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Honshu and Hokkaido skiing and avalanche training

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hello,

 

I currently live in Yamagata and wanted to ask about other people's experiences of skiing in Honshu and Hokkaido.

 

So far, I have only skied in Yamagata but I plan to travel further afield this year.  I want to go up to Hokkaido to visit Niseko and Rusutsu but am somewhat sceptical about the famed snow quality.  I have heard from a friend or two and from my internet research about how much better the snow is up there: lighter and fluffier.  What are the thoughts of those of you who have experienced the snow both in Honshu and Hokkaido?  Does the better snow outweigh the large groups of Aussies tracking it all up?

 

Anybody been to Hakkoda in Aomori?

 

Also, I am looking into taking a AST level 1course this year either in Niseko or Hakuba.  For Niseko I am looking at going with Black Diamond Tours or Hokkaido Powder Guides.  For Hakuba I am thinking of doing it with Hakuba Alpine Guides or Evergreen.   Does anybody have any recommendations for who to go with or where to do it?

 

Otherwise, I am spending my sweaty summer days dreaming of the cool blanket of snow to come.  I can't wait to track it up!

post #2 of 9

This is all pre-Aussie invasion observations... 

 

Niseko... Why the doubt? Yes, the snow is very nice. The terrain all in all is pretty mellow but there's plenty of fun for sure. A friend who' lived there for most of his life calls it the land of the powder 'reset button'. The nicest thing about the Niseko area is all the great day tours around. I don't know if the Aussies are into doing much more than the boot schlep to the top of Annapuri. I'm guessing they're not all over Yotei, Iwao, Chisei, etc.. Lot's of nice places around for skinning laps and you won't cross a track all day. Years ago, we skied Hirafu during the Christmas holidays... there were about 10 of us ( the now old local teley crew and a couple of us) skiing off piste, period. It snowed so hard for 7 out of 8 days that our tracks had filled in for each run.... just mind blowing, and NO people. I'm sure that time is long gone and never to return. Again though, there are a lot of touring options in Hokkaido that are well off the beaten path.

 

Honshu... Have had stupid great powder days there as well. Many many in fact. Again, this was all just before Japan was on the radar. Our little local area, Kanazawa Seymour, was absolutely magical. With it only 20 minutes from the front door, I certainly wasn't going to bother to travel to Hakuba, etc... for a cycle. A handful of us ( Japanese, one Canadian, and myself) kind of pioneered the out of bounds off piste thing at Seymour. During a cycle, ski inbounds. After a cycle, move out on the ridges from the top of the area and keep going east or west until it snowed again. Very good slope angle, and again, tons of snow, trees, chutes, a few small open bowls. This was all before they allowed snowboards, so I'm sure things get tracked out much quicker these days, but I doubt the snowboarders are following the ridge lines out for turns. 

 

Hakuba... honestly, I don't like the ski areas. Crowded, patrol with a severe stick in the rear, etc... but you're free to hike and skin above the areas. There's nice tree skiing above Gooryu Tomi and 47. When it's stable above Happo One or Tsugaiike, it's superb big mountain above tree line skiing.

 

 

Myoko... again, really nice touring outside the areas, and up Myoko-san itself. The areas? Yeah, family fun, but not super interesting. Arai is worth a look.

 

Spring touring, the whole country's your oyster. My favorite are the peaks around Tateyama. Just a load of great lines that can keep one busy for years. Honshu (north alps, tateyama) are the best.

 

The best part was that in multiple 70 day + seasons, I think only spend maybe 4-5 days on piste each year. 

 

I don't know anything going on with current avy training. If you speak Japanese, contact Matsumoto-san at 'Rapie' in Hakuba. He'll know what's going on in most parts of the country for avy training, but again, it's going to be in Japanese.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the detailed reply.

 

Well, I don't doubt the quality of the snow so much as whether it is vastly better than the snow around my area or other parts of Honshu.  How would you compare the quality of snow between the different islands?  

 

Some people are visiting me this winter so I want to give them the best experience.  It is less busy in my area but the snow is supposed to be better up in Hokkaido.  I am trying to weigh up whether it is worth competing with the crowds for the superior snow.  We won't be touring so we are limited to the beaten track unfortunately.

 

I am fairly certain that one trip will be to Niseko and Rusutsu for about two weeks in the middle of January.

 

Sounds like you had a rather amazing time enjoying the snow in Japan.

 

As for the avy training, I want to do it in English with a certified instructor.  I want to be able to understand everything being taught so I don't want to study in a second language.  It would be good to practice my Japanese but not to practice my avy skills.


Edited by Besniwod - 8/29/12 at 6:49pm
post #4 of 9

If you want to miss the Aussies, go to Rusutsu instead. Rusutsu is a bit smaller than Niseko but in my opinion the snow is as good and also the terrain is more interesting.

 

For Honshu, you can consider Shiga Kogen and Naeba.

post #5 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scavenger View Post

If you want to miss the Aussies, go to Rusutsu instead. Rusutsu is a bit smaller than Niseko but in my opinion the snow is as good and also the terrain is more interesting.

For Honshu, you can consider Shiga Kogen and Naeba.

Politely and with due respect, I say, "meh" to both Shiga and Naeba. Shiga only if there's a WC slalom or. GS scheduled. Naeba if you're a bump junky.

Honshu... Zao, Nozawa Onsen( 13 excellent free public baths and lots of history!)' Happo One are all superior. Hakkoda in Aomori(?) might be a good call and closer to you if you're already in Yamagata.


Might be best just to buck up and head north to Hokkaido though if you can't tour.
post #6 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by markojp View Post


Politely and with due respect, I say, "meh" to both Shiga and Naeba. Shiga only if there's a WC slalom or. GS scheduled. Naeba if you're a bump junky.
Honshu... Zao, Nozawa Onsen( 13 excellent free public baths and lots of history!)' Happo One are all superior. Hakkoda in Aomori(?) might be a good call and closer to you if you're already in Yamagata.
Might be best just to buck up and head north to Hokkaido though if you can't tour.

 

Fair enough, but there is no perfect resort in Japan. Hakuba is fine if you don't mind taking the shuttle buses. Zao is also nice if you don't mind the walking between the chair lifts

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

I live close to Zao so I have already been there lots.  My favourite thing about Zao is that there are almost twice as many lifts as there are runs: about 41 lifts and 26 courses.  Strange as it my seem, most resorts tend to have more runs than lifts.  I guess the other resorts mistakenly assume that skiers want to spend more time on the slopes than navigating a maze of lifts that appear to have been designed by Escher.  Ah well.

 

It is okay now that I have learned my way around Zao but man do they make it difficult to get around.  Even so, I do like Zao a lot.

 

At the moment I am planning to drive and take the ferry up to Hokkaido so I can get around more easily while I am there.  It looks like I am going to be there for the first three weeks of January so it will be a bit of a mob scene for the first week.  I think I will visit Niseko, Rusutsu, and maybe Kiroro.  I will probably stick to Rusutsu or Kiroro for the first two weeks and hopefully avoid the worst of the crowds.

 

I hope to go to Hakkoda in Aomori for a couple of days sometime this winter too.  Have you been there?
 

post #8 of 9

I have been to Rusutsu, Niseko and Kiroro. Kiroro is smaller than the other two but it is fun and very good snow.

 

I have not been to Hakkoda. What I gathered, it is very small - http://www.hakkoda-ropeway.jp/lang/images/pam_tw_3ski.pdf

post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 

Yeah, as far as I understand, the official courses are pretty underwhelming.  There is lots of snow and other places to go off-piste though.  

 

There is a decent description here: http://www.snowjapan.com/e/features/features-76.html

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