2023 is now in the rearview, and with little to no snow in the foreseeable forecast, we have no problem starting the year on a reminiscent note. To ring in 2024, K2 brings it back to their '23 season in the streets of Salt Lake City, Rock Springs, and Muroran, Japan. Endless snowfall in Utah gave way to early (and late) season clips, allowing Aito Ito, Jake Kuzyk, Justin Phipps, Antti Jussila, and Mark Wilson to keep the momentum rolling with a quick trip to the sleepy town of Rock Springs, and then the bulk of it all: Muroran, Japan. Thanks to Google Earth and some inside intel, they explored the port city with a level of finesse that only few can do. As always, Seamus Foster and Marc O'Malley were there to capture it all, bringing us the latest K2 team video to start the year off right.
After giving this a watch (and another watch after that) we were aptly reminded how Seamus' work hits this certain aesthetic cord we're always after. This one felt particularly special, so we decided to talk to the newest K2 team rider, Justin Phipps, and see exactly what happened in Muroran during the making of orange things.
Featuring: Jake Kuzyk, Justin Phipps, Antti Jussila, Mark Wilson, and Aito Ito
Filmed and Edited by: Seamus Foster
So you’re a senior at the University of Utah, and somehow managed to not take any winters off since you moved to Salt Lake. How’d you manage to get your homework done last year while simultaneously filming clips for orange things, dorothy, and tomorrow world?
It definitely wasn’t easy. I was taking nine credits while filming last winter. I pretty much just ended up spending my nights on trips doing homework to make sure I stayed caught up. It can be hard at times when you're trying to focus on filming, meanwhile you're tripping about some essay that's due that same night that you haven’t even started yet.
Who on the K2 team would be most inclined to help you with an essay on that trip?
Jake Kuzyk for sure, and I say that because he was kind of a mentor for me while in Japan. Whether it was giving advice on tricks or just straight up encouragement, Jake was always down to keep me going. With that said, I feel like he’d probably have the best advice if I ever needed some tutoring [laughs].
What was the best and worst grade you got last winter?
I got an A in some marketing class called Making Brands Stick, and funny enough the worst grade I got was a B in History of Dinosaurs.
Most interesting thing you learned in History of Dinosaurs?
I remember learning about this quarry in Utah where a bunch of dinosaur bones can be found. From what I remember, scientists think the water in the quarry was toxic, and after a bunch of dinosaurs drank it they died in their tracks. Now, there's a bunch of fossilized remains at the quarry which is pretty cool.
What did you tell your teachers to be able to spend 2 weeks in Muroran, JP. to film for orange things?
I didn’t really tell my teachers anything before I left for Japan. The hardest thing for me was keeping track of due dates since the time difference was so big (+16 hours). Assignments would be due in the middle of the day instead of at night. I had to ask for a few extensions, but my professors were chill with it.
The last thing I’d be worried about is an assignment when I’m 5,114 miles away, snowboarding outside of the US for the first time. What stuck out to you when compared to Salt Lake, Rock Springs, and anywhere else you filmed for the video?
It was insane getting to snowboard outside the US for the first time. What stuck out to me was the spots—I’ve never seen so many cool features in such close quarters that, for the most part, were untouched. Rock Springs and Salt Lake City were pretty much the opposite which made Japan feel like a playground.
Mark Wilson also tipped us off to a few other moments that seemed to have stuck out to you. Let’s start from the beginning, the moment you left the airport to Muroran.
That was probably the most terrifying shuttle ride of my life. I don’t know what time it was, but it was the middle of the night, I was super jet-lagged, and there was a complete blizzard outside. I assumed it would be a while before we got to the hotel. To my surprise, we immediately got into the shuttle, and without hesitation, the driver got in and started ripping us down this road covered in five inches of fresh snow. There was barely any visibility. It didn’t take long before we got to our hotel, but all I remember was sitting in the back of this transit van panicking, while staring at the road hoping we’d all make it in one piece.
Once you made it to Muroran, it sounds like there was a pretty interesting housing situation. Something along the lines of being confined to one small hotel room for the whole trip? What was the high and low of that accommodation?
We stayed in this hotel in the city for a little over two weeks. The rooms were small and had two twin beds each with a tiny bathroom, but they were cozy. The high was the free beer vending machine in the lobby that ran on tokens given to us by the front desk. We definitely took advantage. The low was having to eat the same hotel breakfast everyday, which, for me, consisted of some watered down scrambled eggs and a few pieces of bacon soaked in gelatin. After the first week or so, I resorted to mainly eating the pastries.
Was there any other food that made up for that?
For sure, the food we had out there was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Muroran is in Hokkaido which I guess is known to be the birthplace of miso ramen. It did not disappoint. Aside from the ramen, my favorite part about the food was getting a whole five course meal of snacks and microwave yakisoba at the 7-Eleven for under $10.
Rumor has it there was a pretty wild kick out, too. What happened there?
[laughs] Yeah that was an interesting one, coined Old Man Winter by Marc O’Malley. We were out getting a clip for Mark Wilson on the third day of the trip. It was a down-flat-down creeper rail starting up in someone's yard, and across the street was another house that had a guard rail in the driveway to separate it from the road. After a few tries, Mark landed the trick and as he rode across the street he put up a little boardslide on that guardrail in the run out, ever so slightly leaving a scratch in the paint.
A few minutes later, we noticed an old man step out of the house to look at the guardrail Mark scratched. He started saying something to us in Japanese while pointing at the rail, so we apologized and decided it was best to pack up and leave. As we put our stuff in the van, the man got more aggressive and a woman stepped out of the front door to let us know that the cops were on the way and that we needed to wait. Somewhat scared and trying to avoid the police, we hurried to secure the van just as Old Man Winter throws himself in the way of the trunk, making it so we can’t close it without shutting it directly on him. Jake and Marc then chimed in, moving the man so we could drive away. After some struggle, we closed the trunk and left them behind, driving down some sketchy backroad dodging a lady with her dog to escape Old Man Winter. After that we went to look for Marc and Jake and found them at a gas station. We then headed off to the next spot.
Shortly after, Mark got a call from the rental car company saying the cops were looking for us and that we needed to go to the police station. We spent the remainder of the day going back and forth with the police over the phone, and the language barrier made it hard to understand where exactly we were supposed to meet them. After some time, we met up with them at the police station, and they helped us negotiate a deal with the man. They agreed that they would follow us to the man’s house where we would apologize face-to-face and pay for the damage to his guardrail—which ended up being like 50 USD. Relieved that we wouldn’t be spending the night in a jail cell, we headed back to the hotel and made the decision to stay out of peoples’ yards from then on.
The language barrier definitely didn't do you any service. Aside from taking Japanese 101 next semester, what’s the biggest takeaway from that trip with K2?
Learning risk vs reward was huge for me. I’ve never filmed with such a heavy crew of veterans like that before, so I was able to learn a lot from them. Specifically, knowing whether or not certain spots were worth taking the time to film compared to how high the risk of injury was. Being young, that’s not something I’ve considered to be important, but now it’s something I think about all the time—especially because I want to do this as long as I can.