Behind the Scenes in the Niseko backcountry

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As winter snowfall buries Japan, the world's top professional skiers and snowboarders descend upon the island of Hokkaido in the country's far north.

Here, storm after storm races across the Sea of Japan, dumping powder snow on the island's coastal mountains from December until late March.

There's just no place like it.

Pia Nic Gunderson under the frosty trees on Mt. Yotei. Matt Standal Photo

Last February, I had the opportunity to work with Arc'teryx photographer Angela Percival and athletes Greg Hill and Pia Nic Gunderson.

The crew was on a last-minute assignment to knock off photos for the 2015 Arc'teryx catalog. Since I was working as a photographer in Niseko, I volunteered to show them around in a giant diesel van.

It only makes sense for dozens of film crews, professional photographers, and other industry players to follow the storms and the amazing conditions they bring.

It's also here that the increasingly-westernized enclave known as Niseko serves as a hub for the adventure.

Greg Hill submarining in the Niseko resort backcountry. Matt Standal Photo

So what's Niseko really like?

You could find yourself sipping a cold Sapporo in a noodle house next to Greg Hill or Pia Nic any day. Maybe you'd run into Chris Benchetler or Sean Pettit, then spot Travis Rice or John Jackson or the crew from Sweetgrass Films, TGR, or Poor Boyz at the 7/11 later.

Or, you could simply head to the backcountry and never see a soul.

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