Friday, January 19, 2018

Back to Japan!!

To start, the 2018 edition of the snowchasing trip, I decided to visit what is quickly becoming a classic around the world: Japan.

I’ll be road tripping for a bit more than 3 weeks with my old man. From here, I plan to leave and aim to Kazakhstan where I should meet with my girlfriend for another 3 weeks.

I should then return home for a short stay and then take-off for the Pyrenees and the Alps.

For my 6th trip to Japan, I decided to try to check out some new (as well as to revisit some classic) on Honshu.

With some resort reporting already over 6m of snowfall, it looked quite promising!

After picking up the car in Tokyo and driving across the island to Nagano, which is quite a nice hub to check out various areas since it is around an hour drive to Myoko, Nozawa Onsen and Hakuba.

We decided to start by checking Arai Lotte. This resort opened during what really looked like a bubble and was closed for the past years, but due to the number of foreigners visiting to ski each year, the place re-opened in December 2017.
When we showed up, the resort was quite empty.
The terrain is quite nice with a decent vertical and steepness.
Unfortunately, all the areas starting from Mt Okenashi was closed due to an incident that happened a few weeks back. A ski patroller told us that this zone would probably reopen in a few weeks….

On the other side, it was possible to poach the Strickly Off-limit zone without being to harass by the patrollers. That left fresh snow all day, until closure!

We were really impress by the snow (around 40cm) that dumped overnight. Especially when Myoko only a few kilometers away didn’t received much. Apparently, the location of Arai Lotte closer to the see, makes it a snow magnet even stronger than the resorts around Myoko.

From Arai, we made our way closer to Nozawa Onsen.
I really like this resort. With a real town at its base and not too other foreigners, there is really something cool about skiing there. The resort is also layout in such a way that there is plenty of room to find some good lines between the runs.

It snowed a bit overnight and there wasn’t too much snow in town. We were aiming to the resort without too much in mind, but still early enough to catch first chair!

We were rewarded with another overnighter of 40cm!

After lapping furiously a few of the legal runs, we aimed for the trees where we were able to find some awesome lines all day until closure!
With no new snow on the forecast, we made our mind to check out the backcountry starting from the top of Yamabikho quad chair.
From behind the big telecommunication tower, it is possible to ski down into the backside. Plenty of skiers ski across the fall line to catch up a trail to make hour way back to the resort, but if you ski fall line, it is much better!

After this short (150-200m) run.
Hike back up towards the col and up to the adjacent mountain. That will lead you on the top of another 200m long run.
From there, instead of going back to the resort, put your skins on your skis and climb onto the snow cover road up. Once you reach the col, aim left onto the adjacent mountain. You will now stand on top of a 200m long run of perfectly spaced birch trees! (See below, red for skiing, blue for hiking up)
It also looks like there is quite a nice long run towards the backside, but it was a bit wind hammered to check it out.
Check out the Japanese online topo maps if you want to explore around!

It was so good and so quiet that we decided to lap it for another day. We saw pretty much no one there.

One of the reason of our visit to Nozawa was to check out the Fire festival (Dōsojin). This is the most touristic event of Nozawa which happened on every January 15th.

You can read here if you want to have the full proper detailed description.

A group of 40ish year old men are standing on the top of a wooden shrine which is defended by a group of 25-year-old men. The goal for the villager is to try to light up the shrine by using bundle of light up straw.

The festival starts with a group of really drunk men bringing some light-up straws.
In order to make it real, we can barely stand and are going straight to the crowd and dropping embers and ashes on them! My Dad got his nice jackets and blacked out and puncture by the embers…

Then, after some drum music, the real show starts.
First the kids who all gets a light up straw bundle.

The now try to light up the shrine which is defend by some drunk 25-year-old males.
In order to try to light up the structure, they really smash the light up straw onto the defenders who then try to knock off the fire.

After about 30-50 assaults, the defender kinda won it since there was no straw bundle left…
So, they light up the structure and let it burn!

One thing for sure, it is quite a crazy happening that defy all and every bit of safety one can dream of!

With some heavy rain on the forecast, we are most likely going to move up towards northern Honshu to check out the conditions where it should still be winter!


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