April 27th 2015. Mt Yotei (1,898m)
I’ve hiked to the summit of Mt Yotei three times over the past few years, but never during the ski season. With the opportunity of hiking and skiing it rapidly melting away for this season, I wasn’t going to miss out on a clear weather day and a day off work. Original Hokkaido Cartel member Peter Im was also keen for the hike so we arranged to meet at the Hirafu trailhead at 5:30, soon after sunrise.
Surprisingly, given how warm April had been, we were able to get our skis on and skin straight from the carpark which made the initial stage of the climb a lot easier. The lower slopes were very slushy, even early in the day, and covered with a lot of tree branches and the odd patch of sasa.
Once we were onto the main face, it was just a long slog to the top. We were able to skin to about halfway before the snow got too firm and we strapped our skis to our packs and decided bootpack. The wind was howling, so we took a 30 minute pause waiting for it to die down a little before continuing to the crater rim on foot.
After a very long grind up the upper slopes, we reached the crater rim and were treated to great views over the Niseko range and beyond to the sea of Japan, just about visible in the haze. A celebratory kampai was in order!
Peter was tired after the climb, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to ski into the crater. Getting my skis on again, I skinned around the rim to drop one of the steeper lines on the opposite side. It was a short steep line, but a lot of fun. Totally worth the extra effort and the hike out.
Short clip skiing into the crater. Thanks Peter for the video!
After climbing back out to where Peter was waiting (patiently!) for me, I had a moment to get my breath back and then we set off on the long ski down the main face. This was the longest unbroken ski run I’ve done in many a year, and a real thigh burner. The snow definitely wasn’t Hokkaido powder, but really nice spring corn and one of the funnest lines of the year. After a long climb up, the decent was over so quickly, but totally, totally worth the effort.
After reaching the bottom and a quick pole through the trees, we were back at the cars sweating, sunburnt, but stoked! Ski gear was stripped off and I changed into shorts and flip flops for the drive home on the hottest day of the year. (29 degrees C recorded in Sapporo!)
A long day, 3am start from home with a 2.5 hour drive either way, but such a good day skiing. Probably the last of the season, number 104.
We haven’t really been riding much recently. We’ve had a couple of visitors, and some weekends of rainy weather. I did have one really good day down at Nakayama Touge last Monday. The park down there is in good shape and due to stay open for the spring period and into May.
I also bagged my 100th day of the season. It’s the second time I’ve managed a 100 day season here in Hokkaido. The last time was in 2011/12 when I got 102 days. I’m hoping to comfortably break that record by the end of the month!
We missed a weekend skiing when we headed out to Eastern Hokkaido with my brother who was visiting earlier in April. We were lucky with the weather and saw some really spectacular scenery. A few photos:
After some crap weather last week, the forecast is looking more promising for the coming weekend. Hoping to get a final lift access day at Teine, and then a park session at Nakayama Touge. After that, we’ll be hiking for turns.
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
March 22nd, 2015
With the season coming to an end and temperatures creeping up, it’s pond skim time! Rusutsu was hosting the ‘Splash Cup’ so we headed on down on a beautiful bluebird day to join the party.
The ‘pond’ was more like a paddling pool, so didn’t present too much of a challenge. The water looked really icy though, so none of us fancied taking an unwanted dip. Everyone only got one judged run, so we had to lay it all down on our first try.
More by luck than any real skill, I managed a 180 out of the pond and that was enough to score me 2nd place! I was stoked, and quickly eyed up the prize table, looking at six packs of Sapporo Classic, tshirts, vouchers and all kinds of swag. My prize – a second hand snowboard, with LED lights in the base. Kind of cool, but not much use to me. Luckily I was able to explain this to the judges who were happy to exchange the snowboard for the aforementioned sixers of biru.
The day continued with a few slushy runs through the trees, and lots of grilled meat in the yakiniku area set up next to the pond skim. An excellent spring day.
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!!
February 20th, 2015
So February has been pretty crap in terms of snowfall! Not really much more to say than that. We’ve had friends visiting from the UK so have been travelling around trying to get the best out of the bad snow situation. Sometimes, that meant just skiing park! Here’s an edit from a beautiful sunny day lapping the park at Mount Racey
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!)
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:
December 4th 2014
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.
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….
Asahidake, September 16th 2014
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.
Muine-yama. May 2014
Although all the ski hills in Hokkaido have now been closed for a good few weeks, there’s still snow on the higher mountains. In some places more than enough snow for skiing. From my balcony on a clear day, I get a view of Muine-yama which is the far side of Sapporo and about 1,460m tall. The snow always sticks around on Muine well into the spring, so with a sunny weekend in the forecast, we decided to head out to Jozankei and hike with skis and snowboards for our final turns of the season.
Leaving home with the sunrise at about 4am got us to the trailhead by 6 ish and gave us plenty of time to get up to the snowline and hopefully to the summit. We were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t long before we reached the snow and I could get my skis on. Skinning is a far more efficient means of uphill travel than hiking with skis strapped to a pack.
We made quick progress up the ridgeline to the summit, enjoying the incredible views in every direction. Once we got to the top it was a quick Snickers before skis and boards were on for a few very pleasant runs on perfect spring corn snow.
A little further down the snow was a bit more sun and wind affected, but we found a few great windlips and rollers that we shaped into a bit of lip for our last jump session of the year.
After getting down below the snowline it was a bit of a hack through the bushes and bamboo to make our way back to the car, but totally worth it. A great bonus day of skiing and a nice way to end another amazing Hokkaido winter.
We finished off the 2013/14 season just before Golden Week with a park session down at Nakayama. This is where we had our first lift served day almost six months ago. A very different vibe down there this time. T-shirts, sunglasses and park hits were the theme of the day. The park setup was looking really nice, a solid jib line and small rhythm jumps high up, leading down to a couple of nice large step down jumps lower down.
It was fairly busy with local riders getting their last fix for the season. There was some real talent on show, especially some of the young rippers, probably half our age but going twice as big!
We had a good days riding though, slowly building up to hitting the biggest features and finishing off the season on a high.
Down at the bottom of the slope were a load of different demo tents and the smell of grilled meat wafting from the numerous yakiniku BBQs. A very pleasant way to spend a spring day.
So that’s it for the resort skiing, but definitely not the end of the season. There’s still turns to be earned with some spring touring. Even with the super warm weather we’ve had in Hokkaido through May, the snow sticks around in the hills for weeks after the lifts stop turning. Stay tuned!
This isn’t all skiing, but a general Hokkaido winter edit, by Dan Andrews. Nice work Dan, great edit. Shame about the Coldplay soundtrack.
My friend Sam Brotherwood visited Hokkaido for 5 days in mid March. He just finished putting together an edit with the footage he got.
Here it is. Enjoy.
Sapporo Teine. April 13th
Although the season is winding down and the deep powder days of winter are long gone, a few hills in Hokkaido remain open. Sapporo Teine is open at weekends all the way until early May, and Nakayama Touge’s lift will keep turning as long as there’s snow, sometimes into June!
We had a great day at Teine at the weekend. The snow wasn’t amazing, but for this far into April, we weren’t complaining, especially as the sun was shining and the views were fantastic.
We went to check out the bowls, and although there wasn’t powder, the snow was nice spring corn which is a good second best. We weren’t hitting anything crazy, but just riding around and having fun. Once the sun hit the ‘Nature Zone’ it softened up nicely and we spend a good couple of hours lapping the Panorama lift getting some photos and working on the goggle tans.
The snowpack up in the hills is still very deep so will stick around for a long while, despite the warm spring sunshine that we’re having. We’ll still be riding for a good few weeks to come before we put our skis and boards away! An added bonus from this weekend was the bike ride we squeezed in on Saturday. It was one of those awesome Hokkaido weekends when ski season and cycling season overlap!
The park at Mount Racey has been getting bigger and better as the season progresses. Unfortunately though, all good things come to an end, and this weekend was Racey’s closing weekend. We’ve had some great days in the powder and the park at Yubari this year, and we finished off with a beautiful sunny day lapping the park.
Mike was hitting the biggest kicker in the park with ease by the end of the day, but it took him a few slams to get it right…
The snow has really suffered from all the sunshine we’ve had over the past week or so. There were quite alot of bare patches showing through and one really long stretch of grass, which I just had to ski!
It was a wicked final session at Racey. It’s a real hidden gem that very few visitors know about. We haven’t had a bad day there all winter!
Video from late season Gaper Day at Teine. We had been hoping for sunny weather, but mother nature didn’t cooperate. Still a fun time!
Iwamizawa Greenland February 27th
On clear evenings at Iwamizawa Greenland you get some spectacular sunsets. Add to that the background of a roller coaster and ferris wheel and you get a great backdrop for photos and video.
Short video with clips shot over a couple of evenings.
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:
February 15th 2014
Asahidake, an active volcano, is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido at 2290m. There is a single ropeway which ascends to about 1500m, from which you can access a ton of different lines, from pillows in the trees, to alpine style chutes. On Saturday morning the sky was clear, the wind was low and the ropeway was busy, so we made the call to hike for the summit. From the top station, there is a mellow skintrack to a hut at the base of the crater, followed by a steep hike up the ridgeline around the crater to the top.
The wind had been strong during the week, so the ridgeline was windblown and very icy. We abandoned our skins once we got higher up and bootpacked the rest of the way to the summit.
The wind really picked up by the time we got to the summit and the sky had turned overcast. We didn’t stick around, just enough time for a couple of quick photos before clipping into our skis and heading down the backside of the mountain. The wind scoured snow was pretty unpleasant skiing, with only a few pockets of powder in the gullys. It was worth the effort though to bag the summit of Hokkaido’s highest mountain in mid-winter.
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!
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.