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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 11:58 GMT
Ed Leigh's snowboard journey

Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh

As part of the new revamped Ski Sunday show presenter Ed Leigh is taking on a series of fascinating snowboard adventures around the world.

In his second escapade he takes a look at the snowboarding culture in Japan.

This follows his painstaking voyage to take on the wilds of Siberia.

Watch the film of Ed's trip during the show on Sunday 27 January from 1900-2000 on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website (UK users only).

By Ed Leigh
Ski Sunday presenter

In my mind Japan can legitimately call itself one of the top three snow destinations on earth.

First up it's got more than 700 resorts to choose from, secondly the island of Hokkaido gets more than 15 metres of annual snowfall (Europe will be grateful for a third of that this winter) and finally the Japanese are wonderful hosts with a true understanding of the word hospitality.

The whirlwind five days we spent in the country gave us a glimpse of what Japan has to offer and cemented a promise for both myself and our cameraman Chris Kirkham to return in our own time.

Our first stop was the Tokyo Dome just to the north of the city centre where each year the world's biggest snowboard event is held, the X-Trail Big Air.

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Munich's Olympic stadium packed in more than 25,000 spectators for the air and style event the week before our trip to Japan, which is very impressive.

But when you double that attendance and add Japan's insatiable appetite for celebrity you've got a dynamite recipe for a contest.

A near perfect 28 metre kicker had been shaped and the level of riding was predictably insane.

It seems that people are now so used to seeing tricks they've never seen before they almost look disappointed when it's not delivered.

I suppose it's the price snowboarding pays for such a steep arc of progression.

Fortunately American Travis Rice stuck to the script and nailed a couple of double cork backside 900s.

Toyko Dome
The inside of the Tokyo Dome was an impressive sight

Unfortunately he could only lay them down in the semis.

This left the door open for Finland's Risto Mattila who threw down frontside 1080 tail grabs to claim the Big Air crown with Mathieu Crepel of France landing some kind of switch backside 1260 nonsense to take third.

Following events in Toyko we headed to Haneda Airport on the south west side of the city to catch our connecting flight to Chitose on Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan.

Because we landed late we hired a car with my newly acquired international drivers license (a prerequisite if you want to hire a car in Japan) and blasted up to Hirafu.

The view that greeted us in the morning could not have been more different to Tokyo.

Mount Yotei filled our windows as the sun rose and cast long shadows over the sleepy hippy town of Hirafu, a small resort suburb of the more renowned town of Niseko.

We were met early by an old friend of mine from South Wales, Owain who has made Hirafu his home.

Owain is the king of calm and understatement so when he said the snow wasn't that great I was a little worried, but he did confess that a bout of gastroenteritis had kept him off the hill until now so he wasn't entirely sure.

As always it's hard to tell looking at a car park how good the hill is so we got up as high as we could straight away.

The first thing we learned is that a Japanese local's concept of iffy snow is a European regular's idea of very good.

A graphical map of Japan
Hirafu is on the northern most island of Japan, Hokkaido

Although fairly tracked, the mountain had a liberal and light layer of boot deep powder.

The best part was that the base underneath wasn't icy and gave a bit so while it wasn't epic snow it was deep and soft enough to really let go.

By three o'clock we had got our fill and called it a day in anticipation of the much-vaunted night session.

Al Gore would undoubtedly have a field day on the amount of electricity being burned, but I decided to leave my conscience at the door and enjoy this unique opportunity.

Night skiing is obviously not that unique, lots of resorts do it, but in Hirafu it's the power of the lights that make the difference.

These things are like Wembley's floodlights and their power is such that there is enough ambient light to drift off the piste and into the trees.

Riding through the trees in perfect powder and being chased by shadows is an amazing experience.

Like Siberia the air temperature is so consistently cold that there is no melt freeze, so even when the mercury drops at night the snow doesn't get icy.

Instead you're left with the same perfect conditions we had all day.

I hope by now you are sold on Japan, but if you're not down with the food and are a fair weather mountain person then it's not for you.

But if you like deep powder, new cultures and volcanic hot tubs then Japan could be right up your street!

On next week's show Ed will be looking at snowboarding in Australia


Ski Sunday runs for eight weeks from 20 January to 9 March on BBC TWO and the BBC Sport website.




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