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        Nature and History in Shonai

        One of Tohoku’s six prefectures is Yamagata, located just north of Niigata Prefecture along the coast. It's a hidden gem for travelers in search of authentic cultural experiences and outdoor activities.
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A Lifestyle: Freeskiing

Skiing outside artificially sets limits. This is the foundation for freeskiing which breaks away from the restrictive confines of traditional ski culture such as race gates and area boundaries. It is a concept and it is a lifestyle where the only rule is to have fun. Truly limited only by their own conscience, freeskiers are now challenging new tricks and skiing bigger lines and creating innovative new equipment to conquer an even greater sense of freedom.

Powder Power
 As agreed upon by professional athletes of the sport, the greatest expression of freeskiing is found in the backcountry when there is powder. Here skiers seek anything possible to jump off in a natural setting.

While park, pipe, big mountain and urban more properly define the various disciplines of the sport, it is only in the backcountry where these athletes are able to draw pure inspiration completely free from rules. Here freeskiers are able to challenge the terrain offered to them at that exact moment.

I caught up with Pep Fujas, one of the most innovative professional skiers in the industry, to chat about the state of things. As mentioned on the ESPN Website, “Pep was one of the first skiers to land “switch” in powder, and he has his own signature trick called the “Pep Roll.”

While he can hold his own in the competition arena (he has a silver medal from WX 2003 Slopestyle), he definitely prefers to spend his days filming in the backcountry. In 2004, Pep won Breakthrough Performer and Best Trick at the Powder Video Awards.

For 2009 Pep’s pro-model ski is called the K2 Kung Fujas. He told me he has skied his whole life deriving inspiration from many sources over his career, but what inspires him most are his surroundings.

“I believe it is to be skiing in any kind of natural terrain, but it can also imply having no restraints or boundaries when riding, so free skiing can be performed anywhere there is snow. Freeskiing is different (than the other disciplines) because it allows the riders to freely express themselves. All other types of skiing have some restrictions or guidelines, but freeskiing is just that; it’s free, without constraints or boundaries, and expression is endless,” he said.

Capturing Freedom
How does freeski equipment differ from traditional ski goods? The main difference, which isn’t necessarily important according to Pep, is twin tip skis that allow the rider to go forward as well as backward (switch). For spin tricks, the shape of these skis also aid in landing. Many new skis are much softer for a more playful and forgiving feel.

For freeskiing off piste (i.e. skiing a few meters away from marked trails and slopes), powder skis with a wider waist are very important for ultimate floatation. The width of 90+ mm. at the waist (middle) of the powder ski is useful in backcountry or terrain that has not been groomed.

Whichever type of ski you choose, freeskiers recommend buying equipment from a company that has its heart and soul into expanding the presence of the sport and supporting the freeski lifestyle. Fortunately, some interesting companies have emerged from the freeski movement in the past few years, including Armada Skis headquartered in Costa Mesa, California. No longer a small, local company, Armada has been successful promoting freeskiing with events, riders and innovative products.

Over the years Line Skis has provided momentum to the sport by developing new skis for the needs of freeskiers. For poles, JOYSTICK is a great option. And then there are some really good start-up brands such as Surface Skis who have a fresh new attitude and vibe. Interesting Japanese ski brands include Strictly and Reason. Play Designs from Osaka also is pushing from this season toward the freeski clothing brand to be worn by U.S. and Japanese riders.

Freedom by Sight
As the sport has grown in popularity, so have the number of freeskiing events happening globally. The biggest event featuring freeskiing is the Winter X-Games in Aspen, Colorado. It is an annual event focusing on extreme action sports. Others include the Jon Olsson Invitational in Sweden, Candide Invitational sponsored by the French resort La Clusaz, and the U.S. Freeski Open held last year in Telluride, Colorado.

In Japan, the largest international event is the Nippon Open held at Joetsu Kokusai Ski Resort. In March, riders compete in the King of Pipe held at Takasu Snow Park in Gifu Prefecture, as well as the Canada Cup and Spider Cup events hosted at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata.  

As the momentum of the sport glides along, various freeski movies debut each year. Production companies to look for are Nimbus Independent, PoorBoyz, MSP (Matchstick Productions), TGR (Teton Gravity Research), Field Productions, Warren Miller, Level 1 Productions and Rage Films.  It is also cool to see the fresh styles of films coming from people such as Hunting Yeti, Joystick’s Hot Lunch and Surface’s Walk of Life films.

Pow and Sunshine

The freeski lifestyle is based on individual expression, spending time in the mountains exploring new terrain, traveling with friends and pushing each other to even higher levels of performance and consciousness. It’s catching air in the park, feeling weightless in the backcountry and free from the stresses of everyday life. It’s about feeling like a kid again.  And as Michael Schneider, owner of Surface Skis, told me, “The only rule in freeskiing is to have fun.” So go freeskiing, have fun and find freedom along the way down the mountain.

WEB CONNECTION

FREE SKI COMPANIES IN JAPAN
K2 Skis:
www.k2skis.com
Joystick:
www. joystickskiing.com
Surface:
www. surfaceskis.com
Strictly:
www.strictly.jp
Play Designs:
www.p01.jp

TERRAIN PARKS IN JAPAN
1. Takasu Snow Park, Takasu, Gifu, www.takasu.gr.jp
2. Aizu Kogen Nango, Nango-mura, Fukushima, www.sayurinosato.co.jp
3. Ishiuchi Maruayama, Yuzawa, Niigata, www.ishiuchi.or.jp
4. Niseko Grande Hirafu, Niseko, Hokkaido, www.grand-hirafu.jp
5. Alts Bandai Resort, Alts Bandai, Fukushima, www.alts.co.jp

FREE SKIING EVENTS IN JAPAN
Nippon Open:
End of February-March 2009 at Joetsu Kokusai Resort, Niigata, www.opensnowboarding.com
King of Pipe:
March 2009 at Takasu Snow Park, Gunma, www.takasu.gr.jp
Canada Cup:
March 2009 at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata, www.canada-info.jp/prove
Spider Cup:
March 2009 at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata, www.princehotels.co.jp/ski/naeba/

INTERNATIONAL FREE SKIING EVENTS
Winter X-Games: www.expn.go.com
Jon Olsson Invitational: www.jon-olsson.com
Candide Invitational: www.candide-invitational.com
US Open: www.usfreeskiing.com

FILM & DVD
Nimbus Independent: www.nimbusindependent.com
PoorBoyz: poorboyz.com
Matchstick Productions: www.mspfilms.com
Teton Gravity Research: www.tetongravity.com
Field Productions: www.fieldproductions.com
Warren Miller: www.skinet.com/warrenmiller
Level 1 Productions: www.level1productions.com
Rage Films: www.ragefilms.com
 

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