Skin. Ski. Onsen. Beer. Eat. Repeat
ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER GREAT SKI TOUR IN JAPANIt's so easy to fall into a rhythm every day of skinning up, skiing down, soaking in an onsen, having a beer, eating traditional Japanese food. And, then, waking up to repeat it all over again...
Today was a DIY ski tour as our guide starts with us on Monday. We wanted to avoid Niseko where the latest fresh snow would be totally tracked out and we had no transport so we took the hotel shuttle to the Welcome Centre and then the bus to Moiwa, about 45 minutes away with only three lifts.
We were among the first through the two gates at the top of the longest chair with our 'powder ferret', as in Gavin, sussing out good powder through the trees, only going off track once, resulting in an intense 10 minute uphill boot pack in thigh high powder.
Back home on the 3.20pm bus, then shuttle to Niseko for a beer in The Fridge, as eye-watering cost wise as a face shot of Japow, and traditonal dinner in Rin, the tiny restaurant opposite. Elaine
Not feeling the slightest bit tired (!) after shredding the pow in Moiwa yesterday, we teamed up with Jan our guide from Sherpas Ride and off we rolled to Rusutsu, a neighbouring resort.
One lift to the top, a short hike and we dropped in to some sweet untracked boot-deep, descending around 300m vertical before transitioning to skins and less than an hour later we’re ready to roll again!
And so it went on, rinse, lather, repeat until our thighs cried 'enough'. Ken
Word on the street was Kokusai, 1h 30m road trip north of Niseko was going to get it, so we piled our kit in to the Sherpas Ride ski bus and parked up in boot-deep.
As seems to be customary, it was one gondola to the top (so just a rando pass), then a surreal hike across a snow-sculpted tree tundra to our transition point.
Skis on, drop in and wow!
Nominally boot-deep, super light Japow turned into waist-deep in the troughs between the pillows. I kept the few locals that were there and the rest of the Style Altitude team highly amused with my whooping. This, according to our guide, was the best he’s seen all season so we really lucked out.
Skinned back up and repeated this a few times followed by a pretty gnarly run-out (see below with drop to the left into an icy stream) back to the van.
Awesome Japow-day, probably the best for me since Canada heliskiing 20 years ago! Ken
We voted to do the ski tour and onsen combo so parked up with around a dozen vans at Nito. With a few tourers setting off at the same time, we avoided the main 'motorway', taking a steeper option getting us up higher quicker but via many a kickturn. We opted for one longer climb and ski down although, as always, the descent seemed mighty swift in the powder compared to the effort of climbing.
Then it was onsen time, avoiding the traditional ones that won't allow tattoos and following the etiquette of stripping, washing and, finally, soaking in the hot water (guys and girls separate). Then, you guessed it, a huge bowl of ramen and a beer. Elaine
THURSDAY: MT YOTEI (see ski blog)
Back on skis again after a massive day on Mt Yotei. Our Sherpas Ride guide, Jan, came up with a plan to climb the Giant Ridge of Mt Furanodake.
We rocked up to the trailhead 45 minutes from our lodgings, kitted up and walked to the start point, which was an extremely wobbly, ice-covered temporary plank over the hot spring-fed river, taking great care not to fall in!
A beautiful forest trail awaited us, but when we exited the tree line onto the ridge proper, it started snowing quite heavily and the wind picked up. I was following Jan on his snowshoes and trying to stomp a platform on the kickturns for Elaine behind as snowshoes aren’t too user-friendly to follow. In the end, we achieved our target of 1500m on the ridge, but couldn’t climb any higher as by this time the wind had got up so much I had to don my goggles so I could see where I was. Also the temperature with windchill was around -24 degrees so we made a good call.
After ripping the skins, we hastily skied off the ridge and dropped in to the gully out of the gale, where we found a very pleasant line of 20cm or so of fresh pow. At the end came the now obligatory gnarly runout back to the car park.
But, the best was yet to come. 'Fancy an onsen?' asked Jan. Of course we did, it’s the perfect end to a cold, tough ski tour. What came next blew our minds (in the nicest possible way). We took our towels down a snowy path, looking at each other thinking 'Where’s he taking us?' Turned a corner and came across a natural stone onsen (spa) cut into the hillside and steaming away nicely.
It was guys and girls together and who cares about tattoos? Ok, there are no changing rooms so we spent a chilly few minutes hopping around stripping out of ski gear. But, the feeling of sitting in a natural hot spring with a beer while the snow was hoofing down, with one of Japan’s most beautiful mountains as a backdrop is one I’ll never forget
Then another beer (or two) and a huge bowl of Japanese curry soup. Ken
SUNDAY: FURANO (COW BELL RIDGE)
For our last day in Furano on our Hokkaido Road Trip, Jan our guide from Sherpas Ride announced we'd be touring the Furano backcountry.
One super-long gondola ride later (with hats for our skis provided by the lift company as we had to carry our fat skis inside the gondola) we traversed out into the forest and dropped down.
The first descent was not so pleasant as a couple of days of warm temps had given us a freeze-thaw cycle and although we had a 5cm dusting, it was sliding straight off.
Quick piste dash down to a chairlift and we dropped into a more north-facing tree run where the snow was a lot nicer, all the way down to another long gondola (with ski hats!).
Slapped the skins on and ascended around 400m to Cowbell Ridge, so called because Gav found an ancient cowbell hanging in a tree near the summit ridge, Ding Dong!
Stunning views over Furano from the ridge:
We could see this was going to be a pretty awesome descent from the quality of the snow on the way up and indeed it was!
Of course, there was the now obligatory gnarly run-out, but we were getting expert as these by this stage and it was quickly dispatched!
Quick dash back to our hotel in Furano, the quirky but great Petit Melon which was really well-situated at the bottom of the ski area, then jumped into the Sherpa bus for the final leg of our road trip to Sapporo. Ken
MONDAY: KOKUSAI (AGAIN)
We're now in Sapporo, but opted for the 90 minute drive to Kokusai again as a storm had come in overnight and it was looking promising!
Except it wasn't to be, all lifts were closed due to high winds and would not be opening that day.
Back in the bus and around 1km out of the ski area, we saw a tiny car park on the left with a skin track leading into the woods on the other side of the road, got thinking and decided to climb up in the forest which should be sheltered.
Indeed it was and a really nice skin track with no (!) kick turns brought us 300m higher and deciding which route to take down. Great boot-deep pow (and a gnarly run-out!) saw us back at the trailhead, then up again via a slightly different route to finish off our trip in Japan with a final rip through the trees to the van.
Back to our so-called 'Very Fancy!' hotel in Sapporo for a final mooch round the shops and finish with a stunning indoor BBQ meal at the bizarrely named Noah's Ark restaurant, where our food was exquisitely prepared in front of us! Ken