Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring skiing in Québec

(a little trip report from Easter! better late than never!!!)

Still in the need for skiing, I took some days off to go skiing in Quebec's rocky mountains: the Chic-Chocs.

The Chic-Chocs are about 6 hours east of Québec City and 8-9 hours from Montreal. They are the closest you can be from "mountains" around this part of Canada. The tallest mountain around the park is Mt Jacques Cartier at 1268meters high.

Amelie had won a nice trip for 2 at the Vallée Taconique near Mt Saint-Pierre. The trip included a day of sled skiing and a night at the nice mountain hut on a private terrain. We were welcomed by the owner Giovanni Mancini who is operating the Vallée Taconique for the third year from Mt Saint-Pierre village.

From there, you jump on a sled with your camping gear and you are off for a 20-30minutes ride to their skiing ground. After dropping our gear at the luxiourous ski mountain hut, we were off for our first ride. It was really warm (read here +15Celcius) so we were in full spring skiing mode.

The terrain consists of 5 main courses that have been cut into resort-like runs and one tree skiing run. I have been greatly surprised of how steep the runs are. The terrain is rather small, but they are looking about expanding the tree skiing in between the runs.

The sled was waiting for us at the bottom and quickly drive us back to the top. The sled setup is really nice since you don't have to wait for the ride to go back up.

A typical day includes 8 runs for about 4000meters vertical. There wasn't any others clients that day, so we didn't rush and fully enjoyed the view of the surroundings.

Our guide dropped us at the lodge after we were done and we watched the sunset dropping right in front of us. The lodge is really nicely equiped with 2 fondue-set and a kitchen set much better than what I actually have at my place!!!

On the following morning, Giovanni came to pick us up with the sled to drive us back to Mont Saint-Pierre. On our ride back some avalanche path catched my attention and we decided to give them a try.

The temperature was now really warm so we were sinking fairly deep hiking up. We picked what I tought as the safest way down possible and we skied rather fast to get back to the bottom after some really hard carved turns.

From there, we drove to the Parc de la Gaspésie to meet some friends. It has been a really bad year for snow quantities in Québec and the Park had been hitted hard. The snowpack was really thin and rocks were everywhere. We hiked to the Mur des Patrouilleur at Mt Albert to check out how it looks. It was the warmest day I ever ski (+21 Celcius) and I was actually fairly concerns with avy danger. After watching some cornices breaking starting some huge wet snow avalanche, I decided to check out a mellower run that was seeing less sun.

The run was actually really nice as we were carving our turns in only 4-6in of corn. After our runs, one of the park ranger came asking that everyone should head down as soon as possible as one of the creek that we are crossing hiking up was swallowing and threatening of getting out of his bed....

What you actually have to know is that the Park de la Gaspésie is probably one of the less skier friendly place around North America. They only let you ski some designated snow fields and giving you fines if you are caught outside of the designated areas... This is a major clash from everywhere I have skied but we are so different in Québec......

So the following day, there wasn't much left to ski since they closed Mt Albert access and most of the others mountain didn't have enough snow to ski....

We decided to drive back to Mt Saint-Pierre area to ski around the same spot we skied two days ago. Well the warm temperatures have hitted hard and some signs of wet slab were everywhere. We put the skins on anyway figuring we might give it a try anyway. Well 2 wet slabs were triggered in about 5 minutes interval on a similar aspect of the one we were looking to ski.

That did cut our inspiration and we decided to build a little kicker and spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying this out-of-season temperature!

This close my 2009-2010 season! I'm now looking forward at paddling the rivers of Quebec until next season!

I will be working hopefully full time until next december. Until then, I will be working on putting another trip for next winter!!!

See you next winter!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tomamu Catski and the end of the Japan tour

Sorry about the last report, I guest that sleeping in a bed as made me lazy!...

So, we left Otaru and drive towards Tomamu resort. We drove all the way to Shimukappu and park the car to get some sleep. During that night, it rained really hard and the wind was shaking the van...
The next morning brought us exactly what we thought all night... a frickin ice ring to ski on!
The wind was still up so all the top lifts were closed leaving only the lower lifts running... After gathering our motivation in the ski lodge for about 3 hours, we finally get ready to check out what the conditions were like.

After a single run, we packed our stuff and headed to the hotel (yeah, yeah an hotel!!!)

Outdoor Japan set me up to review the catski operation of Tomamu and the resort has been keen enough to get us a room at the Tower hotel!

The room was great and we were lucky to be able to watch, listen (and not really understand) some Japanese TV. Do you know that snowball fight is actually a sport (with tournament, teams and coaches) in some part of Japan!????
Don't have to say that we weren't much looking forward to ski the following day.....

Well overnight, it snowed!

With the snow come back our motivation to go skiing and check out the catski operation!
Since everything was happening in Japanese, we didn't understand much of what was happenning; at some point, we even thought that we were going heli-ski, but unfortunately the high winds grounded the chopper.....
But we finally took off and when it was time to ski, we weren't the tourist anymore!!!
About 20-25cm coupled with some high winds turned the conditions from stay-at-home-and-drink-beer to wow-I-never-though-it-could-be-that-great-today!!!

The terrain is not super steep, but really nice for intermediate and advance skier. Of course, the staff know their terrain and all the run we did were pretty nice.
We were able to lap 3 runs/1000m vertical before lunch.
At lunch, we were quite suprise to realize that is was to happen inside a teepee, with a chef cooking the food on the site!
The lunch was much better than what we usually have (which is quite often nothing!!!)!!!!!!!
After few coffees to stay awake after this huge 4 courses lunch we took off for 3 more runs and another 1000m vertical!
This was quite a great day! Considering, that at some point we thought about pretending that we were sick not to go, it was even better!!!!
From Tomamu, we made the drive back to Niseko where we had to drop the car. Niseko Village was so stoked about the article I wrote about Mizuno no Sawa, that they offered us some pass for the day!!! Clayton, from the Black Diamond Lodge came up with us and showed us the back bowls. There was about 10cm of fresh snow sitting on some packed powder. We then lapped the backbowl making gigantic, fast GS turns.

After going a bit everywhere on the mountain, we finally took off when the blizzard that was happening forced the closure of the top lifts.

Clayton offered us to drop the car directly at the airport! That was really a good thing for us since we still had some stuff to do before leaving!

Before dinner, we had some time to kill so we walked into the best tele store in Niseko call Toryu. That happen to be owned by one of Japan's top telemark skier Yutaka Takanashi. Yutaka saw the picture of Babiche's skis and all the staff in there were pretty excited to check out his homemade skis!! It is quite a bummer that we had to leave Niseko, because they really wanted us to go out and tour with them.... maybe next year?!!!

After feasting over some Okonomyaki, we drove to Jozankei to catch up with Neil Hartmann that, at the beginning of the winter, gave me some quite good backcountry spots!
We met him at his really cool cafe and had few beers talking about each other winter and future plans!Then was the final day in Japan. After some final shopping, packing all the gear and dropping the van (without a single scratch!!!)We ate as much as we could and dry as much as we could to bring some Japan with us!!!
The following was some regular airplane travel (wait, sit, passport-please, now boarding, sleep, watch TV, etc.....) After about 26 hours of travel (including some waiting time!) I was quite glad to be back in Quebec city.

This was a great way to celebrate a 5th season of snowchasing by going to Japan! I still have some plans for next winter so hopefully, I will be able to nail a plan to entertain you!!!!

Thanks for following me this winter and I hope you enjoyed it!!!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Powder, swimming, wet snow and sampling!

From Floating Island, we went back to .... Floating Island. It would be lying to say that the snow was pilling really fast, but is was pilling constantly! What began with some decent conditions that finally turned out to the best conditions we had in weeks!

We stayed there 2 more days lapping different lines and exploring different ridges and bowl around the tunnel.

The north side features longer lines and steeper terrain than the south side. It also feature a sketchiest ski out since it goes through multiple gullies and natural runouts.
Since we were running out of food, we drove back to Asahikawa. By looking at the forecast, we realized there was some snow forecasted on the following day. We thought that Furano might be a good guess.

When we woke up, we realized that the snow that was forecasted as changed into a massive windstorm..... without any snow.

No new snow means that we were left with only the groomed runs to ski. After a total of one run. We poached the run under the chair lift that link the Kitanomine and the Furano side. It was a line I was thinking off since last year when I first visited Furano.

The conditions weren't that great so we though that maybe under the tram might be a better try. By looking at all the tracks, we weren't the first that though about skiing under the tram. We skied it fast in between two trams. When I got at the bottom, I wasn't able to see Babiche. After a little while, I hiked back to try to spot him. He finally showed up, hiking from the run I just skied out.
The reason for his little hike was that he fell into a creek! He showed up all wet and soaked up! That kind of cut the day as he needed to dry out! That was quite funny and I did spend a lot of time laughing at him!
We left Furano to head to Sounkyo to ski Kurodake. The wind were forecasted to be low, so it seemed like a good time to try that resort. As we were getting ready in the parking lot, we realized that there wasn't much skier heading up on the tram! It turned out that probably only 20 skiers took the tram that day.

If you ever think about going to ski Kurodake, there isn't anything to ski inbound. The tram leads you to a double chair lift that covert much more distance than vertical. What is good about Kurodake is the backcountry. From the top of the double chair, it is fairly easy and straight forward to hike up the peak of Kurodake.

From there, you have access to some really nice terrain. If you are not in the mood for a little adventure (as we were), you can follow the main gully from the top for a nice mellow run.

There was a little windcrust from the top, but it did get better lower down. What we had was 6in of fresh dry snow laying on packed powder.

Since the forecast was calling for harsher wind, we though that going toward a north facing tree shelter run was probably our best guest. We made the drive back down, towards Sapporo Kokusai just south of Otaru. From the parking lot of Sapporo Kokusai, there is a lot of good backcountry available. We went for the most obvious line that is going straight down to the road. The hike was fast and what we skied was some steady wet snow.

We drove back up to Otaru to visit one of the coolest town that I visited on Hokkaido. Near the port, there is a touristic street with a lot (and by a lot, I TRULY mean it) of sampling to do. One of my favourite place was a fish market where you could tasted so much different raw, dry and cooked fish!
There are also some Hokkaido's speciality....

We ended up that great day of sampling at the Otaru brewery for the Japanese version of the famous German Dunkel beer!

We are now heading towards Tomamu, where some cm's of snow are on the forecast.