The Middle Path Project
Close your eyes. . . imagine a future without the winters we know and love. Visualize standing in the lift line as rain pours from the sky, where dry snowflakes once softly fell. Picture chair lifts sitting idle, high above barren ground, as water streams down the hillside. It’s mid February and the resorts based in lower elevations haven’t even opened. Powder days are few and far between. When the snow does show up, it's sloppy and wet as you search the forecast every week, hoping and praying for colder temperatures. Now open your eyes and realize that this future I speak of is already happening. This was the story for us in Washington State-USA in the winter season of 2014-15. Many resorts never opened, and most were shut down by the end of February. I could count the total dry powder days on one hand.
This was the first season of filming for The Middle Path Project; a series designed to open our eyes as to how we affect the environment of this world around us, and how to be more aware of our impact as individuals. How do our adventures as snow enthusiasts negatively affect the season we hold so dear to our heart, and how do our every day actions affect the eco system? Most all of our plans were based in Washington or British Columbia, Canada for that winter. We tried to stick it out as long as we could in hopes that a typical season would show up, but it never did. Days upon days I sat staring out of my mountain house window, watching the rain pour from the sky. Our resort was about 1,000 vertical feet too low. The warm temperatures were giving the mountain peaks snow, but the lower half of the mountain was only getting rain. Needless to say this was a reality check in our dream land. The lack of winter and the warm temperatures only drove the obvious need for awareness deeper into my mind.
Feeling incomplete after our first season filming for the project we were determined to accomplish a second season. The list of issues to speak about is endless, so topics relating to our snowboard travels were bountiful. We needed to be more flexible and prepared for a winter like the previous one. In our minds the place with the most consistent snowfall season after season was Japan. Every January for years on end we heard the tales of 3 foot storms and waste deep powder, for what seemed to be for a month straight. Not one of us had ever been there, and we hadn’t flown anywhere the entire season before. We had learned that this form of travel has the harshest effect on the world. Who knew that burning jet fuel could have such a negative impact? With this project we wanted to be real and take on day to day issues, knowing that millions of people fly every day. Weighing out our desires, and the consequences of those desires, is the key to the Middle Path Project. With a little more research we discovered that if we each planted 25 trees we could easily offset our carbon footprint created from the burning of the jet fuel. The dream was suddenly becoming a reality and through the adventure, I knew there would be great lessons learned, and a heightened awareness to be shared.
Living a lifestyle not based on monetary gains makes month long trips across the world a bit tricky. It takes a real LIFE pro to get that balance dialed. The experienced crew aligned for the adventure ahead. Sean, Mark, Tyler, Jordan, Ryan and myself decided to go in early February. Our hopes were in favor of a nice base being established, to form pillows and spines. With fear in our minds from the season before, we also wanted to cover our ass, and make sure we had something to work with. Mother Nature once again was not complying with our self made list of dreams and desires. Japanuary had not arrived and once again we were faced with our plans being disrupted by a lack of winter. We had all of our eggs in one basket- Hakuba. Through all of our connections of friends that had traveled there and what we had seen from edits already produced, this was the destination we were set on. In our minds the North Island just didn’t have the terrain we yearned for. Steep lines, spines, flutes, pillows, chutes, all of these things were talked about in this one location- Hakuba. The North was getting the snow but we weren’t looking to plow through waist deep powder down hills barely steep enough to slash. We wanted to be scared and holding on to a wild ride.
It wasn't an easy choice to pull the trigger on going to Japan. Hearing labels of worst season in decades had our minds churning. Up until the week we were supposed to take off, we were still discussing pulling out. We'd heard rumors that brought back nightmares of the season prior. Chairs not spinning, snow not coming, pillows not formed, and face shots not happening. It was a dangerous choice in retrospect, but something pulled Sean- the videographer- and I to make the commitment. It took some convincing to get the guys to invest their hard earned money into what looked like a terrible decision, but fortunately they trusted in our intuition. We boarded the plane and took off to the land of the rising sun.
I set out on a personal journey to make as little impact on Japan as I could. By committing to collect my trash for the whole trip, I could reflect on the garbage trail I leave behind in the places I visit. I was determined to bring home what couldn’t be recycled and in turn have less of an impact on some one else’s homeland. We are all just visitors to this planet as a whole, so this appears to be a universal approach that should wisely be applied to how each of us live.
Trash was one of the first issues that really connected with my vision for a better way. How insane it is that a species so advanced in some technologies, still creates materials that aren’t bio degradable. Instead they dig big holes in the ground, and bury this non-compostable material . . . leaving it for a future generation to deal with. All the while that it lays buried... these toxic products leach chemicals into our soil and our waterways. That is how we do it in the US. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the strategy. We wrap our extraordinary little plastic bins with magical plastic bags to stick all of our plastic garbage in. Then a waste management magician comes and takes it all away, eliminating the need to ever be concerned about the ramifications or the impact of this constant and never-ending flow of toxic waste. How convenient!
Getting from the airport in Tokyo to our destination was no small task. Language barriers, missed busses, and long strolls through roads had us on a journey from the beginning. After searching by braille through the darkness of night the crew finally got settled in Hakuba. We found ourselves in a room situated at the bottom of Happo-one. The 6 of us were anxious to learn the bus system and how to get to and from the 10 resorts situated in and around town. Japan must have felt us making a conscious effort because she laid out the white carpet. Just days before we showed up it had begun to snow. The base areas were barren right before we arrived and it seemed to be another winter that wasn’t going to show. The story was very similar to ours the year before. Snowing up high and raining at the bottom. This provided a very unique recipe for interesting adventures. The high alpine had a very dense, stable snow pack. It would snow a bit most every day and then the sun would show its face for safe adventures in the new snow. Low terrain had very low snow coverage so some of the runs down to the road got pretty hairy on the way out. We picked our way around town and took in which resorts were best for each particular day. We found Cortina and Tsugaika were best on stormy days, in the trees with low visibility. Goryu and Happo-one held the rock star big mountain terrain to race to on sunny powder days.
Our minds were blown away by the terrain and the scale of the Japanese Alps. Every corner we turned or peak we summited revealed another oasis. We connected with local legends Shin Biyajima, Kenji Kato, Endo, and Die-Go. They opened their hearts and exposed us to some of the hidden gems tucked away in the Zen filled alpine. Spine arms that went from mountain top to valley floor, each arm had what seemed to be hundreds of smaller spine arms that branched off from them. Chutes, pillows, all of our dreams were tucked in the nooks and crannies of Hakuba’s backcountry.
We didn’t only come to Japan for great shred, but also to soak in another cultural influence on the planet. Were the people here more ecologically aware than our people? What kind of systems were in place in Hakuba for trash, recycling and reuse? The first thing that caught my eye was the amount of packaging in each and every store. Sometimes things were wrapped 3 times in one package. The amount of plastic used was shocking. Walking through Lawson convenient store, it was tough to find anything not thoroughly wrapped in plastic. We share this problem in my home country, due to a lack of awareness of what ends up happening with all of those plastic materials. Our Oceans carry the frightening results of this neglectful manner of dealing with our non biodegradable waste. As I walked the streets and visited the local resorts I did encounter a much more advanced recycling system; bottle cap recycling and several bins for all sorts of materials. That was very inspiring to see! The PET program for single use plastic bottles was also advanced. After taking a visit to the local incinerator we got a deeper look into the systems of the city. We observed the separating of reusable materials, the process of incinerating, and how a different culture views its trash, as well as waste management. I did sense a similar disconnection to the process, much like I feel here in the states.
What the Middle Path Project originally set out to do was look deeper into cause and effect. Through this knowledge we can begin to change, and create a closer connection with the karmic results of our actions. Regardless of how we treat our trash, there is no where to throw it away. It will always be a part of the system. So instead we should look into how to stop creating “trash”; especially the kind that does not readily decompose. All of our negative impact affects the echo system, and you can see the toxic effect of man in every system. From ocean acidification, deforestation, soil degradation, air pollution to climate change. It is all one big system that in the end will affect our winters for the coming generations... and even our own.
The trip came to an end and I was sitting with a mountain of trash. I sorted through every piece, recycled what I could, and sent paper products to the incinerator. The rest I brought home to the US to put into our plastic recycling programs and our own landfill. Why do we have the right to visit other people’s homes and leave our trash? Why do we have the right to do it in our own homes? The generations to come will eventually have to deal with our destructive unconscious decisions. Through our experiences in Hakuba Japan we were able to learn and grow. Curiosity of how other people do things sparked many ideas of how we can strive to do them better. We rode spines, mingled with Serow’s, jumped down pillows, got scared, ate ramen, onsened as much as we could, drank sake, and most importantly gained awareness. Hakuba treated us with great hospitality and it will always have a special place in our hearts. With a bag full of trash, I awkwardly hopped onto my flight home.
In our minds we have created imaginary boundaries that separate us in too many ways. States, countries, religions, beliefs, ethnicities, these delusions exist in fragile agreements that we unconsciously fabricate as truth. When we start talking about the preservation of this planet, those lines immediately disappear. Air, Water, Pollution, Contamination, these things don’t abide to such man made hallucinations. If the people where I live unconsciously destroy “their” land, air, and waterways- it destroys a significant part of the one planet we share. It’s time to unite as one species, and begin to share in the caring for the one being that sustains the very things necessary for a happy healthy life. What on Earth would we do without her?
Thank You Hakuba. Peace and Powder- The Middle Path Project