Thinking of hitting the slopes this winter? The snow is already falling and Gunma just so happens to have some of the best snow and ski hills in all of Japan. It would be a crying shame to miss out on all that fresh pow! Whether you are a seasoned rider or a newbie, there are plenty of opportunities to ride your heart out all winter long!
Perhaps when packing the essentials for Japan you could not quite cram your snowboard into your two allotted pieces of luggage, but fear not as you have come to the country of ‘new! new! new!’ Japanese people, for the most part, stay up on the latest gear and fashion every season, renewing their stock of skis and snowboards as soon as the snow starts to fall. This means our favorite used clothing and furniture shops (namely HardOff) can be chalk full of barely-used gear for relatively low prices. Unless you are a hard-core rider planning to go out every weekend (like me!) I would not recommend shelling out the outrageous prices for new gear. The gear you can find at HardOff is as good as anything, and can likely fit any budget.
As a side note, all ski hills (and ski hill towns) offer rentals at reasonable prices. You can rent anything from snowboards/skis and boots to jackets, pants, goggles, and helmets. If you are really green and only plan on hitting the slopes once or twice this winter, you are likely better off to go the rental-route. However, rentals and lift tickets and transportation and food and beer can add up as the season goes on, and with the relatively cheap prices of used gear here in Japan, I recommend buying your own stuff if you plan on heading out more than two times.
If you have never purchased snowboard or ski gear before it can be a daunting task. What size, brand, style, and budget should you be looking at? Well, that really depends on what you plan on doing…
I can only speak for snowboarding gear as I have never strapped a pair of skis to my feet in my life. I hope all the two-plankers can forgive me for my utter lack of knowledge in that field.
Boots are mega important when it comes to shredding pow on the hill. After all, your feet are strapped in these things for six or eight hours in a day. Bad boots = a bad day!
The first thing you need to decide is weather you want strap-in or step-in boots. Strap-in boots are just your regular boot that fits inside a snowboard binding and are literally strapped in. They are versatile and can work with most binding combos, and are by far the most common. Step-in boots however have a metal piece on the bottom that corresponds with a particular metal binding piece. If you go with step-ins you will have to use the corresponding bindings. My personal preference is strap-in boots/bindings as they are more versatile, and far more supportive while riding. However, step-ins are very easy to use and perhaps better for newbies. Not many companies are making step-ins anymore, so you may have trouble finding them these days.
When looking at used boots, make sure they are in decent condition. Check the laces, the tongue, and the lining. Rips are tears are not a problem, but old warn boots may not keep your toes warm. Boots on the stiffer side are better, so give the boots a push and tug and check their stiffness. If they are as floppy as your favorite Uggs they are not going to support your ankles when you are riding. A little bit of give is good, but they should essentially push your leg forward and support your ankle. Watch for heel lift when trying on your boots — if you bend your knees and your heals lift inside the boot they will not be supportive on those toe-side turns. Lock your ankles in those suckers and make sure your heels stay flat on the ground. Try on a lot of boots to find the perfect pair.
Once you have got your boots down, head over to the snowboards and take a look. Picking out the right board can be a daunting task. There are many brands and styles on the market, and for a newbie it can be hard to sort through the masses.
The snowboard you choose should be in decent condition with relatively few scratches and dents. Make sure there is no peeling and it has good clean edges. Small scratches and chips on the bottom can be repaired with a simple wax job. Look for brands like Burton, Ride, Forum, Option, K2, Nitro, Salomon, Rossignal, Lamar etc.
The snowboard you choose needs to be the proper length for you. A good rule of thumb is that when standing beside your board, it should come up somewhere between your chin and nose. This differs slightly depending on what kind of riding you are doing, but for beginners, if your board is too long it will be difficult to maneuver, and if it is too short it will be unstable.
Push down on your board to check it’s flex. The board should flex easily in the center with a little force. A board that is too stiff will just hinder a beginner snowboarder.
Most used boards will likely have a pair of bindings already attached. Beginners need not worry about the complexity of binding technology. As long as the straps strap together, the rackets work properly, and the boots fit snugly inside, you are smooth sailing. If you go the step-in route, check that the metal bits on the boots fit in properly and feel comfortable.
Look at spending between 10,000円 and 30,000円 on a good beginners set-up (boards, boots & bindings). Having your own gear will save time and money this winter and keep you motivated to get out of your kotatsu and shred some of Gunma’s amazing powder!
Happy Snowboard Shopping, Gunma!