This past year the world was allowed back into Japan, and we had our eyes set on the Land of the Rising Sun. Salomon Snowboards brought a small crew out for the annual Hillside Project trip to meet Taka, explore the backcountry of Hokkaido, and ride the deepest snow there is.
Vlady, Perly, Louif and myself arrived early. A few days later, we picked up Goop at the Bus Station at Rusutsu Ski Resort in the late afternoon. He arrived shred-ready, sitting on his board bag with a big smile, hyped to cruise through Japan and ready for night boarding after a long haul from the US. It’s amazing to watch someone experience something for the first time. It reminds you what it’s all about.
Riding street can breed a snowboarder with similar board control to a pipe rider. Louif has this magic and flow across the spectrum of speeds, with a feel for his board that translates well in natural terrain. As a board builder, I love to observe riders and their subtle setup and technique changes when they approach obstacles.
Riding a cat track can tell you a lot about someone’s flow and board feel. With Goop’s vibrant approach and ability to switch from metal to pow, he adapts to any spot. It was amazing to see him follow the footsteps of Louif as they shared spots. He stepped up, took his shots, and most of all, brought the right vibes. The kid has a bright future, and his head is in the right place. These are the people we can all feed off—those who will keep snowboarding spontaneous.
Intro by Wolle Nyvelt
Interview by Jon Stark
Photos by Perly
What was going through your head when it settled in that you were going to Japan?
I lost sleep for a couple days. I’ve always wanted to go, and when I heard about the trip from Kevin [Stevenson] at the beginning of the winter, he said that I wasn’t going. He was like, “Max Buri is going with Taka [Nakai]. Sorry, we tried to squeak you in.” But then two weeks before the trip, I was lying in bed, and I woke up at 6:00 AM to a phone call from Kevin like, “Dude, can you go to Japan?” And of course, naturally, I said yes.
What about the fact that you were going with two former Riders of the Year…
Dude, I thought Wolle was so sick once I actually got into snowboarding and realized how hard it is to make a proper pow turn and ride in the backcountry. I grew up in Minnesota with rails and shit. I wasn’t super big into riding pow until later. But I’ve known who Louif was since I first started watching snowboard videos. He’s just been someone I looked up to since I was a kid. I was so intimidated by Louif [laughs] until I met him and realized that he is the chillest, most easygoing dude.
So this being your first trip to Japan, what were your initial impressions?
That place has my heart. I would go to Japan indefinitely if it was possible. The food and the culture were the best that I’ve ever immersed myself into. The people there are so nice and easygoing, even though you’re in this place that feels almost like an alien world.
What did you guys do first when you got there?
After flying all night and not really sleeping, ‘cause I was feeling like a little kid on Christmas, I hopped onto a bus and drove four hours north of Sapporo. Got there, met up with Taka, Lou, Wolle, Perly, Vlad, and the rest of the gang, and we went straight to boarding. We boarded that whole day. Taka took us out to this sidecountry, and I got to experience the powder that I’ve just heard so much about, with a sunset. Like my first run snowboarding in Japan was full orange lighting. It was crazy.
Based on the lifestyle photos we were sent by Perly, it looked like you had a lot of fun, both on and off your board. Can you elaborate?
Umeshu sour [laughs], I had nothing but a good time. That was a big part of my off-hill fun. But getting to know Louif and his sense of humor was the shit too. He’s one of the funniest dudes I think I’ve ever spent time with, and even without meaning to be funny.
Having spent a few years consecutively with him, you just understand that his humor is very dry, but very funny.
Like so dry, but some of the funniest shit will come out of his mouth when you least expect it.
I’ve gone there with Louif before, and was impressed by how second nature it is for him to navigate. I’m assuming he drove?
He didn’t drive any more or less than Wolle and Vlad, but Louif also had this crazy allergic reaction thing going on.
Tell me about that.
We still don’t know exactly what happened, but his eye got all fucked up. We were fucking around with some branches making a fire. My theory is that he touched something and then touched his face. But then somebody also thought that maybe he ate something that triggered it ‘cause I guess he’s allergic to shellfish. It started so chill, just a little welt on his cheek. And then he woke up one morning and came down to breakfast and the whole left side of his face was swollen, like eye almost shut. Like, you should probably go to a hospital. The whole rest of the trip his eye was kind of swollen. So he really didn’t drive a ton.
Damn, that’s harsh.
But even though he wasn’t driving, he was managing where we were going, he had so many pins, he is the pin master. He had all these dams and all these just like, you know, well not to spill his trade secrets, but the man is super dialed with his maps.
There’s no substitute for experience. So you were also with Taka. What was it like hanging out with him?
It was so sick. The language barrier is deep, but we had so many moments that I felt like we were really getting to know each other. Like he has a way of communicating without necessarily talking. I respect him. He’s a father with a few kids, he was in the Olympics, and now he’s just like doing his fucking thing.
Yeah. And I think they all have kids.
Yeah. I think I was the youngest one on that trip by like 10-plus years.
I think you might be right. I think the next youngest might be Louif, and I think he is 36.
And I think Perly, I know Perly is older than Lou.
You might’ve been the youngest by 15 years.
Mm-Hmm. I was 21 at the time. I think I was the youngest by a clean 15.
Did you feel any pressure when you were strapping in, knowing that Wolle and Louif were looking on?
I would love to say, no I was chill, but yeah, 100 percent. Not a weird amount where it would actually make me not want to board or anything. I had a lot of those thoughts going through, like, I should probably look for something pretty fucking big to hit.
To that note, what was the most impressive thing you saw happen on the trip?
Dude, one of the craziest moments actually was not a land, but Taka came into a jump and he’s like 45 or something, I don’t know. But he went so fast and flew almost clean to the other side of the ravine. His knee was a little banged up, but he didn’t break himself off. But I would say, Louif’s back rodeo seven that he did was also a really fucked up one. He had to thread the needle through some trees and the drop-in was all sketchy. Perly had some funny ass moments too. He was cracking me up the whole time.
Yeah, I really miss hanging with him. Did you learn anything in particular from your time being around Louif and Wolle?
There was this conversation I had with Wolle at some point during the trip where I was expressing how stoked I was to be there with them and just really appreciative of it all. And Wolle told me, “Yeah, it’s so sick, but just remember, we’re all just out here doing the same shit. We’ve just been doing it for a longer time. We’re not operating too differently from all the other people you’ve been out with.” That was that that kind of stuck out to me ‘cause I was just like you could do one thing for that many years and you’re definitely gonna pick up on a lot of pretty crucial shit. But at the end of the day we’re definitely all doing the same thing.
Yeah. You found comfort in hearing that from him?
Definitely. But I would say even shit as simple as like, I would be dropping into something and Wolle would be like, “Yo, you should probably flatten out the run-in and, add some kick.” Learning how to build shit with them definitely gave me some insight. Building something realistically, instead of just kind of half-assing it. That’s something you get from riding with dudes who are that fucking dialed.
Louif is the king of that shit. He taught me a lot of really cool tips. I have never really used markers like sticks or anything. He’d tell me to look towards something while I was dropping and sure enough you look at wherever you’re dropping and that’s where you’re gonna go.
I was so impressed to watch him balance family and snowboard lives where I’d film him in Quebec doing some crazy stuff. And then we’d always be home by 6 PM so he could be there for bath time and dinner.
After full days of boarding, going back and Louif and Wolle would both be on FaceTime with their partners and kids. Still maintaining that dope balance, doing the same thing we’re doing, but also keeping in touch with their life back home was pretty sick.
Did you surprise yourself at all on this trip in any way?
Food. I used to be a picky ass eater. Japan kind of helped me to eat a bunch of shit that I thought for sure when I first looked at it I was not gonna like. [laughs]
What was your favorite thing to grab at the convenience store?
These little pancakes with the syrup in the middle of them or the rice triangles, those were both 10 out of 10. And Umeshu sour cans.
Looking back on the experience, is there something that you would’ve done differently?
I didn’t make it to fucking Tokyo. [laughs]
Describe Wolle in three words.
Well, holy shit and powerful. Just what a fucking unit that dude is. One of the biggest inspos to me right now, after being on a trip with him. Dude, he’s 45. My dad is five years older than him and if my dad tried to do anything that I saw him do on that trip, he would explode.
[Laughs] Alright, describe Louif in three words.
Precise, courteous, and motivated pop up off the bat.
Describe Perly in three words.
French, hilarious, and bastard. [laughs]
Describe Taka in three words.
Sensei would be the first one for sure. Maybe the other two could just be powder turn—like, holy shit.
I didn’t know you could make a snowboard look that sick until I saw Taka turning. I wish I had some cool Japanese words to fling out. What’s a word that you could use to describe someone who’s just passionate about their family?
Devoted would be a good one.
Well Luke, that’s all I got. Is there anything that you feel like wasn’t brought up?
Dude, just traveling to get there was fucked up.