Two kids from the Canadian Rockies come full circle in the Land of the Rising Sun hed and dek
Featuring - @Carter McMillan & @Adam McCraw | photos by @Reuben Krabbe
On a calm February day in the Japanese Alps, the steady, old chairlift of Tsugaike Ski Resort ekes forward with the comfortable sway of a mama rocking her babies. Adam McCraw and Carter McMillan sit cradled in it, watching foreign terrain pass by as though it were a mobile, but they’re more like sugar-high teenagers, vibrating at the chance to break free. Ten hours in a metal tube, comfortably cruising the upper reaches of the atmosphere, is all it takes to cross the Pacific these days. You can fall asleep in North America, and wake up in the Land of The Rising Sun . But when McCraw and McMillan first opened their eyes in the most consistent powder destination on earth, for them, it represented a much longer journey.
The two frenetic skiers had come a long way since their early days one-upping each other on the chalky slopes of Lake Louise Ski Resort , near Banff, Alberta, and in an even more impressive feat, managed to do it together. Following in the footsteps of a hearty crew of Canadian legends that emerged from the Rocky Mountains in the mid-2000s, their respective hard-charging exploits quickly raised them from locally famous resort rats to some of the most threatening skiers on the North American big-mountain competition circuit.
Now, edging into their late 20s, the whimsical best friends have taken a step away from judges’ eyes and into the world of adventure skiing. Forever side by side, it’s a partnership that feeds on itself and has infused their unique brand of full-throttle soul skiing with years of on-the-spot hijinks, empty wallets and ex-girlfriends who couldn’t deal. If Peter Pan were twinned, you’d have these two.
Bright eyed in the brand-new Neverland of Japan, they indiscriminately pound canned hot expressos from vending machines, eat sugary “rice triangles” from 7-Eleven, and imbibe in every cultural and dietary nuance they can, splintering the tenants of the otherwise formal and orderly society as they pinball through it. Photographer Reuben Krabbe even has to convince them not to jump from the chairlift in their uncontained excitement.
The unlikely trio has set out on a mission to capture the essence of Japanese big-mountain skiing on some of the most technical spines in the world, above the town of Hakuba. But their energies couldn’t be more different: Krabbe’s calm academic reserve against the two Albertans’ golden-retriever-like scattered wonder—and complete lack of reserve. The great equalizer, though, is the setting. It’s dreamlike as they slide off the lift and into an otherworldly forest they’ve discovered leads to a nearby bowl full of undulating prows that feed down technical ribbed features with a 400-metre plunge on either side, and not a single track.
Around it, patches of spindly deciduous trees weave together over the mountainside propping up sagging white cushions of snow right out of a Dr. Seuss book. Above, the 3,100-metre volcanic peaks look as though God dragged his fingernails down them.
“This is the coolest terrain I’ve ever seen,” says McMillan. “I call that spine,” answers McCraw, simply jockeying into place. The team’s nailed a rare, stable window between storms to explore the entire bandwidth of these mountains, and they’re wringing every moment from it.
McMillan drops first, drifting from edge to edge, evading his slough masterfully as he airplane turns along the ribbed flanks, over geothermal glide cracks, linking every turn with the experience of someone who’s been memorizing lines in competition since his teens. He straight-runs out the bottom before the ensuing cloud of snow has any chance to catch up.
McCraw goes next on a similar feature, keeping higher on it and pointing his skis more down the fall line. As he accelerates, he commits to an air off the spine and into the trough between he and McMillan’s line. He points it straight to the bottom before any snow can bowl him over, and slides safely up to his cohort with an immediate high five as they each howl.
“They weren’t lying about these guys,” Krabbe pronounces, “they’re a handful.” Farther down the mountain, they race to bounce off pillows, gap over cat tracks and jib the native foliage. Each knows the other’s movements intimately; they lay turns in braids as they slash, spin and give chase like sparrows. At the bottom, they ditch their boots, buy beers and plunge their feet into a complimentary foot onsen—or outdoor hot spring.
Standing like a lighthouse at six-foot-five, McCraw’s dark crew cut and clean-shaven mug are a stark contrast to McMillan’s surfer veneer—a thin blond half-beard and sideways mane of unkempt hair that frames his constant jubilation. Even amongst the scores of other Westerners, these two are glowing. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” McMillan beams. “I can’t believe we made it to Japan together,” McCraw answers.