Edit from Rusutsu, Sapporo Teine, Kamui Ski Links & Mount Racey
What an epic couple of weeks! Usually over Christmas and New Year we take a couple of weeks off to travel somewhere outside Japan. This year, we took the time off, but stayed in Hokkaido to travel around with a few friends and ski.
There’s no denying we had a slightly slow start to the season this year, and this was very apparent at Rusutsu over Christmas from the amount of sasa bamboo and tree branches still poking through the snow. But the snow started really cranking when we arrived on Christmas Eve, and just didn’t stop. It got so good that we decided to book another night in a hotel there to squeeze in an extra day skiing as the snow was so damn good.
After Christmas we had friends, James and Daphne, arriving from the UK. We’d lined up a mix of Sapporo before New Year followed by a trip up to Asahikawa for a couple of days in early January.
Initially the snow at Teine was up there with the best snow they’d ever had in Europe, although to us it was decidedly average. We still had fun picking our way through the trees to find decent powder stashes, but unfortunately it wasn’t the best Teine has to offer.
After a big night out on New Years Eve, and a mellow New Years Day, we drove up to Asahikawa. On the first day at Kamui Ski Links the snow was good and a lot lighter than Teine. We hit the backside and the lines down the spine under the gondola. Even with relatively long lines for the gondola, the trees and backside areas remained largely untracked.
By day 2, after a solid night of snowfall Kamui was even better. The snow was really deep and confidence was soaring. Some bigger drops were going down, and pillows were getting boosted with deep soft landings.
Heading back home from Iwamizawa, we caught the negative side of Hokkaido’s insane snowfall. The Expressway was closed and the main north-south road was gridlocked thanks to 1 metre of snowfall in Central Sorachi. Eventually we got home and dug ourselves back into our parking space. Looking around at all the fresh snow, we figured that the following day, the last of the holidays, would be a pretty good time to hit Mount Racey at Yubari.
It turned out to be one of the best days we’ve had in Hokkaido. The snowfall in Iwamizawa area had continued Eastwards and intensified as it hit the mountains at Yubari. The ski area got absolutely pounded and to top it off, the sun came out in the morning to give us the dream combo of snow and sun. Lap after lap on the gondola gave us chest deep blower powder in the trees and incredible faceshots in the steeper terrain in Happy Valley. A perfect day to round off James and Daphne’s trip and one for us to remember for a long time.
I took a load of video over the 2 weeks, and will try to edit it down into something watchable. Hopefully. For now, here’s a mini edit from an insane day at Mount Racey.
Back to ‘work’ and ‘reality’ as of yesterday. But we have a three day weekend coming up and another big snowstorm brewing tomorrow…….
Finally! After seeing most of our snow disappear over the past week or two, winter returned and we had our first full weekend riding for the season. On Saturday, we hit Kiroro. First time we’ve been there for a couple of years despite always promising ourselves we’ll go. The Otaru area has been receiving most of the snow so far so we were hopeful of good conditions. Heading inland over the mountain pass from Otaru and down to Kiroro was like travelling forward in time to mid January – heavy snowfall and big snowbanks on the side of the road. The snow on the hill was awesome, deep and light. Still a little bit too much sasa to venture too far off of the marked trails, but it was knee deep on piste so we were more than happy!
I’ve said this too many times, but we really have to head down to Kiroro mid season when the whole mountain is open and the snow is really cranking!
On Sunday, on our way to Sapporo Teine, we got the word that the lifts were shut because of the strong winds. This is the biggest drawback for Teine, as it’s so close to the sea, it often gets really strong winds. Waiting in the lodge with a big crew, a decision had to be made between heading out to do something, or staying inside for morning beers. Mike, Cory and I decided on hiking a small way up the hill and building a kicker. We found a nice little windlip, built a takeoff and set up a pole jam type feature. We were soon joined by our buddy from Mount Racey, Shinya. Even though the landing only had sketchy snow cover, some decent tricks were going down.
Eventually the lifts opened up, so everyone got out for the afternoon. We had nice little patches of powder in the trees and under the lifts. The sun came out too at points, so the mood was good. Especially for those that got stuck into the birus at 10:00am!
Video from the weekend:
We’re back to the waiting game. After my last post and the excitement of early powder turns, we had a week of waiting, expecting more snow. By the following Saturday the lifts did open at Teine as expected. What wasn’t expected was that we were riding the first chair of the season with the hood down, protecting us from the rain. Not exactly the most stoked we’ve ever been on opening day.
Opening day was ok. Skiing is skiing and is always fun. But with soggy outerwear and snow slow, we didn’t last more than a couple of hours before retreating to the lodge to pore over weather forecasts on our phones and promise ourselves that tomorrow would be better.
However, as we were consoling ourselves over a beer that evening, the news came in. Lifts closed until more snow falls. More snow didn’t fall. For another 10 days. A few ski areas in Hokkaido (Kiroro, Kokusai and Kurodake) had enough snow to stay open for that period, albeit with only one or two trails open, but everywhere else – closed.
Which brings us where we are today. Snow is falling, and has been for the past 48 hours or so. Hopefully bases are being rebuilt in the hills and we’ll have enough to get skiing this Saturday. The waiting game sucks.
After a disappointing trip out to our local ski hill to find not enough snow to build a kicker or even make turns, I was browsing Instagram on Saturday evening. I knew it had been snowing a bit at Teine, but the pictures I saw showed people scoring deep snow and powder turns. A few texts were exchanged and we quickly decided to head down to Teine for a hike the next morning!
There were quite a few tracks on the hill by Sunday morning, but we still got our fair share of fresh lines after hiking to the summit. Hiking for an hour is definitely worth it when you can get powder and faceshots in mid-November!
Hopefully this’ll bode well for opening day next Saturday. There is about 40-50cm of snow currently, and a bit more is expected to fall in the week. There is the dreaded rain cloud appearing in the forecast for Friday, but that should turn to snow by Saturday morning. So fingers crossed we should have a fun opening weekend!
Finally, we’re getting the first real snowfall in Iwamizawa (and all across Hokkaido.) It snowed through last night and is continuing now. About 10cm has accumulated. If the forecast is correct and it continues for the next few days, we might get some skiing in somewhere this coming weekend….
Skis are waxed and ready, season passes are bought, winter tyres are on the car. All we need is more snow!
With the season just around the corner, the snow is starting to fall and accumulate on most of the taller mountains around Hokkaido. The past couple of weekends we’ve been hiking in the hills, getting some good training for our legs and enjoying great views of snowy peaks and autumn colours.
Last weekend we hiked Mt Teine. Instead of going up the frontside where the ski area is, we took the hiking trail around the back of the mountain. The trail follows a beautiful valley past a load of waterfalls and then takes a steep course through a boulder field between the cliffs on the backside of Teine. From the summit we had the classic Teine view of the city and Sea of Japan. Further to the north, we could see the snow capped Daisetsuzan range in the distance.
To the south we saw the peak of Mt Yotei rising above the hills around Jozankei. I took a very similar photo to this back in April when we had a spring day skiing at Teine. There was a fair bit more snow on the hills then!
We climbed one of the large aerials at the summit, which gave us an awesome birds eye view of the ski area and down into the bowls which we’ll be shredding in a couple of months time.
This weekend we were up in Asahikawa and I went for an early mission down to Tokachidake with original Team Daiso member, Ross Nixon. We only had a few hours, so decided to hike Sandanyama, one of the smaller peaks in the range.
Although the hike was short, the surrounding terrain is spectacular. From the top of Sandanyama, Tokachidake and Furanodake towered above us. We had overcast skies and flat light on the way up, but soon after reaching the top, we had a break in the clouds and were treated to views of real alpine gnarly mountains in every direction. A plan has already been hatched to get back here in the early spring for some touring.
Not long to wait now before the season gets going. We’re expecting snow down to lower levels this week. Last year our first turns were November 13th, lets hope for similar this season……
Our Season Passes arrived in the mail at the weekend. Usually we’d go up to Teine to pick them up in person, but because we pre-paid for them at the end of last season, they were sent directly to us. We also got 10,000 yen’s worth of food tickets, so that’s about 10 katsu-currys or omu-rices!
We’ll still be heading to Teine this weekend for a hike, which is kind of a pre season ritual. The stoke is building, there’s snow on the peaks of a few mountains around Hokkaido now. It won’t be long….
I think this is the earliest first snowfall we’ve had in the past 5 years that I’ve been in Hokkaido. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, winter is still a looooong way off. Yesterday, less than 40km from the summit of Asahidake, the Ezopow crew were enjoying the sunshine and jumping into a mountain lake!
But its definitely cool to see the peaks covered in a little dusting of snow. In around two months time, we’ll hopefully be getting our first turns of the winter.