Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Roadtrippin' northern Honshu!!!!

So I am now on Japan's main island: Honshu.

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The ferry we took landed in Aomori on Honshu's northern tip from where we started our ski/drive (and a bit of touristing of course) mission.
I've heard really great things about a little resort called Hakkoda. It is only 30km from Aomori, so a nice gate to start with. It is a resort that got a similar layout than Asahi-dake: only on tram from where you can access an inbound backcountry style resort.
With 30cm overnight and a base near 300cm, we were really excited to ski it! We soon got disappointed as we figured out the resort was too flat to really enjoy all the snow that has fallen. We may haven't been able to find the best spots, but with an average slope of 10degrees, I just can't see how it can be somewhere steep.
We finally got to find a run where we were able to get some really decent turns, but to our point of view the runs were too short for the 4900Yens it cost for a day.
From Hakkoda, we drove south. I soon realize that driving on Honshu is quite a big change from driving on Hokkaido and I was quite glad to already have more than a month of right-side driving experience!!!
We took some really thigh winding roads (and by winding, you just cannot imagine how many turns per km there was!!!) and the traffic is getting quite intense!
We sometimes planned to use some road that (since we didn't understand they were closed) led us to some really big detour.

Our next stop was Hachimantai; a little resort that was also... closed.
With only 6in of fresh snow on the ground, we were debating about going or not. We solved our debate with rock-paper-scissor that turned the option of skiing down. Since we had cut our major time-consuming activity, we figured it would be a good time to tourist. We drove down to Morioka and spend our day walking around town.
The city wasn't that exciting, but still pretty interesting.
A really big difference we notice was that unlike Hokkaido, were the snow is spanking both the mountains and the cities, here it seems that most of the snow only hit the mountains. The architecture is also getting more and more Japanese. It can sounds a bit stupid, but looking at the buildings around Hokkaido, you just don't really feel to be in Japan. But the more I'm driving south the more I start to feel it.

From Morioka, we drove to a resort called Geto Kogen.
This resort average about 15m of snow per year which is the most around Iwate prefecture. We got there looking at what we first tought a dry mountain with moguls. After enjoying skiing all over the mountain under a nice blue sky looking, it started to snow hard and the visibility dropped to zero.
We used the low visibility to practice what I learned in Poaching 101. We skied right under the gondola and into the trees and enjoyed 30-40cm of nice, fresh and steady powder.
We skied all day leaving both the mountain and a heavy storm. We were both thinking that this wasn't probably the best thing to do but we had still some distance to cover.

We finally made it to Sendai after driving for 6hours. The distance on Honshu aren't that big but the traffic is can happen to be incredibly dense. We weren't using the toll-highway so we were sometime driving at about 20km/h for hours...

We had planned to hit Zao Yamagata on the following day, but again road closures changed our plans! The good news is that with more than 300 ski resorts in Japan, there more than one to look out! So we made it to Zao Eboshi were a blizzard was in full swing!!!
The wind was really blowing hard and with the slow lifts, we had to stopped twice to warm ourselves up!!! The snow was really nice, but as I was skiing, the wind was drifting the snow I just lifted in front of me leaving me with no visibility at all!! We both agreed that we weren't much in the need of knee deep powder to endure that kind of weather so we left after only 3hours of skiing.

Our next destination: Alts Bandai. It is a resort that is just under the magnificient mountain of Bandai-san where we were able to really tasted the urban densification in a resort.
When we arrived, it was snowing pretty hard and the streets were all wet. Since there is a lot of hot water available from thermal sources, they use it to melt the snow on the streets... it sometimes leave as a result a pretty unbalance melt over the same street.
We again lucky out since finally about 30-40cm of snow fell overnight (yes I know again)... We rushed ourselved all around the mountain excited as little kid to be sure we were skiing fresh tracks. It was a really nice powder day.
The good thing is that most local skiers aren't that great so they stay out of the advanced skier area. When everything started to be a bit tracked out to our tasted, we started skiing the trees... The day turned from good to great!!!!
We skied them until we finally realized that tree-skiing wasn't legal (oups....sumimasen!) on our last run!!!
We ended our day with what as become usual: taking an onsen.
We are now about 300km from Tokyo and there is not much ski on the forecast for me. Over the next few days, we will visit some sites, than I'll drive my Dad at the airport from where he'll be flying on the 11th.
On the same day, I'll be joining by Etienne and Babiche who will respectively stay with me for 10 days and 5 weeks!!!
The skiing-samurai!


Furansoa said...

Well, to enjoy Hakkoda, you need a guide, otherwise, it is a boring mountain. That's why people overlook it... And for 14,000 yen for a month pass, its a good value!

enjoy Niigatta and Nagano if you make it there!

Ben said...

Evans, I can't decide if following your adventures from my desk at work makes me happy or sad! HA. It is definitely very exciting. Too bad you didn't have the best experience at Hakkoda. A local guide would be very helpful. Also I think there is more steep available if you do some skinning off of the top of the gondola.

You are definitely right about the angle though. Most of the terrain is really awesome, but not steep enough for great turns all the way down.

Keep on enjoying the onsens and say hi to Etienne for me.


Kneester said...

I don't understand tree skiing being illegal? Why? Was there any reason given?