Creating the Hokkaido Backcountry Project

Pilot Inada-san lands his helicopter on Shiribetsu-Dake in the Hokkaido Backcountry – Photo: Clayton Kernaghan

I’ve been working with Black Diamond Lodge in Niseko, Japan along with Dragon Helicopter from the island of Honshu to create the Hokkaido Backcountry Project Kickstarter.

Building a Kickstarter can be difficult — especially when you’re working with partners in different time zones.

To better pursue our goal, I have researched and built a custom video editing computer, purchased a compact camera capable of shooting 4K video, and invested most of my savings into preparing a variety of camera and sound equipment for my journey to northern Japan.

Funding this project has been much more involved than I expected.

As producer of a soon-to-be, small-budget documentary, I needed to clearly summarize our idea, and work with my partners in Japan to produce a compelling written and video framework asking for financial support.

To do that, I had to research the most cost-effective video editing components and software, increase my knowledge of the Ultra-High Definition shooting environment, and plan for a three-camera shoot.

While developing this Kickstarter, I’ve also learned a great deal about crowdfunding — mostly that it’s not easy. I’ll be honest, even the concept of crowdfunding was relatively obscure to me until a few months ago.

That’s when I met professional sound man James Demer on the set of CBS Survivor in Nicaragua. Demer had invented a rugged boombox from a Pelican Case and leftover speaker parts while shooting a documentary in Alaska.

The original Demerbox had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and inspired me to get onboard with the service too. 

Over the years, Survivor crew members paid for several handmade versions of the “Demer Box,” bringing them to far-flung locations across the world.

Demer eventually decided he’d like to improve the product and sell it to audiophiles everywhere. He refined his waterproof design, added Bluetooth technology, and even worked with Pelican Case to produce them ready for assembly into Demerboxes. Demer’s Kickstarter project received funding in excess of $80,000.

Backers of my Kickstarter are funding something you can’t build in a factory.

When we first developed the Hokkaido Backcountry Project, Clayton and Makoto agreed that our goal was to show the beautiful island of Hokkaido while highlighting the need for increased safety and better access to the backcountry. What we’re also trying to do is show how this type of documentary can help rally the local ski community and expand the boundaries of outdoor journalism to include promoting social change.

Whether you like the idea of a heli ski operation – or not – this project is focused on showcasing the potential of the Hokkaido ski community to recognize and respond to the changes required for increased safety and responsible backcountry access.

I’ve had critics attack this project in online forums and in via email, saying the Hokkaido Backcountry Project Kickstarter is simply a vehicle to promote motorized recreation. Some contend that pristine Japanese wilderness shouldn’t be spoiled by the sound of an engine and equate helicopter skiing and snowboarding to a wasteful practice only available to the wealthy.

In reality, the Japanese wilderness is pristine and beautiful, but its visitors are growing in numbers. The demand for access is only increasing, and the need for increased safety and standardized backcountry practices is too.

I believe that by showcasing these issues, we can promote safety and advocate for a better skiing experience in northern Japan.

Getting out for some preseason resort skiing in Niseko, Photo: Shin Doi