deep snow in japan

Photo: Shinsetsu

So, you’re drunk on rice wine, roaming the streets of Tokyo with your ski bag, for no good reason, at 5am when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami hits.  Now you’re thinking (if there was time to think) “F$%k me, I just wanted to have some happy fun pow time”.  And now you’re swimming…and you’re a skier…you suck at swimming.

this video shows a town go from dry pavement to houses floating by in 4.5 minutes

Tsunami = Harbor Wave.  The Japanese had historically learned not to develop coastal areas and occasionally would see these huge waves come up their rivers into their up-river harbors and wonder what the hell was going on.  So they named ‘em harbor waves.  Only in the last 100 years have the Japanese begun  developing these coastal areas.

Japan has become one of the hot spots for powder seeking North American “ski bums.”  It’s been fed to us via our favorite media outlets and damn near force fed in the past few years.  There’s no doubt, it looks epic.  Pillow-popping-deciduous-tree-lined-perfect-powder-slopes are easily filmed and easily burned into one’s memory.  I think the earthquake and tsunami in Japan have affected us as skiers because we all have hypothetical trips planed to ski Japan and we are now thinking “what would happen if I were out there when an earthquake/tsunami strikes?”

fuji ski


Japan is very similar to California in that it’s one of the few places in the world that has an extremely varied climate and topography and receives a ridiculous annual snowfall all in a relatively small area….and that it has monstrous Earthquakes.  Although our Earthquakes pale in comparison.  The San Andreas fault (a strike-slip fault) in California could not produce an Earthquake as high as 9.0 (source) , whereas the Japanese fault (a subduction fault)  has the potential for Earthquakes in and around 10.0+.

example of subduction fault like the one that caused the tsunami in Japan

strike-slip fault earthquakeexample of strike-slip fault like the San Andreas

“What would happen if I was out there on a ski trip and this happened?” It’s essentially an existential question, isn’t it?  It’s all about your being there.  Some may say, “just don’t go.”  Not an option.  The travelers have to go.  To them, the point of living on this Earth in this Time is to experience it all as much as your pocketbook will allow.  Skiing is just an excuse.  Given that, the answer is simple, but it’s a bummer.  No more Tokyo-a-go-go. Land in Tokyo, get on your next flight or train and get the hell outta there!  For me, that still doesn’t cut it.  I love to travel, I love different cultures and their weird food.  For myself the answer is even simpler still:  don’t change a thing. I’m gonna to go to Japan next season, challenge 3 random Japanese businessmen to a tetrodotoxin showdown, spend as much time as I can in Tokyo, wallow in flawless powder, and try to land in at least two huge suspended tree pillows.

In reality, Japan is unchanged to the skier.  It still holds all it’s old mysteries and nuances.  Albeit, it guards them a bit closer than before.

another unnerving tsunami video, this one really shows the raw power

Here is a great paper on the Tohoku Earthquake in Japan and how it reflects on California

the San Andreas Fault in California

san adreas fault

2 replies on “Thoughts on the Implications of the Japanese Tsunami for a Skier”