For the second half of this winter, I was riding new skis. Thanks to a random meeting in a ski bum bar in Sapporo on New Year’s Eve, I got talking with the owner of Riot Skis. I was wearing an Ezopow hoody and as he’d seen our Instagram and site, he wanted to know about us. In talking, we decided to work together with a view to launching Riot Skis in North America and Europe over the coming years.
Riot Skis are a Japanese company based here in Hokkaido. They make really unique skis which are aimed predominantly at freeride and freestyle. Their main pro rider, Tsubasa ‘TBS’ Tanimura is a style ninja with a unique flow to his skiing that I really haven’t seen in many other skiers. He’s the main influence on the design of the skis, which are super fun to ride.
I’ve been riding the IMK which is the widest ski in the lineup and suited to my preferred playground, the powder and trees of Hokkaido. Currently the models have been designed with the Japanese body shape in mind, so mostly in shorter lengths. We’ve been working on the range, to include longer lengths in all models, and wider designs too. Big things to come.
The biggest thing happening for Riot recently has been signing Canadian pro skier Corey Vanular to the team. This is super exciting and will bring awareness of the brand and the skis to a huge audience. I’ve been a huge fan of Corey’s style ever since he was in the early Level 1 movies from winning the Superunknown contest. His segment in Long Story Short has to go down as one of the most stylish 90 seconds of skiing ever recorded.
As of now, the Riot website is still under construction, but a full launch is imminent. Keep an eye out for Riot Skis in the coming years.
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.
November 16th. Sapporo Teine
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!
November 14th 2014
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.
October 19th. Mt Teine (1,023m)
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.
October 25th. Sandanyama (1,748m)
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….
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!
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.