Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Great pow just off the road in Japan backcountry!

We headed back to Etanbetsu pass on the road 72.
From Google Earth, there seems to be some nice openings that we didn’t reach due to the poor weather. 

We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather.
It was about -5C, no wind and blue sky.
Even if it was really tempting to head straight for the turns, we figured it would be good for everyone to beacon practice a bit.

After everyone had practiced and showed good beacon skills, we kept hiking on the ridge towards a nice bowl with openings.
We didn’t get much elevation hiking on the ridge, but the openings got bigger.
As far as we were able to see, we weren’t able to see any tracks around.
We eventually dropped on a ridge that looked to be nicely opened.
It wasn’t as open as we hoped, but it was quite skiable!
We got a run about 250-300m long before slapping our skins on to climb back for a second lap.
Back to Asahikawa, we made the plan to drive to the northeast to a backcountry spot I visited 4 years ago, Ukishima (aka Floating Island) on the road 273.
I’ve skied the deepest pow of my life in this backcountry spot, so I was quite eager to make it back.  Even if the runs are short (about 120-150m long), the snow makes it quite a valuable place for someone who doesn’t mind multiple short laps.
As we rolled in, there was only a few tracks on the face, and a skintrack had been already laid down.
It wasn’t as deep as what I’ve experienced in the past but with about 2 feet of really light fresh, there wasn’t much to complain about!
We lapped all day adding much more tracks then what was there when we got there!
Since it was our best day so far in this trip, we figured we would come back the following day.
We drove north towards Takinoue to get some accommodation. There wasn’t much option around and even if the only hotel there was a bit pricy, we stayed there to make it back to Ukishima.
As we woke up the following morning, the air seems really cold and for the first time of the trip, there wasn’t any snow on our car.

By the time we rolled in to the pass, the temperature as shifted and was much more pleasant, but the best thing was the 20+cm of fresh that fell overnight!
We ventured a bit further south on the ridge to get some fresh runs.
I really loved those runs as they were starting with some short steep pillows and followed by some long meadow skipping deep powder hoping terrain!

We lapped it over and over. Wherever, we skied, the snow what nice and soft, making it quite easy to do some brainless skiing!
We wanted to move to another place, but the snow was too nice to make a move.
We tried this time to drive south towards Kamikawa. This town is fairly small and there was only two ryokan and one hotel.

One of the ryokan and the hotel were close and the other ryokan was full… We drove down to Sounkyo where I remember seeing multiple huge hotels.

There weren’t any problem to get a room. All the hotels there had room ranging from 50$US to 100$US per person. Sounkyo is probably the best option for skiing Ukishima.
We had only a 10-15cm overnight to top off the already really good conditions.
We debated for some time to try an option just south of the top of the pass, but we eventually settled for the same starting spot.
Not much to had than is was an (other!!!) awesome day of skiing! Everyone had good lines and countless multiple faceshots!
It is hard to believe that someone can get enough of that kind of perfect skiing condition, but after 3 days of lapping about the same slope, we were all set to try other skiing spots. When, we got back to the car, there was a sign posted at the start of the skintrack.... just another japanese thing impossible to understand!
We’ll have a day off and drive north of Asahikawa towards Nayoro to check out some other options.

I kinda still feel the clums of snow in my beard from the multiple faceshots I’ve got in the past days!

Gotta love skiing deep to enjoy Japan!!!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Back to Japan

It seems that my golden time of winter long travel is slowly vanishing…
Jobs, partners and different personal projects made me chose not travel for 3 months straight.

To compensate, I figured I would treat myself by revisiting one of my favorite country on Earth : Japan.
It has been 3 years since the last time I visited Japan. I thought it would be great to get my share of deep pow. I left Montreal with my girlfriend Amélie, my Dad and for the first time joining me on my ski trip, my little sister, Audrey.
We took off for a 3 weeks journey with not much plan ahead.
We had a reservation for the first night upon our arrival and a car rented for the length of our trip. Snow will make up our plans.

After what was probably my crappiest international flight (thanks to American Airlines), we landed on Hokkaido. After picking up all our luggage, we eventually realized we just miss the shuttle that was supposed the bring us to our hotel, the Wing International.

That hotel is my favorite because it is cheap, it has (usually a shuttle bus…) and you can reserve it online, which is far from being the case of the majority of the accommodation in Japan.

After trying to get a taxi big enough to fit all our luggage, we gave up and hop on the city bus. We were dropped off a couple corners away from our hotel and walked the distance before collapsing in our bed.
The following morning, Yoshi, came and dropped us the car at our hotel. He rents used cars for much cheaper than the car rental company.

We decided to get away from the crowd and made our way north towards the city of Asahikawa. This city of about 350 000 inhabitants lay north of Sapporo and got a couple of good options around.
It is quite great to see how the Japanese are living with the winter instead of trying to fight it. The streets and the sidewalk are usually covered with snow and ice, the huge snowbanks spread all over the towns don’t seem to bother anyone and shoveling the white gold seems just a regular common activity just like shopping for your grocery is.

For our first day out, we drove towards Etanbetsu pass, on the road 72 northwest from Asahikawa. We were a bit worried about the depth of the snowpack, but those worries quickly disappeared when we saw the huge snowbanks that were waiting for us! 
It was snowing heavily and with the warm temperatures, the snow was a bit wet. We took off and skied a nearby slopes just about 10 minutes from the parking lot. There was about a foot or two of fresh! We got a few laps in with sometimes the sun breaking through the storm!
It is always a great feeling to start a trip with some faceshots and bottomless JaPow!!
We spend the next 2 days in Kamui Ski Links, just outside Asahikawa.
This resort certainly has arguably the best policy about backountry in Japan!
With a great back bowl where you can lap ‘’at your own risk’’ untouched powder all the way to a traverse that brings you back to the lifts, it is quite a great option!  
There is certainly the inbound terrain that is great but the backbowl usually preserves the snow much longer due to the traverse and the lack of clear instruction to indicate where to enter!
Everyone were getting great laps until my sister realized one of the screw of her binding was getting pulled off of her skis. She put her fat skis aside and ended up rocking her mid-fat to end the day. We got directed to Shugakuso, on the road 90 in Asahikawa to get her ski repair.
We couldn’t have gotten a better pointer! That shop is just awesome. It has everything one skier could ask for including inserts to fix that problem! They fixed her skis on the spot and 30 minutes after we walked in the store, we left with her ski repaired for 10$!

We’ll probably make it back to Etanbetsu pass tomorrow to check out some options that we didn’t reach due to the poor visibility of the other day.

Damn it’s great to be back in Japan!