boarding and filming.

As we walk back up the street, Chad snipes a photo of us that really nails the moment, and the best part is that we don’t need any magic markers for this one.

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Great thanks to these bosses, the everyday heroes who helped us explore, eat well, and stay warm: Matt, Craig and Nathaniel from Marino Lodge, Chika-san from Hakuba Sekkasai Lodge, Hakuba Tourism, Jon Conway, Zachary Nigro, Nathan Benson, Jesse Fox, and Taka from Tokyo Lex.

We hustle back to Tokyo for girlfriend-present shopping and partying, and meeting a lot of people from Eastern Europe for some reason. We see no signs of the Yakuza. I eventually pass out, while hypnotized by a bonkers Japanese morning talk show.

In a few hours, we’ll have Nate’s hangover purge to listen to and flights to catch, and Expendables 3 to not bother watching. And maybe, much further in the future, while tallying our sky-rocketing Instagram following, we’ll reflect back on the trip and think, “Well, that was weird.”

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