Sunday, January 24, 2010

Highs and lows...

After the really deep days at Kamui, we headed up towards Asahi-dake for which we’ve heard it was holding the best snow of Hokkaido. On the way up, there was about 20cm of snow on the road and snowing hard.

The following morning was some of the nicest weather since the beginning of the trip. Blue sky, no wind and a lot of snow from the previous night promised us a great day of skiing!!! Asahi-dake is an active volcano that doubles as the highest mountain of Hokkaido.
Well, the snow at the top wasn’t that great since it has been blowing but further down was laying some pockets of really nice snow. We had a great day of skiing, but looking back after, I think that the reputation of Asahi-dake is a little overmake. The steep portion of it is really not that long and it is follow by a fairly long flat section.
We then move up north towards Nayoro from where we skied Piyashiri that (also) claimed to has the nicest snow of Hokkaido. There wasn’t many people at the ski hill so off-piste was some nice snow to be found. The ski hill don’t have a big reputation, but the terrain and the reputation was quite nice!
From Piyashiri, we drove to Horokonai to a tiny little hill called Horotachi.
One thing that is great about Japan is that there is probably as many ski hills here as there are arenas in Canada!!! It is just everywhere. Every little town seems to have is little ski hill. It wasn’t as much a hill with great vertical, but all of the tree runs were going down with a nice steady pitch. Again, we spend most of our day just off the ropes, where we weren’t bother since there wasn’t even one ski patrol!
A little driving brought us back to Furano where it rained…. We skied few runs, but my legs I injured few days ago started to really hurts. A stupid muscle I pulled this fall playing flag-football as been pulled again… Seems like drinking beer was the only thing I was going to be able to do!!! After a few sushi at a sushi train restaurant, we headed to Bocco a small bar that was featuring a travestite singing Japanese punk. That was a quite interesting experience.
By the end of the evening, he pointed us towards a free natural onsen near Tokachi-dake.
So we drove the next morning to spend the last day of Amelie in an onsen. That was the hottest water I ever bath into. Getting in was painful but once in, it did feel quite good!
After a nice soak, we drove back towards the airport from which Amelie was going to fly off the next morning. After driving her to the airport, I drove to Jozankei where I finally had the chance to meet Neil Hartmann that pointed me out a lot of off-the-road backcountry riding spots. After spending 4 hours there, I rushed myself back to the airport to pickup my dad that is flying in for 3 weeks.
We are right now at Fukiage spa where I’ve spend the day taking onsens to heal my pulled muscle in my thigh. After now 4 days without skiing, it is getting better and hopefully in some days, I’ll be able to get back full time to skiing.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Balls deep !!!

We stayed around Tomamu waiting for some new snow. Since Amelie twisted a little bit her knee last week it slowed us a bit at the beginning of this week. I skied the resort that mostly had groomed runs and packed offpiste.
We drove around and looking at some potential backcountry spot. Nissho pass prove to be the only potential spot we found. As the snow never really came in Tomamu we left towards some more powdery land.
As we were not skiing that much, we figured we should visit some sake brewery… We stopped in Asahikawa, the second largest city of Hokkaido for some free sampling. It is actually quite surprising how many sake breweries there are in Japan. Most towns have their own little brewery. We did sample quite all right until all the sake we were trying all tasted the same!!!!
When we started to have a bit less fun, we drove towards Kamui ski links a resort that is 20 minutes west of Asahikawa. We met Maeda-San which is probably one of the friendliest managers I’ve ever met.
Kamui is a medium size resort that is blessed with tons of snow and by tons, I really mean it! It also has the friendliest approach to backcountry user of all the resorts I’ve skied up to now in Japan.
We got there as it was snowing and hopefully for Amelie, her knee was getting much better. We skied around the first day but spend most of our time in the backside of the resort where some slackcountry was providing continuous faceshots.
We had such a good time that we decided to stay one more day.
And that was a great choice!!! Overnight it fell about a foot of snow. With the wind transportation towards the backside, there was probably around an average of 3 feet of fresh.
From Amelie’s point of view, it was her deepest ski day ever. It was so deep that even with my skis with 130mm underfoot, I was totally sinking!
We skied all day until the snow kicked our ass!!
Definitively, a great day of skiing that deserves a great ending! So why not some more sake?!

We left Kamui with great memories of friendly people and very DEEP snow!!!
We'll stay around central Hokkaido for about one more week!!!
Now, the weekly question: How many hours do you think you are going to waste at your job reading this blog??

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wakarimashita Hokkaido's backcountry

We left Niseko to go towards Jozankei to try some backcountry I spotted last year. On our way, we stopped at Neil Hartmann’s coffee to try to get some information from him. Almost everyone that I’ve talk to about my winter plan direct me towards him. Unfortunately for us, his coffee was closed when we dropped by. With his crew, they've travel all around Hokkaido living in their car and filming movies call Car Danchi.
The backcountry near Sapporo Kokusai was nice and soft with about 20-30cm of fresh. It was so good that we decided to stay for one more day.
On our way from Jozankei to Kokusai, we saw a guy walking with his skis on his shoulder, we turned around and hit the skin track, he just hopped on.
The hike-in was fairly long and we finally arrived on the top of…. not much. Staring at the view, we just couldn’t figure why people were skinning that long to get to a terrain that wasn’t that interesting.
We took the skins off , but the snow wasn’t that great neither consistent. That was definitively a place that I will not go back.
We figured it would be a good time to have our first day of rest and visit a little bit of Sapporo. With its population of about 1.8 million, it is a fairly big city. We walked around the downtown, but I was quite disappointed about the city. It was grey, not looking too good… until nightime!
If you ever consider visiting Sapporo, make sure you’ll be able to spend some time after dusk since it is only then that the city shows itself!
After almost a full day spent visiting the city, I was done. Good for me, it started snowing pretty hard again!
I figured hitting Sapporo Teine might be a good idea since it is only about 10km from Sapporo. We drove back to the parking of Teine Highland (Sapporo Teine’s expert terrain) and camp there.
Unfortunately, only about 10-15cm fell overnight. I was still all fired up to hit what I was told to be one of the best terrain in Hokkaido. Teine deserves its reputation! It is definitively the best inbound terrain I’ve experience so far in Japan. After almost 3 hours skiing some nice opens bowl where some nice wind drifts has lay more than 20cm of nice powder, I felt that my bindings were a bit loose on my skis. I called the day off and headed straight back to Sapporo to have it fixed.
There is a really great shop close at the corner of North 13 and West 3 called Shugakuso where the guys helped me fix my skis. Most of the outdoor gear is pretty expensive in Japan, but if you ever need anything, you can for sure find it there.
We are now in Tomamu where we spend the last 2 days skiing the backcountry around this resort. Yesterday, we went skiing out Karikachi Pass where we were able to get some nice turns in.
Today, we went skiing out close to the kilometre 69, on the road 136, where we saw a road that was going towards the mountains. We parked the car and after a hike of about 2 hours, we were at the top from where we were able to enjoy a nice run through the trees.
We’ll be moving up north soon as some snow is on the forecast! So if anyone is interested in joining us around Tokachi-dake, Asahidake or Kurodake, feel free to drop me a line!
I'll keep on skiing everyday purely for your entertainment (and a bit for mine)!!!!