The snow is on the mountains.

With the dependable snows of Yamagata, snowboarding has become the heart of winter for me, the fulcrum about which all other activities turn when the mercury is low. I have never had a lesson, and however that may have hampered me in misplaced fears or poor technique, it certainly was made up for by a healthy dose of trial-and-error experience and self-motivation. One snowy December day in 2014, a friend helped me get standing on a board, and since then I have just been trying to catch up with everyone else.

The central run at Cortina, in Hakuba, Nagano. 

The central run at Cortina, in Hakuba, Nagano. 

Beyond the social aspect, snowboarding is the outdoors-y thread which pulls me through the winter. Beautiful though it is, the long snowy winter can be tough and prohibitive. Transport slows down, just leaving the house becomes an ordeal, and the chill makes its way implacably into your bones. While the cold freezes your nose, and the snow delays your daily commute, to be able to look forward to it for the sake of those glorious days on the mountain makes it all bearable. This year I had to forgo any chance of spending Christmas with family, so I pushed my snowboarding into overdrive to compensate, or at least to exhaust and distract me. Thus I find myself in mid-January already on day 10 of a season which has utterly eclipsed any before.

One of those days the heavens smile. Enjoying the view of Mount Yotei, at Niseko, Hokkaido. Photo by Abbey Cameron, my boarding 仲間, companion, and the one I'm always chasing down.

One of those days the heavens smile. Enjoying the view of Mount Yotei, at Niseko, Hokkaido. Photo by Abbey Cameron, my boarding 仲間, companion, and the one I'm always chasing down.

What is a good day out? For me, there are two primary (and often conflicting) factors. In my estimation, snowboarding equates to a good hike, so although the focus switches from ascending to descending, it's about getting out and being outside, basking in nature, and enjoying the views. Blue skies and peaks all around, can anything beat that? Well, that brings me nicely to my other concern; fluffy, powder snow. Scenic as those sunny days are, the snow can be anything but fresh, and will gradually turn to mush the longer the sun beats down. Now, imagine a really dreary day. The clouds hang about your ears, darkening the sun so you're not even sure if its noon or dusk. The icy roads and snowfall make your drive to the slopes treacherous at best. As you ascend in the gondola, then the chairlift, visibility retreats to 100m, 50m, 20m...and then you strap on your board and sail through the softest, most glorious snow. Even the stickier aspects of your technique are airbrushed by the thick, silent powder. Your mates are calling out 見えね, but when it's that good you put up with negotiating the clouds as well as the mountain.

One of those days when all color is drained from nature, at my "home" ski-場, Zao Onsen, Yamagata.

One of those days when all color is drained from nature, at my "home" ski-場, Zao Onsen, Yamagata.

Well, that's how I feel about it now. I'm excited to continue improving, to push my confidence, and to see many more mountains under blue skies or grey. I look forward to future chances to ride in other countries and meet old friends to slide with again. Maybe someday I'll try some tricks, or work out how to negotiate a half-pipe, but in the meantime, it's all about the mountain.