Freestyle in Fukushima

This winter, you could head out to try your luck on the slopes, or perhaps you’d prefer to leave it to the pros. No matter which camp you fit into, this snow season won’t be complete without a trip to Fukushima from March 6 – 7 for the International Ski Federation’s Freestyle World Cup. This event promises non-stop action and acrobatics – on ice (well, snow actually, but you get the picture).
Freestyle skiing has grown from its early unofficial days in the 70s to an internationally recognized activity and Olympic event. This year’s World Cup, held in Inawashiro in Fukushima prefecture, will feature competitors from over 30 nations. In addition to some of the largest and most intense slopes in Japan, Fukushima features scenic Lake Inawashiro, home to thousands of swans during the winter months.
So what exactly does freestyle skiing look like? Each school has its own signature moves, but on the whole you can expect jaw-dropping jumps, terrifying twists, and stupefying stunts, all performed at a stunning speed. For the World Cup, the sport is broken down into five categories: Moguls, Dual Moguls, Ski Cross, Aerials, and Halfpipe.
Moguls are the most popular event of the competition and also an Olympic sport in their own right. More than just a race, this breathtaking spectacle on the slope features technical turns and maneuvers in the air. Oh, and let’s not forget, some of the best skiers in the world propelling themselves down the mountain at mind-blowing angles and speeds.
For double the trouble, dual moguls have the same speed, turns, and maneuvers, only this time two skiers go head to head against each other. Making it to the end of the course first is not a guaranteed win, though, since competitors are judged not solely on speed, but also on their agility and grace.
If a straightforward race is more your style, be sure to check out the Ski Cross event, where four competitors barrel through the course to see who is the fastest. Just be sure not to blink or you might miss all the action.
The Aerials competition – also now recognized as an Olympic sport – challenges the very basics of skiing by abandoning the poles. In this acrobatic display of agility, skiers jump into the air and use their arms to help them gracefully spin and somersault for several heart-stopping moments before landing.
While freestyle is already a departure from traditional skiing, the Halfpipe competition is part of the “new school” breed of the sport, and takes its cues from other extreme sports with a halfpipe component such as skateboarding and snowboarding. In the new school, skiers don’t even need a slope. They simply perform their stunts in a curved arena – the perfect venue for flaunting their flips and twists.
The venues for the Freestyle World Cup competitions are split among several local resorts. The Moguls, Dual Moguls, and Aerial events will take place at Listel Ski Fantasia, an incredibly challenging course that boasts a 37° fall line. Snow Paradise Inawashiro – a course promising unparalleled views of nearby natural wonder Lake Inawashiro – will host the Ski Cross event. The Halfpipe competition will be held at Alts Bandai, one of the largest courses in the country.
Hotels in Bandai and Inawashiro offer accommodation just a few minutes away from the action. There are also courses for all levels of ability, so whether you’re ready to enter the competition or not you should be able to fit in some time on the slopes for yourself. Perhaps the real highlights are the local hot springs, the perfect place to unwind after a tough day on (or watching) the slopes.

Story by melissa feineman
From J SELECT Magazine, February 2010