If you look on Instagram for the hashtag #japow, it’s hard to miss Evan Wilcox’ posts of bottomless powder. We had a chat with him about riding in Japan to find out what it is that will bring him to Hokkaido again for a third season this winter.
From the first time I met Evan, I had the feeling that he really, really loves snowboarding. He is always a fun, positive influence on everybody. We’re both on the Rome SDS team, and whenever I see him I get stoked too. – Hiromasa Ihara
To start with, could you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, at what age did you start snowboarding, what was your first board?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I started snowboarding when I was 16, the perfect age where my friends and I could spend all of our money in gas driving between the city and Mt. Hood. Riding quickly became an obsession for me, as I quit playing basketball among other hobbies that would take time on the mountain away. My first board was a Rome Machine. A wide cambered board that has been discontinued for some time. Rome was a brand that I identified with when I first started riding, and its amazing to me that I now ride for them. It’s funny how things come full circle.
At that time, what was it about Rome that you liked?
I was brand new to snowboarding, and Rome was cool. They had a huge presence on Mt. Hood, bright bases that screamed “Hustlin”, war propaganda ads, and I loved watching their team movies such as “Any Means”. In the end, I just liked Rome’s style. This was long before I met any of the rad people who built the company.
It’s cheesy but it must be a ‘dream come true’ to ride for the company that stoked you out in the early days. Did you have a definite plan to ‘one day ride for Rome’ or did things just fall into place over the years?
I’m so excited to represent a company that I’ve liked since I started snowboarding. However, it was definitely not the plan. In fact, at that time I just loved snowboarding. The more time I could spend on the mountain the better, and as a result I improved quickly. This is when I realized that there was potential to get involved as a rider. I moved to Utah for the winter, met the right people, and was lucky enough that they were willing to support me. I’m very thankful!
What made you decide to come and do a season in Japan? Was there a particular video/mag/pro/friend that influenced you?
I can’t say that there was one particular reason that I wanted to go to Japan. I had my mind blown from so many snowboard films showcasing how glorious the snow was over there. In fact, I noted the ideal migration of many professional powder riders from Japan early season, to Canada, and then Alaska to finish the northern hemisphere winter. What really pushed me to actually take the leap to moving across the pacific was my hunger to travel. I was comfortable working in Utah in the winter and the Mt. Hood glacier in the summer. I needed to challenge myself. Moreover, it wasn’t snowing as much in Utah as it normally did, and all I wanted to do was ride powder. My solution was to move to one of the snowiest places on earth.
Double back flip tail grab at Niseko Grand Hirafu Park 📷 Daniel Honda
You first came for the winter of ’15-’16, right? Did you have any culture shock type moments your first season? Any more in your second season?
Yes, 15/16 was my first winter. There are so many cultural differences between the US and Japan, and many of those took some getting used to. However, I love traveling and embracing those contrasts. I specifically remember my first day arriving in Japan. A few of my coworkers picked me up from the train station and immediately took me to the grocery store to grab some food since we were already in town. I was overwhelmed with the whole environment, from not being able to recognize any packaging, to the increasingly annoying jingle that they blast throughout the store on repeat. This made it difficult to find even the most basic food essentials. It’s funny to look back on now, as I know where everything is in those stores and can get in and out efficiently. My second season there felt like quite the opposite of culture shock. I had an wonderful group of friends, knew the mountains, and learned the ins and outs of living in Niseko. Japan really feels like another home.
Without giving away your secret spots, what are your recommended must-ride zones in the Niseko area?
Niseko does a great job of allowing backcountry access through their gate system. This is something that really attracted me to the area, as many places in Japan are not so friendly about backcountry riding. The classic famous spots of the resorts are famous for a reason. Strawberry Fields in Hanazono has so many fun hits. Gaps, cliffs, doubles. I can always find something interesting to do in there. Another zone that I frequent is called Mihirashi in the Hirafu area. This is the quintessential Japow tree riding that everyone is looking for. Not to mention there are several sections that house some of the most enjoyable pillow lines I’ve encountered in Japan. If you have access to a car, the possibilities outside of the resort are essentially endless. Every hill is covered in snow, and if you can see it, you can ride it. This easy access pow exploration is one of my favorite parts about snowboarding in Japan. Mt. Yotei can be considered the symbol of Niseko, and should be on any backcountry enthusiast’s list. Splitboarding up to the top of the stratovolcano and dropping into a crater full of powder is an ultimate experience.
Not as much as I would have liked, but I was able to put together some fun trips. Asahidake, the highest point in Hokkaido, was full of some of the driest snow I’ve seen and big features. I’ve ridden in the city of Otaru, as well as on some mountains that led directly into the Sea of Japan! I have also made it to Kiroro which holds a different style of terrain than Niseko. There are so many places I’ve been researching on Hokkaido that look amazing to ride. That whole island is virtually covered in snow, and mountains. A special place indeed.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve found between riding in Japan and riding back home?
The mountains on Hokkaido are smaller than ones I was riding back home, however the consistent dry snow completely makes up for it. Instead of riding chutes and open bowls in the Rocky Mountains, I’m finding surfy lines that take flow and finesse. On the other hand, there is some steep terrain and large features to jump off if you know where to look. Powder boarding in Japan feels more relaxed. During mid winter you can safely assume that the next powder day is not far away, if not tomorrow. I’ve had a few days in resorts like Snowbird in Utah where riding powder felt like a competition due to hungry skiers on a lackluster snow year.
Has your riding style evolved from being out here? Have you mellowed out from so many deep powder soul turns?
My style has definitely changed, as it has many times before. I grew up hammering park laps to learn new tricks, moved into focusing on urban riding and rails, and then obsessing over powder my last few seasons in Utah. Living in Japan has let me develop into the rider I want to be as I’ve had more deep turns and pillow lines than anywhere else I’ve ridden.
I wake up at 6:45, shower, eat a nice breakfast, and hop in a van heading to work at 7:45. I work in a shop near the lifts so much of my gear is stored there. The lifts start spinning at 8:30, and I take advantage of this half hour by stretching and gearing up before the first chairs. From there I head to where I think the snow is best or a specific spot if I’m with a crew that’s on a mission. Or, if I’m solo, I tune in to whatever music suits my mood and rip the fastest laps my legs can handle. Work generally starts at 2:30pm, so I get back just in time to change clothes, have a meal, and pour a cup of coffee. After work I generally head home to cook a healthy meal. I’d love to make a post-work onsen a routine, but I’m usually chiefly concerned with food at that point in the day. From there I either make the smart choice of going to bed to prepare for another full day, or sacrifice sleep to see what is happening in town.
For years I’ve wanted to ride a powder specific shape and I finally got the chance last season. I was unsure how it would perform, as it is a 148 and my standard powder board is a 163. Rome absolutely nailed it with this design as it rode so much better than I would have ever imagined. It’s amazing to be able to put most of your weight on your front foot in deep snow. My back leg wouldn’t get tired, and it allowed me to adapt and take different approach and style to riding powder. It also turns on a dime, giving me confidence to take more speed into tight trees. The extreme width enabled my euro carves to reach a new level, and it slashed slush with the best of them. I honestly rode that board almost every day. Even when I should not be on it. Too much fun.
Nice, I really like mine too. What will you be riding this winter?
This could change, but I’m very excited about the new Rome National. I know it will be an all-around mountain killer. Hopefully I’ll have a powder division as well. They revamped the shapes of the powder division line and I’d love to put them to the test in their ideal environment.
Yeah, the new shapes look pretty good. Since you’re traveling a lot, how many boards do you bring out? How many boards would you like in an ideal quiver?
One can never have too many boards! It’s so nice to have the perfect board specific for the type of riding you’re planning on doing. These days my essentials are an all-mountain shape, a powder specific board, and a splitboard. Yet, it’s so nice to have a light and poppy park board for when the spring jumping sessions are firing. I’m fortunate enough to say I had one of each while I was in Japan last winter. Thank you Rome!