Well, time for another trip report, only the third one for the year...... hopefully that's not too many, I'm not trying to take over the TR section, but when Epic closed down, I never got that chance to finish the Japan write up which I had only just gotten started. So, hopefully it's alright to finish that thread here......
This season was a great time. I got to spend a month in Hokkaido and really got to explore. I definitely felt more at home after 2016, I got to spend more time in some of the resorts I had enjoyed the previous winter and I found some new gems. The snow for Japan standards, was sub-par, but a sub-par season in Japan is still darn good.......
One of the guests enjoying the sub-par snow in Hokkaido...... pic: Grant Nakamura
I decided against going back to Niseko, it was a tough decision, but I decided to streamline the trips and focus more on the Furano and Otaru areas. There is no doubt Niseko has some great skiing; it's the biggest resort in Hokkaido, gets great snow and has some good terrain, but it's just so busy. It's a huge place and if you know it well, then I'm sure you can find plenty of untouched lines, but there's just so much pressure to find the freshies that you don't have at other resorts. It's also very expensive (again compared to other resorts in Hokkaido) and is a little too Westernized for my liking..... so, I pulled the plug. My biggest regret was potentially missing out on Rusutsu, that place is awesome, I had some great times there in 2016. In my opinion, it has the best fall-line tree skiing in that area (it's also getting popular though).
This time I had 10 or so days to go exploring for myself before the guests arrived, so I could further explore the resorts I had visited in 2016 and look at some new options as well. This was a rare opportunity. Let's get into it then. I'll give the disclaimer that I have the start of the trip saved from Epic and I wrote that with a lot of detail. The rest of the trip, I only wrote notes, so I will add a little detail, when I re-write (especially for first time visits to new places, of which there were a few), but I think I'll concentrate more on photos and video. So, let's start the adventure (again!)......
I took the Denver to Tokyo direct flight with United. The arriving aircraft from Houston was late arriving so that meant that I had a short time frame to get to the flight to Sapporo. I made it with about 5 minutes to spare. My bags turned up at the other side too, so I arrived in Sapporo with all my gear and on time by about 8pm. By the time I had checked in and put my bags in the room, it was 9pm. It turns out all the restaurants shut down at 9pm and as I walked around trying to find somewhere to eat, everything was closed. Whoops! During my wondering, I also realized that Chitose Airport is pretty huge. I hadn’t been to the international terminal before and there are tons of shops and a massive amount of restaurants in that part. Last year I only skimmed the surface apparently. Good to know for the future.
I was pretty much a zombie by this stage, so headed to bed and got my head down for a solid 8 hours. I was up early and had breakfast. Then I had to head to the Toyota Rent a Car place to pick up our van. I was meeting one of our new guides and her friend (a photographer) at the rental car place. I had my brand new International Drivers Permit (IDP) with me and Cynthia had her old one (still in date) that she had used in Chile over the summer. Hers was a little worse for wear and when the agent looked at both of our IDP’s, she started to question if Cynthia’s was still valid. Unfortunately the person who issued the permit had written over the date in black marker and the agent thought it was an old expired permit that had the date forged on it.
They wouldn’t believe that the permit was still new and we asked for the police to come and verify it for us, but they also wouldn’t agree on if it was ok for Toyota to accept it. So they wouldn’t let Cynthia sign as one of the drivers. Now we are trying to get her a new IDP sent out from the States and this has added an extra layer of complexity in regards to renting vehicles. The IDP is basically a translation of your driver’s license into multiple foreign languages and it needs to be accompanied by your real driver’s license at all times. Anyone can obtain one. Cynthia had already rented another vehicle with another company (she came to Japan early) and they had no trouble with her IDP, but Toyota seemed to be less flexible with the situation. So, to anyone reading this that is trying to rent a car in Japan with an older looking IDP, make sure you have a new one that has “consistent penmanship” on it! They take the IDP’s very seriously in this country. Lesson learned! I’m the only driver until we get this sorted out.
I completed the paperwork and signed for the van so then off we went. The next mission was to try and find some 2-way radios. I really like to have radios for in-group communication, especially for tree skiing with larger groups of people. It’s very easy to get split up and if you have radios, then that’s not a big problem. I always ski with them with our groups in India and will be using them in Chile. In the US it’s pretty easy; you can get decent Motorola units pretty cheap and they do a good job. Unfortunately you can’t use those same radios in Japan officially; the Western units operate on the same frequencies as the emergency services and they are illegal for use by civilians therefore. You have to buy special Japanese units that have the correct Japanese compliance symbol on them. The problem is they are not that easy to find, especially
In large enough quantities that I need, in the electronics stores and as it turns out; they are much more expensive in Japan. We had to take a trip into Sapporo to find some and they did not look the best. I paid nearly $45 USD per unit and so far, they have not been that impressive in their use. There are some decent looking Kenwood units for about $65 and in hindsight I should have gone for those as the “Firstcom S20” units might be a bit crap. We’ll see…… That added another 3 hours to the proceeding and we didn’t get out of Sapporo until after 6pm. It’s a pretty easy drive though once you get out of the city and off the freeway; the country roads (even in the dark) are quiet and easy going. We made it to Furano by about 8pm and went straight to the Furano Doxon brewery for a bite to eat. We had some edamame and I had the duck (all the meals were good) and we headed to the hotel.
We are staying for 4 nights at the New Furano Prince hotel, a big (400 plus rooms) ski in ski out property located at the bottom of the Furano ropeway in the Furano zone. It’s an impressive place, with an indoor and outdoor onsen (haven’t been to that yet), a couple of different restaurants and bars, a craft shopping area and is most importantly, ski in ski out. We got in around 9pm and took it easy. We had a big day planned furthering our knowledge of the Furano ski area the next day.
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Thursday 5th Jan
I felt pretty good about my knowledge of the Furano ski area after last season as it was one of the areas we spent the most time skiing (along with Kokusai ski resort) but there were a few areas that I wanted to explore better and a brand new line that I wanted to ski for the first time. After breakfast, we bought our tickets in the hotel (saves a little bit of money, the company who owns the hotel also owns the ski resort) and headed to the ropeway. After a short wait, we were whisked to near the top. Then it was a short ride up the double chair to the high point of 1,074m. The sun was out and the trees, coated in white were looking spectacular. It was cold and fresh and I felt pretty excited to be back in Japan skiing again. Finally the thought of being on the trip was starting to sink in.
I wanted to head out of the gate at the top and explore the skier’s right side of the ski area boundary. I’d seen plenty of tracks heading out there the season before, but hadn’t tried it, not knowing where it went. I had spent time looking at the zone on Google Earth and maps and wanted to try if for myself this time. I felt confident knowing where it went (turns out Cynthia had already skied it the year before too). The girls were up for an adventure. We headed out and came to a steep untouched face. I volunteered to test the slope and dropped in first. The snow was good and fun (though very rusty turns) was had. I kicked off a small slough (to be expected given how steep it was) but no major snow movement. Then the girls dropped in one at a time and had some good turns too. We headed down together, coming to another steep (but well-skied) line that eventually widened. The girls skied the same line and I pushed hard right. I came out to a large open area and obvious avalanche path with a rocky outcrop above. It was pretty decent looking terrain but something that needed to be given a little more respect. I saw the girls coming thought the trees above and I skied fast open turns down the open face, cutting hard to the left back into the trees to watch the girls come down the same line. I’ve not seen terrain like that in Furano before, so that was an important discovery. I don’t know if it somewhere I will take guests, but for my own skiing, I will definitely be checking that zone out more.
Knowing that we needed to be headed left the whole time, we started to traverse and tried to stay high. That was a bit of overkill as it turned out, the saplings were very tight in places and the going was slow and hard. I don’t mind a bit of bushwhacking but this was a little over the top. I’m always wary of committing to going too low (and following a creek bed) if I already have altitude (often better to stay high if you are unfamiliar) but it was clear that the creek bed had a lot less shrubbery and would be easier going. I dropped down sooner than the girls and the path (very well used) was open and free of bushes. The going was very easy and progress was a lot faster. I called the girls down and we followed the creek bed for a ways, eventually coming out at a dam wall. We climbed around the dam wall and regained the path and pretty soon we were coming back out into the resort, close to the bottom of the gondola. It was good run and we came out where we needed to be, but we would have been better served to have dropped into the main gully a lot sooner and not tried to stay high and traverse. It was a good little learning mission overall and fun to ski a new line.
We went back up the cable car and back to the same double chair. This time the focus was to get to the Premium Zone but this time to look at hiking in from the skier’s right. We had a nice traverse out through some low-angle untouched pow and then got to the start of the hike. The girls took the boot pack and I took a parallel skin track. It was easy going (a much easier hike going this way it seems) and in about 10 minutes, we reached a high spot. We were looking at skiing off the backside of the ski area (untouched snow again) but the trees looked pretty tight and bushy again and no one was keen on bushwhacking again. We stayed in the resort and dropped in the Premium Zone. The girls skied one of the open faces and I stayed in the trees, pushing a bit more skier’s right. The snow was good and untouched. I had to negotiate some more bushes and that disrupted my run, but I was happy to find some nice lines. We did a quick bootpack near an old abandoned lift line back into the bottom of the PZ and skied some more untouched fresh. We skied a few more fun lines and then headed down for an early lunch.
After lunch I wanted to go on another adventure and this time see how far down we could ski through another gate, this time at the top of the Kitanomine gondola. Surprisingly, the first chute right next to the top of the gate was still fresh with only a few tracks on it. The slope is well shaded and the snow quality looked really good, so we dropped in there and had some great turns. Normally you can’t go too far down before you traverse right to get back into the resort without having to do any work. I wanted to push it and see how far down you can get as there are definitely more quality turns to be had further down. We skied a couple of really nice untouched lines before starting our traverse. We had gotten pretty low by this point and we traversed for quite a while before we decided it was time to put the skins on and gain altitude. We only had to skin for about 7 or 8 minutes before we saw the ski area again. We popped out on the final steep pitch of the Giant C trail. It was another good adventure and I thought it was definitely worth skiing lower, with skins it’s pretty easy to get out. Another good lesson learned.
That was pretty much it for the day. We had to ski back to the other side of the mountain and catch a few lifts to make it back to the Furano Zone. All in all, it had been a fun day and I got to learn some new lines and explore some new options. All good knowledge to have. We made it back to the hotel and then made reservations for a restaurant in town. This one was a place that specializes in the Furano omlette, I had been to it before but wanted to visit again. I had the fried noodle bowl with bacon, with dried fish shavings on top. The fish is so light and dry that it moves with the hot steam of the noodles, making it look alive. It tasted good though and was exactly what I needed after a hard day skiing. I was pretty sore the next day (I’m getting old!). Nothing a hot shower and a couple of Ibehopin’(Ibupfrofin) can’t take care of. I was pretty spent and hit the hay early. We were going to explore a new resort the next day, one that I hadn’t skied before and I was excited to be visiting somewhere totally new.
Thanks to Marie-Claude Fillion for the photos.....
I love the lighting in Japan.......
Heading out one of the gates into the sidecountry, exploring a new zone.
Looking down into the Furano valley.
The chute that we skied. It was nice. A pretty decent challenge for my first turns of the season!
Backcountry options abound if you are willing to hike!
Looking out towards the Daisetsuzan National Park, home to active volcanoes. I got to ski there a couple of times later in the trip and it was amazing!
Skiing out the top of the gate near the top of the gondola in the Kitanomine zone......
Ski fast, throw 'em sideways and spray some snow for the camera. That's pretty easy to do in Japan. Creating faceshots in Furano!
Some footage for the day. It's very handy to be able to post video straight from Facebook. I don't think I have time to edit too much video, so I will just post a few quick, unedited video's to give you a feel for the action. That will keep things shorter at least...... here's a couple of quick hits from the day.
The warmup run for the day..... a nice steep, untouched chute in the backcountry. Thankfully I managed to link a couple of turns together but I felt really rusty!
The chutes outside the ski area in the Furano zone. There is some genuinely steep skiing to be found in Furano and this area is legit. This area definitely slides so be careful if you go in there.
Part of our run through the gate at the top of the Kitanomine gondola. There are a few chutes at the top and then awesome trees further down. We had a little traverse/hike out at the end, but it was worth it! Not bad for no new snow.....
Friday 6th Jan
This was a completely new resort for me; I’d never been to it before and was excited to try it. I’d heard they had put in a new chairlift that gave access to a lot of north-facing terrain (important when skiing lower elevation resorts). It was still refusing to snow so I was interested to see if the rumors that Sahoro’s trees didn’t see much action were true or not. We also were going to look at another resort on the way (Minami-Furano) to see if that was worth hitting too. It was listed as a 1hour 8 minute drive but when we plugged in the phone number (Japanese GPS units use phone numbers to locate a place) it listed it as more than 1 hour 30 minutes. Still all good, it was in the 1 hour 30 minute driving range that I think works for our trips, so off we went.
This time it was just Cynthia and I (Marie was staying in Furano to meet up with some other friends) and we left just after 8:30am. The sun was still out and the drive was beautiful as you go past some amazing looking peaks just outside of Furano. It took about an hour till we came to the town of Minami-Furano. We could see the ski area straight ahead and we headed to the carpark to take a closer look. It had some funny hours but was open 9am to 9pm on a Friday, so the lifts (the 2 lower single chairs at least), were spinning. We couldn’t see if the double chair up top was running. It has a decent enough vertical (400m) but from what we could see, it had one main face and was one big double fall line and seemed like a very small place. The only people there looked to be a group of racers. We saw that all of the trees had nets surrounding them (probably it is predominantly a race training hill) so they weren’t looking too accessible. Having seen it, it doesn’t look like somewhere we would be suitable for us to focus on, so think we’ll probably have to skip it.
We kept driving to Sahoro. We crested over a pass and the views were stunning! Impressive looking jagged mountains leading do dead flat plains, covered in farmland. Not far down the road we came to the turnoff for Sahoro. We found the main car park and saw the lodge, the gondola and several chairlifts. The mountain looked surprisingly big with plenty of trees, with a good amount of open looking trees up high. The carpark was also looking pretty quiet too. My understanding of Sahoro was that most of the people there were staying at the Club Med resort and tended to stay on the groomers and that most of the trees stayed untouched. I was excited to see if this was true. We paid for a 4 hour ticket (4,400 JPY plus a 500 JPY refundable deposit for the electronic ticket) and headed to the gondola. There was a decent queue and we got in line. It took about 25 minutes to get on board. There were other lifts running down low but they didn’t take us higher up the mountain so we were forced to take the gondola. It was busy but the lift operator gave us our own private cabin as we had to take our fat skis inside. That was nice. The view towards the top got more and more inspiring, plenty of open trees, no one skiing them and lots of snow.
Our mission was to head to the north side to check out the new chair and terrain, but when we got off the gondola and headed in that direction, we saw that all the runs in that direction were roped off. The wind was ripping up high and it was very cold, we took a long groomer down to get the lay of the land. We had seen some trees next to the gondola that were untouched and decided to jump in. There were zero tracks and the low angle trees were nice. There were still a couple of bamboo branches sticking up through the snow and they only added to the fun. We tried a different chairlift at the bottom but it didn’t really take us anywhere. We found another couple of stands of trees that were open and had no tracks in them. Maybe the rumors were true?
We had no option but to take the gondola again but by this time, the crowds had died down and we were back on a lot sooner. This time Cynthia took the lead and we headed to the skiers right side of the gondola. Here the tree runs were even deeper and still untouched. The snow was wind-affected with a slight wind crust, so it was a little challenging but still a ton of fun. What little tracks were there, were pretty much filled in with wind-blown fresh and the skiing as great. Definitely great bang for the buck here! We went back to the gondola and were straight on it this time, the crowds had dispersed. We went back to the same area and traversed even further right. I managed to find a more sheltered line where the snow was a lot lighter. I enjoyed some of the best turns of the trip so far.
We did a couple more runs and then had some lunch. The food in the cafeteria was great. I had a soba noodle/soy broth soup that came with a side bowl of beef on rice. What a feast. That was 950 JPY, so only about $8.20, amazing value for such a big amount of quality nosh. Yum! That was pretty much it for the day. We found out that the new chair hadn’t opened for the season as there was not enough snow on the north side (a lot of the snow was getting stripped out by the winds), so hope we’ll see that open later in the trip. I have to say that I really enjoyed Sahoro and was very pleasantly surprised. Given it hadn’t snowed in a while, the skiing in the trees was great with a lot of untouched snow. I’d love to hit it during a storm, it would be really good.
We headed back and the drive went quickly. We were back in Furano by 3pm and we headed to meet John Morrell, owner of a backcountry ski shop in Furano. He was there and I got to meet him and his wife. He’s a nice bloke and knows the area very well. I dropped off my skis to be de-tuned and then we headed back to the hotel. We then got ready to head back into Furano town and hit up the sushi train restaurant. This was an interesting experience. Admittedly I am not a big fan of sushi, but they had some good stuff (the steak sushi was my favorite) and I ironically came out with the biggest bill (calculated by numbers of plates you eat, with different prices depending on the grade of sushi). I had 7 plates and it still only came to about 1650 JPY or $14. Pretty darn cheap! The girls were stoked as they were on a sushi mission and I think it will be a good place to take the guests in the future as well. We headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next day. Tomorrow we will hit up Tomamu.
Sahoro base area.
Taking the main gondola up to the summit......
Plenty of open trees up high
The gondola and the view back down valley
Top of the gondola and plenty of snow up high
Moko the Sahoro mascot. Don't worry, he wasn't out there all day......
Ringing the bell (once!) for good luck!
All of these trees are skiable and open
A couple of video's to show you you what the terrain looks like in Sahoro.......
Heading down lower, we found some nice untouched snow near the gondola. It was pretty tracked directly below, but head a little bit to the right and it was untouched. You can see some bamboo still sticking out (one of the predominant obstacles you will find early season) but it's pretty flexible so you can ski around it/through it without too much concern.
We did several runs up high through the open trees near the top of the gondola. There was plenty of fresh windblown snow to be had and we had the place to ourselves. Overall, I liked Sahoro. We ended up going back a couple more times and found some good secret runs, plus we can also see some great sidecountry/touring options as well. You do have to be careful with the weather. Sahoro doesn't get as much snow as some of the other resorts we go to, it feels like the wind can really hit this place hard and most of the slopes are south-facing (the new lift that accesses north facing runs will really help the area), so timing your visit when the snow is at it's peak, will be the challenge. With relatively few people going into the trees and getting adventurous, you can find good snow if you know where to look......
Thanks for the message and following along. These initial posts are going to be pretty detailed, but expect that the posts later on probably won't have the same level of detail as I have to rewrite the later posts from the original notes I took. There's a couple of even more under the radar resorts coming up that we visited that I won't be able to name as I want to keep them a little more secret.....
Yes, if you do a little bit of research it's not hard to find out about the radio frequency conflict. It's a problem in some of the bigger resorts (Niseko especially) and I've heard that they do try and track people down who are using 'illegal' radios and people have been caught and fines issued, but I've not personally witnessed that myself. I did find it hard to find low cost yet effective 2-way radios, they are a lot more expensive in Japan which is a surprise. The first lot of radios (even though I paid $40 or $50 each were absolute junk. The second lot of radios set me back about $70 each and they were a lot better thankfully. When skiing in the trees or for when people want to do different runs or head off early for lunch etc, they are super helpful.
- MattMendieta likes this.
Saturday 7th Jan
Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
I was keen to give Tomamu another go as I’d only been there once and it was right at the end of the last trip and conditions were sub-par. I thought it had potential so I suggested we go there. Again there was no major snow in the forecast but I’m finding out that that doesn’t necessarily mean anything…… more on that in a minute.
Marie was back with us for her last day and the girls were down to keep exploring, so we made the easy 1 hour 30 minute drive. The immediate feel of the mountain is that it seems similar to Sahoro, but it is just bigger and the runs are longer. There are really nice trees at the top and an upper high speed, hooded quad that you can use to stay high and keep in the trees. There is a 4 person gondola that you can use to take you to the top and then you lap with the quad. There are a variety of aspects but the resort generally faces south, so better early in the season. There is a lower secondary peak that has an old defunct chairlift that used to go to the top, now you can take a boot pack so you have guaranteed fresh tracks from there.
The resort has two massive big hotels that dominate the lower vistas, literally 2 sets of twin towers with an adjoining glass covered walk-way that takes you from one to the other, with a separate food court complex in the middle. It all looks a little weird but thankfully, the skiing is good. Normally you have to sign a waiver and get an arm band for any of the off-piste and tree skiing from the main lodge check-in area, but this was not open yet as officially those areas are not ready. They are still open though, you just go in there at your own risk and nothing was roped.
We got there around 10:30am and went straight to the gondola for a lift to the top. It was cold and windy but there was looking like there had been some fresh, maybe about 15cm’s. Again, just because the forecast hasn’t called for it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t snowed. I’m starting to learn that……. We could see on the way up that the trees didn’t have any tracks in them yet, not bad for closer to 11am by the time we got to the top and it being a Saturday after all! The gondola doesn’t take you as high as the quad chair, but that was ok as we had enough height to be able to push skier’s right and get into the more sheltered trees. After a quick traverse to the right, we were on our lines. It was untouched and looking pretty nice, but was hard to tell just how much snow was in there and if it was going to be crunchy underneath. I dropped in and put the brakes on to get a feel for the snow. A little crunchy underneath but about 2 turns later, the snow was soft and the crunchiness was gone. As I got back into the shelter of the trees, the snow was boot top deep and skiing very nicely! We all had a really nice run and headed back to the quad chair for another lap.
This time we stayed left at the top of the chair. On the way up it looked like there was a lot less snow on this side (more affected by the sun on this side) so I was expecting a lot harsher of a ride. Sure enough, it was comparatively more boney, so we only did one lap there. We headed back to the chair and did several more laps on the skier’s right side, finding better and better snow (it was snowing pretty good by this stage and that was helping fill things in more). After several quick laps, it was time to head down for some lunch. The base restaurant is great, inexpensive with a nice range of food options. I hadn’t had a curry for nearly 2 days, so it was time for some more Katsu curry (my favorite!). Yum. Then it was back out for some more turns. I wanted to show the girls the smaller peak with the abandoned lift on it and take the hike to the lower peak. Marie wasn’t into it as she wanted to just ski in the lower trees so Cynthia and I did the boot pack up the groomed trail on the ridge, to the left of the chairlift. It only takes about 15 minutes and with the low elevation, it’s pretty easy going. I tried skinning but my skins weren’t holding on the relatively steep pitch (my skins are straight cut and not trimmed to fit, they work much better in the powder and not so much on a steep groomed trail, as it turned out), so I unclipped and just walked it. We got to the top without too much trouble and scoped some potential lines. There was really nice looking snow on the backside of the mountain, but we didn’t have time to ski down and skin back up. We made the call to push out a little bit to our right and then dropped in. It was untouched (a bit of bamboo sticking out at the top, made for a slightly interesting initial straightline).
The snow (yep, you guessed it!) was untouched, but most surprisingly, it was really soft and pretty light. This was probably the best snow of the day and a nice surprise. We skied through birch and pine trees, finding pockets of room and deep snow. We skied down pretty far and then started our cut back to the left. In places it was hard going, at one spot we came to a small landslip area that took some work to get around, but finally we made it out. We skied back down to the second chairlift and as luck happened, saw Marie on the chair. She said she would wait for us at the top. We rode up and met her at the top. She wasn’t up for the bootpack as it was close to 3pm, so we just traversed skier’s right into the trees again. The girls went pretty far in and I stayed a bit more in the fall-line. I lost them (no worries, it was hard to get lost) and I skied a lot of turns, eventually coming to a small trail with ski tracks (sidestepped) leading uphill to the left. There were pink ribbons on the trees, so I followed them to the left. I knew there was a snow-shoe trail in there so that must have been it. After about 7 or 8 minutes I could hear the resort and I skied back to the bottom of the trail. The girls took about 15 minutes to appear as they had gone really far right and had had to cross the main creek that separates the two areas. All good. We jumped back in the van and made the 1 hour 30 minute drive back to Furano. It had been a good day and I was happy that Tomamu had redeemed itself. Awesome!
Unfortunately I didn't take any photos, Marie did and I never got them from her. I do have plenty of POV footage from the day, so here's some video to give you a better feel for the day......
1st run from the top of the gondola. The snow on this side of the ski area was the best we found. It had blown in but was still soft. Hardly anyone was skiing there so we pretty much had the zone to ourselves. We explored other areas but kept coming back to this spot, working our way further down the ridge and finding fresh lines each lap.
Another run in the same zone, pretty similar to the first but more sound effects from me....... It looks pretty similar to Sahoro and the upper trees have the exact same aspect, pitch and feel to Tomamu. It's another resort that you have to hit at the right time. Tomamu is bigger and a lot more developed (the two sets of twin towers look pretty crazy!).
This was part of the second to last run of the day. We did the easy 10 minute hike to the top of the abandoned summit of the smaller peak, near the top of an old disused chairlift. There is some good skiing to be had in the trees, with some tight trees and then thankfully, some open trees down low. It was a short (but easy) sidestep/traverse to get out, but definitely worth it.
- MattQmaartenQ likes this.
Sunday 8th Feb
Otaru Travel Day
Not too much excitement was had on this day. Marie had left and Cynthia was staying in Furano to keep learning the area better. I was on a mission to get to Otaru where I was staying for 5 nights. My friend and business partner in Chile, Francicsco Penafiel was arriving on the 10th and we would have a few days of riding together which I was really looking forward to. He loved to call me a “gringo” in Chile when I was there in August and I was keen to return the favor and start calling him “gaijin” which also means foreigner, the equivalent term in Japanese. Fun times ahead!
The sun was out again (setting records this trip) and the drive was pretty easy, all be it with a nervous moment when I nearly ran out of diesel. Thankfully I found a servo in Mikasa (su casa) and was able to save my blushes and fill up. Then onto the freeway (toll road) and past Sapporo on the aerial skyway that bypasses everything. I made it to Otaru in under 3 hours. I got to see the Ishikari Bay and the ocean again which was really nice. I checked in and settled into my room (it was only 2pm). Then I went on a wonder around the shopping mall in a vain attempt to find some better quality radios, but none were found. I ended up getting really lost, as always. It took me a while to find my way out again. I had a really nice meal and my first couple of beers for the trip back at the hotel (I barely drink in Japan as they have a zero tolerance to drink driving which I whole-heartedly support). I had a good night’s sleep and awoke refreshed ready to hit up Asarigawa (Asari), another new resort. Until then!
Monday 9th Jan
I was on my own for the next couple of days and was keen to check out Asari. I’d heard good things about the place. It sounded like again, there was no one skiing the trees and that there was enough vertical (540m) to make the short 15 minute drive from Otaru worthwhile. I’d been past the resort many times to/from Kokusai but had never stopped in. When I got to the carpark, it was pretty busy. I was way down in the 3rd lot and was wondering if I should turn around because it would be too busy? I kept going and had about a 7 minute walk to get to the area. I noticed several buildings and then the lifts. Supposedly the resort had 4 lifts (1 triple and 3 doubles) and I could see two of them down low. There were a lot of kids ski school groups milling about and some higher end skiers (all decked out in their bright Descente and Mizuno outerwear and Rexxam race boots!). It looked like some kind of ski instructor training convention. Anyway, there were some good Japanese skiers ripping around and it was nice to see.
I bought my day pass (2.900 JPY or $24 USD) and decided to check out the main buildings first. There was an old defunct lunchroom that was now being used as a waiting room/BYO lunch area and then the main lodge. There was a small ski shop, vending machines, ice cream/snack kiosk, tables and then upstairs, to my relief, a large cafeteria. It was the usual ticket machine food ordering system, but a lot of the menu items didn’t have the English translations which you normally would find. That would make ordering lunch a little more exciting than usual. With the indoor recce done, it was time to head outside and up the mountain for some turns.
I headed straight to the main (red) double chair and jumped on. To my left I could see two stands of tight trees that were steep but looked untouched. I’d hit them up first. I’d heard the best trees were up high but I wanted to sample the ones down low first. I got to the top, turned right and the first stand of trees was right there. They were pretty tight as I dropped in but found a few open spots where I could let the skis run a bit. I made it out safely and then went back up for another run, this time I would stay on the ridge longer and hit the next stand of trees. These were even tighter again and it was hard to get a rhythm. They were pretty steep too. There were some lines to be had when I looked back, but I was happy just to go through once knowing that it was right there if I wanted to go back.
Then I decided to head to the top. There was a middle chair (green) that I had to go up next and that led me to the upper (purple) chair. Going up that chair I could see a lot of fresh lines to be had in the trees next to the chair. It was right there. I turned right at the top and in I went. It was nice, mellow terrain but plenty of room and enough pitch to get moving. I stayed high to the right and skied it all the way back to the chair. That was so nice I decided to do it again (2 more times) and pushed further left each time. The left side got a little steeper and I came out at a clearing that I had to push to get through all the deep snow. It was definitely worth it though.
Then I decided to check out the right side. Here there were signs up saying ski area boundary and that if you go out there, you are not allowed to come back into the resort. I decided to give that a miss and followed the edge of the trees down. Off to the right I could see a big old building so I traversed out to check it out. It was closed and around the side I saw a sign for another run. The run was a cat track that meandered around some steep terrain. There were no ropes or signs telling me I couldn’t ski it, so I dropped in and had a steep face that led to an open area. Unfortunately I didn’t see the little dam walls in the flat light and I all of a sudden found myself in the air. The drop was only about 6ft and the landing deep and soft, it was more funny than anything, but in the future I would need to remember the drops are there. I had to sidestep up a small hill to get back to the trail and then I was on a main run. I skied that back down to the base area and I was pretty much done for the day. I headed back to the hotel and had a relaxing evening.
The base lodge area in Asari.
The cafeteria, like all resort cafeteria's in Hokkaido, serves up awesome and very inexpensive food.
Looking up the lower lifts in Asari.
Local kids taking lessons.
There must have been some kind of Japanese ski instructors training going on at Asari. There were a bunch of instructor looking types making some good turns down this run. From what I have seen, the Japanese, although they don't seem to care too much for skiing in the trees (fine by me!) do enjoy working on technique on the main runs.
Short but steep off to the sides. The trees are all good to go as well, but they were very tight!
Surprise, surprise, untouched snow in the trees and no ropes. Yes please!
More of the same......
Heading up higher.....
This whole area to the left was looking really good. It was roped and signs were up though so I didn't go. Looks like a good zone though......
Top of the old double chair, the high point of the mountain.
An old hut crushed under the weight of the snow, off in the trees.
Some kind admin building up high. Guess that car isn't getting out for a while......
Big open area, not sure if there is a golf course up there in the summertime?
The dam area. Don't fall off the dam walls like I did!
Lunch was so good. This was about $7 or $8 and I got a bowl of miso soup and breaded pork cutlet with raw egg on top (Katsu Don). Stir in the egg and it cooks in the heat of the rice. So good!
Let me rummage up some video.......Emil likes this.
A couple of video's from Asari......
I saw some good snow in the trees, right next to the top chairlift and jumped in for a little look around. I ended up doing a couple of runs, it was pretty mellow but the snow was nice and getting in and out was very easy.
This was the line I skied down that second to last photo, with all the dams on it. I didn't see the first drop and before I knew it, I was in the air falling down to the flats. Thankfully it was a soft landing and I was totally fine, but goes to show you have to be careful. Having not skied that area before, I didn't see it coming. I will definitely know better for next time!
Tuesday 10th Jan
Unfortunately I am going to have to be a little secretive about this place and I won’t be able to say the name of this resort, but I discovered and absolute gem of a place outside of Otaru. This was a big surprise as I nearly didn’t go, but I am glad that I did. What I found was a small resort that had some steep terrain and plenty of trees and no one going in them. They were not roped off and were all inside the ski area boundary. I was getting fresh tracks at 3pm and loving life!
This resort was only a 20 minute drive from the hotel. I arrived at the base and could see a small cable car and a double chair. The cable car goes about ¾ of the way up and then the chair goes all the way to the top. The main face of the mountain is steep and reminded me a little bit of a shorter version of Sapporo Teine. There were plenty of sections of trees that I could see. I decided to take the double chair as that would take me to the top straight away. I could get the lay of the land straight away. The views of Otaru and the Ishikari Bay were stunning as I got up higher. The top part of the mountain was very flat and there was another double chair up there for the beginners. I could see tree to the skier’s left of the main chair that were untouched so I dropped in and straight away had some great turns. It was nearly 12pm and there were no other tracks. I was pretty amazed and enjoyed a nice run to the bottom. Even though the vertical was only 400m, it was true fall-line vertical, pretty much straight down without any shelving or the need to traverse. The bang for the buck was very high!
I skied the same run but further left on the next run, finding even better snow but not quite as much vertical. Then I came back up and pushed further left again. I skied a really nice line (again untouched) before coming out onto a cat track. The cat track swung hard to the left and I noticed a big net to the side of the turn. I skied down a little bit further and rounded the bend and I could see that there was a big 20 ft retaining wall with nice trees below. I found an opening and there was a nice little 12 ft drop into untouched deep powder. I had to take it. I found a hole in the trees and took the drop, the landing was soft and deep and I kept my momentum up making some really nice deep turns, getting some nice faceshots in the process. I pushed right and skied a few more turns before coming to another steep section. I could see an old filled-in traverse line so I aimed for that. I eventually came out of the trees towards the bottom of the main chairlift. What I run!
There were other faces in those trees that needed exploring so I skied the same line again (hitting the drop again with more speed and going bigger) and stayed to the left. Found more nice turns and skied it all the way through. I had a little uphill sidestep to get back to the traverse line, but the extra turns were worth it. I went back up and did another lap. It was 2pm and I was still getting freshies every lap. I went back to the top but this time decided I needed to explore the skier’s right side, near the tram. The start of the main run is nice and steep and I immediately traversed into the trees. Again there were no ropes so all good and legal. I pushed right and eventually came to a large open steep face. There had been a big slide (hard to tell if there had been a landslide area too), either way, the snow was greatly affected and potentially unstable so I stayed right on the edge of the trees. It had been skied recently, but with the new snow (about 15cm’s overnight), the skiing was still soft and the snow was so light, it sluffed and sprayed up and made for some exciting turns. I funneled to the left and found open trees leading a fair ways down. You definitely had good vertical and the legs got a great work out by the time I reached the bottom. I came back out right next to the bottom of the tram. What a great lap.
I jumped on the tram this time (a small, old 30 person tram) and took it to the top and the start of the steep part. I went to a similar spot and had more great turns. I went back up (totally covered in snow from all the faceshots I was getting) and this time went all the way across to the right of the run. I went past a little shrine and a small path with these awesome flags on it. I got some nice footage of me skiing down this narrow path in between all these billowing flags, it was pretty cool. I pushed right and was to the right of the landslide area. It was all trees again and I spotted this little shelter and then an awesome rock outcrop that made it look like you were standing on the end of the earth. The bay was right there again and the whole vista was just stunning. I dropped into the trees and found myself on top of a small cliff band. Not wanting to push it, I traversed right and found a way to sneak through. I cut back to the left and found the deepest turns of the day, with great vertical and small little launches. I got a little low and started going down the wrong side of a small little ridge, so I had to do a little sidestepping to get back to where I needed to be. It was an amazing run. What a way to finish the day. It was 330pm and I was hungry. Unfortunately the little restaurant next to the tram was closed for the day, so I would have to console myself with some snacks from a 7-11 on the way back to the hotel.
My good friend Ross, an Australian ski instructor from Niseko and Mt. Hotham was coming to pay me a visit, so I headed back. He was coming in to the Otaru station around 6pm so I had to hustle to get ready to meet him. I showered and changed and then hit the road. The station was very busy, with cars and buses everywhere. I saw Ross waiting inside and I yelled at him and he came out. We loaded up all his gear and headed back to the hotel. The plan was to go out and show him around my favorite part of Otaru, the old canal district. We had a couple of beers at the brewery and then went next door to the bbq place where you order the raw items and then cook them on the charcoal grill. We ordered a meat platter and then a mixed seafood/meat platter. We burned a couple of things but overall, it was good food and a lovely experience. It was about $25 each with a couple of beers as well. We headed back to the hotel for a couple more beers and then we were done. My friend Francisco Penafiel, my partner in Chile was arriving for a week of riding, so we waited up for him and he called my room when he arrived about 11pm. We arranged to meet for breakfast at 7am downstairs and then hit the hay. We’d be riding Kokusai the next day and it was snowing hard……
Looks like I didn't take any photos (I went back 2 days later and have some good photos from then), but I have some good video's.......
Very first turns of the day. Freshies at noon, right next to the main run. I'm liking this place......
A little huck into the trees that could not be ignored!
Skiing the right side of the ski area. Showing a top to bottom run in quality, dry powder!
That was fun day and so glad I found this place. I would go back there many times.......Last edited: Jun 26, 2017
A couple more video's from the day, then we'll move onto Kokusai...... the further right I went, the better the snow. The last run of the day was the best, with soft, deep snow and a really nice line.....
What an awesome day! It was a shame I didn't have anyone to share it with, but I was so happy I made the call to go visit. I had a new favorite resort in Otaru.
Wed 11th Jan
It was time to head back to one of my favorite resorts and one of the better resorts for me, in terms of familiarity. Kokusai is about a 40 minute drive from Otaru and passes through some lovely snowy mountains. Ross, Francisco and I piled into the van by about 8:20am and we were at the resort by 9am. It looks like Kokusai has undergone some changes; they had a new chairlift put in that services the upper mountain and they have a new RFID ski pass system and scanners. Gone are the ticket checkers at the gondola and lowest chair. I’d also seen on the map a newly designated deep powder zone under the new chairlift. This had previously been closed terrain so I was keen to see if that meant it was now open.
One worrying new addition was signage on the main lodge’s front door that said that out of bounds skiing was prohibited at Kokusai. I’d not seen this sign before. Perhaps this was a sign of a crackdown on inbounds rope ducking? Who knows, but that didn’t inspire confidence. Kokusai has some great in-area tree skiing and it would be awesome if it was all open. We only bought a 3 hour pass just in case our terrain options were going to be limited. Going up the gondola we could see that everything (all the trees) were roped and there were no tracks. Not a good sign but the resort was pretty quiet. We got out at the top and could see the off-loading ramp of the new quad chair. On the trail map there was a deep powder zone, so we headed for that. The zone was all roped off at the top and finally when we got around lower, the rope line ended and we could enter. It was knee deep and untouched, so we dropped in. The skiing was fun but it was a short run and not very steep. Still, that was a nice start but bittersweet when the steeper part of the same run was all roped off.
We came out of the trees and the new quad chair was right there. It was really nice, a high speed quad with bubble and padded seats. I’ve never had the padded seats before and they were nice! The plan was then to head back to the top and potentially go to the skier’s right of the gondola, into the woods and the sidecountry. We had noticed that the entrance to the sidecountry was not roped, so we had no qualms about heading out there. It’s very flat at the start and Francisco found it very hard going at the start, he had to walk a bit. Finally we got to the start of the steeper section and it looked really good. Untouched and deep! This would be pretty sweet. I dropped in first and sure enough, the snow was hitting me in the chest with every turn and I was getting a few faceshots. Not bad for a claimed 8cm’s of new snow. Then we had to take the traverse out. Unfortunately we got a little low and ended up traversing on the steeper lower section which is much slower going. After a lot of work, we managed to make it onto the main track, then it was pretty easy. We headed back for several more laps, each time finding untouched powder. The skiing was great, the snow was deep and we were more successful at staying high to the left so Francisco didn’t have to work as much. That was pretty much our day, lapping outside the ski area and skiing fresh lines. There were a few other groups doing the same laps as us, mostly Euros in freeride one piece suits and ABS packs. Looks like some of the Kiroro crowd is starting to find out about Kokusai now and it’s not so much under the radar. It was inevitable given its proximity to the place! We’ll have to see what it’s like in a couple more years……
We only had the 4 hour pass, so after a late lunch, we were done. We dropped Ross back at the station in Otaru and then Francisco and I went and got ready to go out. We took a taxi to the Otaru brewery and had a few beers, then we went on a mission to find somewhere new to eat, but it was too late and most places were closed. We settled for our favorite bbq place and Francisco was able to order some King Crab and some Oysters, so he was happy. I had the meat platter so I was also very happy. We had a couple more beers before heading back to the hotel.
Francisco enjoying Kokusai!
Ringing the bell for good luck.
Sampling a Katsu curry (breaded pork cutlet on top of rice and curry sauce, my personal favorite).
Yep, curry was definitely on the menu this day! Ross also enjoying a Katsu curry! All this food for about $8.....
Some footage of Francisco and Ross riding in Kokusai....
The snow was great and with the wind blowing directly into our faces, it was even easier to get faceshots! It was great to ski with Ross again (as well as Francisco). I hadn't seen him for few years and it was an awesome day!
- MattJim McDonald likes this.
Thur 12th Jan
Mount Notgonnatellyou - Francisco and Matt – Epic powder day
It looks like my detailed reports end here unfortunately, This is where my old complete write-ups have ended and I just have notes left. I don’t have a lot of free time to go crazy with the writing, so I’ll let the photos and videos do most of the talking then. Ross had gone back to Niseko the day before, so it was just Francisco and I. We were due to drive to Chitose and I had to go and pick up the first group of guests in Chitose the next day and then drive to Furano, so I didn’t want to go too far.
It was snowing hard in Otaru so it was an easy choice, Mt. Notgonnatellyou again! Francisco is a good rider and can go anywhere. He’s really adept at getting through the trees and any tight brush, plus Notgonnatellyou doesn’t have too many flat run outs (unlike some areas that have long traverses out in gullies which can be really hard on a board), so it would be fine for him. We got there close to opening time and were the first ones there. We had the whole mountain to ourselves. There was a couple of new inches of fresh on the groomers but in the trees, the snow was deep and smooth. We had an awesome day hitting up the fresh lines in the trees, with no one else around. Our own private little powder paradise! What a fun day! Here’s the highlights……
The restaurant towards the top of the mountain has an awesome museum. It's free and definitely worth a look at lunchtime. Here is a collection of old skis.
The history of skiing in Hokkaido. I had wondered where my old pink skin tight race pants had gotten to!
My favorite part of the display are the old goblin masks! The goblins are said to roam the mountains outside of Otaru. Watch out for them in the trees!
No ducking of ropes with this guy in charge! The samurai sword is a little hard to see tucked under his left arm, but that spear will definitely get you!
The path to the shrine.
Francisco near the shrine.
Large statue in the woods.
On a clear day, the view over the city and down to the ocean, is amazing. Not too many clear days up here though which is all good, especially as it snows a lot!
The terrain in the trees.
Francisco was on a mission to eat some Otaru oysters and snow crab.
A great day in Notgonnatellyou and a nice way to wrap it up in Otaru at our favorite BBQ place.
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