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!

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