Travis Rice is holding court. He’s smiling, bearded, giddy in a crisp blue kimono. Shin Biyajima waves over his shoulder. Travis just won the Freeride World Tour event in Hakuba. That’s where we were supposed to meet them.
“It’s Michelin-level food,” Travis says, referring to an ephemeral ryokan in the Japanese Alps somewhere beyond Yuzawa. “You guys have to get up here.”
Never mind the price tag.
On the other side of the screen, seven of us huddle together to grin back at Travis. Elena Hight organized this crew, the first trip of her two-year project with Teton Gravity Research. Hana Beaman’s joined her, along with RED cam operators Gabe Langlois and Sean Aaron, producer Justin Fann, TGR photographer/production assistant Leslie Hittmeier, and me.
We’re in the basement of a 10-story, concrete monolith of a hotel, buffet tickets in hand. Vacationers shuffle by in decidedly midrange kimonos, headed for the onsen down the hall. While less visually appealing than the exclusive natural springs where Travis and Shin are currently ensconced, the water is pure. There’s so much hydrothermal activity in Yuzawa that hot water literally gushes out of the streets to keep the town’s tight, two-lane streets clear of inch-an-hour snowfall. The onsen’s revitalizing mineral odor mingles with that of our impending meal plan: roast beef, crab legs, five varieties of miso soup and more…