Locals Only March
Here’s the edit from the past few weeks. March in Hokkaido is always good as you still get decent dumps of snow but also more sunny days. And all the tourists have gone home!
Shot at Sapporo Teine, Rusutsu and Yubari Mount Racey
Come in mid-February. Guaranteed pow….. ?
Is what I said to my friends Sam and James when they were planning a trip to visit us in Hokkaido. I should’ve known though. The last time all three of us were on a mountain together was 10 years ago in Whistler. That year, the Pineapple Express hit, giving us rain, wind, and generally crap snow for the majority of our 2 months in BC.
This time would be different though, wouldn’t it? It’s Hokkaido after all. Well, we had a bit of snow, but generally nothing like you’d usually expect for February. Pretty disappointing for Sam and James to have travelled from Hong Kong and the UK respectively for not amazing snow, but we had a good couple of weeks and made the best of a bad snow situation.
Straight from the airport we headed to Mount Racey. Not much powder but we gravitated towards the park like the park-rats we used to be! We were treated to a classic Yubari sunset to welcome the boys to Hokkaido.
We had a good couple of days down in Rusutsu. A little bit of fresh snow to keep the trees interesting and an amazing bluebird day with views of Yotei, Lake Toya and the Pacific Ocean. Plus a sweet night park session, with confidence boosted by the addition of chairlift cans of Sapporo Classic!
We were able to scope out some decent stuff at Teine too. The less obvious lines in the trees and out in the bowls were still fun, even without recent snow. And the park was also always an option!
We had a random half day at the unheard of Bibai Kokusai Ski Hill. (Kokusai means international in Japanese. Interesting choice of name for a one lift ski hill in a dying former mining town!) It actually turned out to be a great time though. We found lots of short but fun lines through the trees, some powder and even a park! And other than a few army dudes in leather boots, we were the only ones there.
Sam headed back to Hong Kong slightly earlier than James, leaving us to have a sweet final park session at Mount Racey. A sunny day, with no crowds had us lapping the park with the essential Go Pro on a pole.
Thanks for coming out to visit boys. Now Sambo, you’ve got all the footage, get working on that edit!!
Since the New Year vacation, the weather has been pretty mixed, and quite abnormal for Hokkaido. Warmer temperatures than average and longer gaps between snowfall has been the trend, we even had a very depressing day of rainfall a couple of weeks ago. BUT, we’ve still been able to get a good amount of riding in, and have been able to track down the best snow at the weekends. Not really much text to go with this blog post, just a load of photos, so, here you go…
It seems like the weather is back to a more normal trend for this time of year. Much colder, with regular snowfalls in the forecast. Hopefully that’ll continue. (Till April, preferably!)
Video – Christmas and New Year
Edit from Rusutsu, Sapporo Teine, Kamui Ski Links & Mount Racey
Christmas and New Year in Hokkaido
Dec 20th – Jan 4th. Rusutsu, Teine, Kamui Ski Links and 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…….
Winter is back!
December 6th and 7th. Kiroro and Sapporo Teine
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:
Hokkaido Season Edit
This isn’t all skiing, but a general Hokkaido winter edit, by Dan Andrews. Nice work Dan, great edit. Shame about the Coldplay soundtrack.
Deepest day so far at Teine
Saturday Feb 22nd
We had planned to hit Rusutsu on Saturday, but after hearing that it had been dumping all day Friday in Sapporo, we changed our plans hoping for an epic day at Teine. We weren’t disappointed. It was the deepest snow we’ve had there this season. Faceshots and no consequence drops were the order of the day. Big smiles and high fives all round.
As always, the further we went into the bowls, the better it got. We ventured out as far as 6 and 7 which gave us some great views over the bay.
We had been eyeing up a big pillow and dropping off the side of it, getting progressively bigger. On the last run of the day Flo (aka Air New Zealand) sacked up and hit it straight on carrying alot of speed and stomped the landing.
We got a little bit of video, but not much as we were too stoked on riding to get the camera out too much. Most of the decent footage was of Flo:
A few shots from Sapporo Teine
Sat Feb 8th
It was a stunning day at Teine on Saturday with incredible views over the Sea of Japan and downtown Sapporo. There wasn’t too much fresh snow, and the bowls were quickly tracked out as it was a busy day for powder hungry foreign riders. We didn’t get too many powder shots, but hit the park in the afternoon, where the bottom kicker has been set up to give an incredible backdrop for photos.
Tues Feb 11th
Tuesday was a public holiday, so we got a bonus day on the hill. It turned out to be a real bonus. Alot of Hokkaido has been hurting for snow for the past few days, so we didn’t expect great things from Teine. But we were wrong. Snow had been falling steadily overnight, so we had 30cm or more of light powder. It seemed like we were the only people lapping the bowls, so we got line after line of faceshots.
Grady and I found a nice big drop that neither of us had hit before. It’s way out beyond bowl 5, so the landing was totally untouched and deep. We went for it, and caught it on video:
Mount Racey Powder Day
Feb 1st 2014
We had planned to go to Teine on Saturday, but the forecast had strong winds which we thought might close the upper lifts. So we decided to go to Racey, which is more sheltered from the weather. As soon as we arrived, we realised we’d made a good decision. Probably 30cm of fresh snow had fallen overnight, ontop of a load of untouched snow from the previous snowfall. We lapped the gondola, finding new lines filled with deep light snow.
After a late lunch we hit the park for an hour or so. It’s starting to look really decent with 2 very nice sized kickers and some creative jibs. I’m looking forward to a few sunny park days over there in March.
Racey isn’t a particularly well known ski area, especially with foreigners. So when it does snow, there’s never any competition for fresh tracks. It’s not huge, but it has some really decent lines and bowls if you know where to go. It’s a real hidden gem, but don’t tell anyone!
A Weekend at Rusutsu
January 25th and 26th
We skied at Rusutsu both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. We stayed at Iwanai overnight on Friday and Saturday, giving us an easy drive up to the ski hill each morning. The weather had been really warm, with rain on Friday. Saturday it was still warm, with a dusting of new snow with a hard crust underneath. Sunday was way better, with 10 to 15 centimetres of new snow.
We headed over to West Mountain after lunch on Saturday to check out the new Sidecountry Park. With the crappy snow and bombed out landings, we weren’t going anywhere near the features. It’ll need a deep powder day for most of the drops and jibs to be rideable by even the best amateur riders! We headed further down West Mountain and spent a couple of hours at the end of the day lapping the terrain park. First time I’ve been in there and I was impressed with the setup. Although the landings were surprisingly hard! I’ll be back in the spring for sure.
With more snow on Saturday we had alot more fun. Lots of nice lines in the trees, and a few drops. Plus, I was using poles again, so I felt more comfortable and balanced on my skis.
Also on Sunday, we saw the crew from Nimbus Independent who are in Hokkaido for a month or so skiing and filming. I got a photo with a skiing hero of mine, Eric Pollard. Stoked to meet them, and to see them shredding at one of our home mountains!
The wind really picked up on Sunday afternoon and it got pretty unpleasant on the mountain. We called it at around 2, and hit the road. Hopefully the wind and unsettled weather will bring more snow this week.
North to the Links
Kamui Ski Links, December 7th 2013
We headed north this weekend, following the snow. Driving up through Sunagawa and Takikawa, the snow was pounding down so it looked like we’d made the right call.
Arriving at Kamui Ski Links, near Asahikawa, there was still a real lack of snow low down, but higher up we could see the trees loaded down with fresh snow. Kamui is a gem of a hill, with loads of tree skiing and rarely any crowds. We know the place well having spent a lot of time there and we always seem to run into a few Asahikawa locals who are keen to shred. Today we met up with the southern hemisphere boys, Ross from South Africa and Andy from Oz.
From the top of the gondola, only a couple of runs were officially open. Of course, they were tracked out very quickly. But, turning left out of the gondola and ducking the rope gave us several options of wide open untracked trails, running all the way down to the base of the mountain.
Despite the sketchy bottom section, our boards and skis remained unscathed. We continued to lap the gondola getting fresh lines every time.
An awesome day, but sadly my last for 2013. Operation on Thursday then a trip to the UK. We’ll be back in January, all healed up and ready to go. By then, the snow will have filled in all of the off piste areas, and we’ll be hitting some genuine Ezo pow!
Opening Weekend at Teine
Sapporo Teine, November 30th & December 1st
Not a bad couple of days up at Teine. Far more terrain available than last weekend at Nakayama, and no crowds. In fact, we didn’t have to wait in a liftline once.
A good crew from the Hokkaido Cartel came up, stoked to be getting the season underway.
The peer pressure got the better of me on Saturday morning, leading to a crashed front flip and injured hand, meaning I rode the rest of the weekend no poles Harlaut style!
There’s a lot of sasa (bamboo leaves) still above the snow, but we found some decent powder stashes under the chair. The real highlight of Teine is the summit ridge, below which a number of bowls and chutes give some of the best steep skiing in Hokkaido. It’ll be a couple of weeks before they’re filled in with enough snow to be rideable.