Monday, January 20, 2014

Niseko, Hokkaido's busiest resort, for a great ending

It was kind of a problem to find some cheap accomodation in Niseko, so we slept one more night in Otaru and drove in the morning.

We left the uncrowded mom and pops ski hill to the always fairly buzy Niseko.
I kinda have a lof/hate relationship with Hokkaido’s (if not Japan’s) buziest ski resort. It is quite packed, most of the time with Australians or other westerners, it is more expensive, you don’t really get close to the japanese culture, the place is growing and growing and getting more western at every of my visit. 
On the other hand, I’ve had only a handfull of not-really-awesome-day here, so it is hard not to come back. It would have also been quite a shame for my sister not to ski it on her first trip on Hokkaido.

Niseko’s backcountry gates haven’t been open for a few days the morning we showed up. With some high wind forecast high up, we weren’t too sure that they would open either. We made it to Annapuri’s main lift (as fare as possible from the too buzy Niseko Hirafu) and lucky enough the gates open just as we got there!
After the usual high traverse to the backbowl passing most skiers without any avy gear, we were quickly rewarded with some countless faceshots. After a few runs where I was to hype to take any picture, I finally took the time to take it out to gather a few memories.
Everyone was carving deep turns on the way down and leaving a high powderly smoke cloud on their tails.
We just kept lapping furiously the backbowl moving always a bit further and always hitting great snow.
Problem with the backbowl is that it seems that australians (main crowd here) haven’t quite understant the concept of ski-down-the-fall-line. That leave some pretty nice openings totally fucked by some stupid traverse. I guess the mountain there don’t run from top to bottom, but from right to left...
Unfortunately, they eventually close the top gate... We then started to ride the resort. The weather even eventually cleared up a bit at the end of the day.
With just little more snow overnight, we debated for some times if it would not be a best idea to hit Niseko Moiwa the following day. This resort, since it is not part of Niseko United (Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Niseko Hirafu), is never really crowded.

Heads or tail finally settled back for Niseko Annupuri.
.... and it was another great day
.... and we had countless faceshots
.... and it was awesome!!!
I could certainly use more days like this during a season!!

We got back to our room that we found through Yoshi (brandzuki (at) hotmail (dot) com, -the guy who rented us the car). Located at the top of a staff accomodation building, it was quite a good deal. We were able to cook our own and the room was confortable enough. I haven't been able to convince my dad to sleep in the car, but he wasn't hard to settle down for non-state-of-the-art-accomodation.
We woke up to a clear blue sky! So we decided.... to go back to Annupuri.   
Annupuri is probably the best place resort to hit the backbowl. You don’t have to wait as much as Niseko Hirafu and you can access the backbowl with an Annupuri only lift ticket (You need a more expensive Niseko United lift ticket to ride the backbowls from Niseko Village). The downside of Annupuri is that the terrain is not as nice as Niseko Village if the backbowls don’t open.
After a mandatory lap down the backbowl, we saw some tracks that were coming from Hirafu. After a nice short hike with Mt Yotei in the background, we made it to the top of the run. 
Thanks to the habits of skiers following others, we were able to find a great opening that was kept untouched and that was waiting for us.
We couldn’t really have ask to a better way to end our trip.

Great pow,
Great weather,
Great memories!
I just can highly recommend to try it to see it for yourself! I will certainly find a way to surprise you!
See you next time Japan!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Off the beaten path in Japan

It is always a tough call to leave Floating Island since it always deliver such awesome conditions.

Since we were a bit tired from the past days, we figured it would be a good day to give our legs a break. A day off also mean more time to eat in the morning. Japanese breakfast can be quite an experience since you always ended up eating food that could be serve for lunch or dinner...
After spending a day driving around Hokkaido’s mountain road, we were a bit bummed not to have found much more options. We got to the town of Nayoro that has a nice little resort in which I had a really good day a few years back.

That night we feasted on a classic japanese BBQ in the perspective of a great day to come! Driving off the beaten path in Japan gets you more into the japanese culture. With no english menu in sight and having to relay on an english-japanese dictionnary, we always end up having a great time! 
It started really well with some great untracked slackcountry.
Unfortunately, we got warned by the snowpatrol that offpiste skiing was not allowed...
We were certainly bummed about that and we decided to respect the snowpatrol since the army was all over the place boasting their usual threatening look.
Army of the world, you gotta be scared about the technological advantage that Japan is developping! 
Since backcountry from the resort was not allowed, we drove back to one of the spot we saw driving around the day before. Jomon Pass, on the road 61east of Iwanoai Lake about an hour from Nayoro.

With some pretty big snowbanks and some steep short sections, we tought we found gold!
After slapping our skins on our ski, we headed to the south of the pass.

We eventually found some great short sections, but overall, the pitches were either too short to really make this place a classic or a bit too densely treed up...
Nevertheless, powder was untouched and there wasn’t any snowpatrol to bug us!!
Certainly a nice way to spend my 9th birthday in a row skiing powder!
A nice dinner to a Japanese only izakaya ended this great day!
We started to drive back south and stop at the resort called Pippu, which received about a foot of snow overnight.
Some indications are certainly easier to follow than others!  
The resort certainly feature some great snow but it is overall juste barely enough steep to ski it. We didn’t fully understood how the price of the lift tickets were working, but we ended up paying 12$ per person for an afternoon!
Amelie had a close encounter with a local tree on which she left a tattoo! 
Meanwhile, the snow has kept hitting the central part of the island.
We then kept driving south towards Sapporo Teine.

This resort is about 30-45minutes of downtown Sapporo and feature the steepest terrain of Hokkaido. 
And the best thing is that there are some great slackcountry options that are tolerated! 
Usually, it is better to wait a little bit later in the season to ski it, but the conditions were just great!!
We kept moving towards Otaru.
As we got there, there were some obvious signs that a lot of snow has fallen here recentrly. Snowbanks were almost creating tunnels on the sidewalk and trucks dumping freshly fallen snow in the ocean kept coming and coming.
If you ever stop by Otaru, make sure to get the Bakudanyaki. 
They are huge takoyaki balls with cheese and other delicious toppings. I haven't found them anywhere else in Japan and that's a bummer!
We eventually decided to ski the local ski hill.
Otaru Tenguyama is not a major ski destination but even if it lacks a proper website, it still has an high speed tram... and a sumo ski school!
There were some nice slackcountry options to ski skier’s right of the tram. Apart from 3 locals, we were pretty much skiing it by ourselves!

By looking at the pillows, there wasn’t much skier using this slope either!
If by any chance, you get bored of skiing powder, there is also a ski museum at the top of the lift! Skiing certainly has been a great part of Japan's history!

Time has been running by and with only 3 days left to ski, we’ll head to Niseko to end up our journey in a powderly manner!