"We honestly did not keep track of how much snow fell that week and did not have a forecast. It's a pretty random location. If I had to guess, five-plus feet fell over that week." –Garrett Grove
Winter was hiding when Pep Fujas arrived to the highlands of Japan's Hida Mountains in early January. He hadn't heard much in the way of snowfall and touring up a crusty skin track didn't exactly foster confidence in the conditions. "Honestly, it looked like New Jersey in the fall," says Nick Waggoner, of Sweetgrass Productions, who was on the same trip along with fellow Sweetgrass filmer Mike Brown, photographer Garrett Grove, and skiers Carston Oliver and Eliel Hindert. When the group reached the top of the zone, a 1,500-foot pitch through a grove of silver birch trees, the first skier dropped in and disappeared. Moments later, ecstatic whoops and hollers echoed up to the top, a sound that certainly didn't match expectations. "We were like, 'Ah, come on now, it's not that good,'" says Waggoner. The next guy dropped in, and Fujas caught a glimpse of snow fly up before hearing more laughter. Then it was Fujas' turn to find winter, a hidden stash of preserved thigh-deep snow—the light, fluffy, and stable kind. The snow started falling that night, and the second day of the trip—the day this photo of Fujas was taken—the group came back to ski the same zone. "Sure enough, we knew it was special when Japanese local and ski guru Makoto 'Mako' Takeishi claimed it was the best snow he had ever skied in his 38 years," says photographer Garrett Grove.
PHOTO: Garrett Grove