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Japow - Hokkaido Tour 2016

post #1 of 57
Thread Starter 

G'day gang,

  So, time for a new thread, I'll have to put the Gulmarg thread on hold for a little bit as I'm off to Japan on Saturday. I thought I'd do my usual trip report on Epic, so here we go!


  This is the first time I will be going to Japan and Hokkaido and it's a trip I've been planning on doing for a long time. I'll be out there for 4 1/2 weeks with a couple of different groups of people and we'll be exploring as much of the north island of Hokkaido as we can. We'll be basing out of 3 distinctive zones: Niseko (5 nights), Otaru (3 nights) and Furano (5 nights). I organized a local guide and we have our own private transportation so we can be flexible on where we ski each day. I have 2 weeks with the first group and then I repeat the same trip with a second group.


  I'll be heading out to Tokyo on the 2nd Jan (this Saturday) and then I have 3 nights in Tokyo. I'm nervous and excited all at the same time. I'd gotten somewhat comfortable with only going overseas to Gulmarg each season (as exciting and wild as that place is), but this will be something new and different. I'm definitely expecting some major culture shock a la Bill Murray in Lost in Translation! It will be a fun time though. I'll try and document as much of the antics as possible


  Thankfully the snow has gotten a lot better by all reports. Hokkaido was off to a slow start but thanks to some decent storms recently (like 180cm in the past week in Rusutsu, for example), the snow and the base have gotten a lot better. More snow is due to start tomorrow, so it looks like they have finally turned on the snow taps and I hope they will now be getting into their consistent snow cycles that Hokkaido is renowned for.


  So, just wanted to write a quick outline and I'll try and write some regular reports with as many photos and video that I can take. I'll probably chime back in when I get to Tokyo as that is where the fun will really begin. Hope you can follow the adventure.




Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 57
Was just around Otaru for Snow Cruise Onze and Tenguyama, cute little areas where everyone seems to stay on the groomers. Low angle but we got plenty of fresh tracks through the trees for hours at Tenguyama.
post #3 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 1 (Sat 2rd Jan) – Arrival in Tokyo


  All was looking good for departure, the sun was out in Denver and the flight to San Francisco was on time. However, they didn’t have a seat for me on the plane for some bizarre reason (I’d booked the flight months previous?). I had to wait right till everyone had boarded till they were able to get me a seat. It was a pretty stressful wait, but I was very glad when they finally gave me a ticket with a seat allocation. They also issued me with a proper ticket for the San Fran/Tokyo Haneda flight, so that was a relief as well.


  Both flights were pretty uneventful, I grabbed about 5 hours sleep on the flight to Tokyo and enjoyed the benefits of Premium Economy. At 6ft3, I need all the extra leg room I can get. There was a good selection of movies and the food was pretty tasty. It only took around 10 hours, so with 5 hours of sleep and 2 movies, the flight went really quickly.


  Both my bags turned up (always a welcome relief!) and I passed through passport and customs control without a worry. It was just after 11pm and the hotel shuttle buses had stopped running, the girls at the information kiosk were very helpful. They gave me a little map book and gave me directions to the hotel (Prince Park Tower Hotel, Tokyo) with a written Japanese name for the hotel.


  The price for a taxi direct to the hotel would have been about $58, so I took the monorail (490 JPY, about $4) and then the taxi only cost 730 JPY, so that’s about $6. That was way cheaper and pretty easy, so I will definitely do that on Wednesday on my return to Haneda and the flight to Sapporo.


  My friend Gordon was waiting for me in Tokyo. He’d booked us into the Tower Hotel and had gotten the earlier, direct flight from Denver, so he was already there when I barged into the room and woke him up…… Oop a la! All good, he knew I was going to be arriving around mid-night so the swearing only took about 5 minutes to subside……  It turns out Gordon had had a good flight, he was sitting across from Chris Davenport (who was also on his way to Hokkaido) and they had had a good old chat on the way out. Chris is one of Gordo’s ski heroes, so I can only imagine how excited he was to have a captive and confined Chris Davenport to chat up……


  I quickly discovered the “Buck Rodgers” toilet in the bathroom in the hotel room. There are a lot of things I’m going to be excited to witness in Japan; I’d heard of the legend of the hi-tech Japanese toilets and I was keen to see my first one. Ours did not disappoint! It has a heated seat, a courtesy deodorant function and then 2 different settings of water jet function, heated of course! It’s a little disconcerting the first time you use it, but all good after that…….


  I settled down for a good night’s sleep and ready for the first day of sightseeing in Tokyo…… 

post #4 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 2 (Mon 4th Jan)

  I managed about 6 hours sleep so I was feeling pretty good in the morning when I woke up. I got to check out the view of the Tokyo Tower, right there outside our window. It was pretty impressive! Then around 9am, we decided to hit the town. Breakfast was looking a bit pricy in the hotel, so we wanted to find somewhere cheaper locally.


  Admittedly, we had to plump for a 7-11, just for a quick OJ and some strawberry milk as we were both starving. I figured that would tide me over till lunch time, when we were on a quest for some ramen! We checked out the hotel grounds and then wondered over to the Zo jo ji Temple. The original temple dated back to the 1300’s, but it had been moved and then rebuilt after being firebombed in WW2. There were a lot of people going inside to make a quick prayer and a donation. We didn’t want to impose on people who were obviously doing something important and potentially somewhat sacred, so we just looked inside quickly and photos weren’t allowed.


  Then we jumped on the subway. Initially, this proved to be somewhat of a challenge. The subway map itself is huge, there are so many stations and lines it’s hard to comprehend it at first. But with a bit of practice, then you quickly get a feel for the different lines and the station names and numbers, it wasn’t too hard to get around. We had a little bit of confusion with the express trains, but after that we were all good.


  Our first stop was in the Ginza area. We had been told it was a popular shopping area, but we didn’t realize it was all your high-end European brands, so we didn’t have much of a look around there. Instead we jumped back on the underground and went to Akihabara district where they sell all the electronics. Now this place was crazy, so much going on! Massive high rise stores selling nothing but hi-tech gadgets and gear! It was pretty impressive. There were so many stores that you looked into and just had no idea on what they were selling. I loved it! We went into one store and Gordon bough a camera. We didn’t go any higher than about the 7th floor, who knows how much more stuff they had in there.


  By this stage, we were getting a little hungry, so we decide to come back to the area close by our hotel where they had tons of little (for Tokyo), relatively in-expensive eateries. We found a little place in a back alley that served ramen. They had a Japanese menu but the lady ushered us back outside so we could point at the little plastic recreation of which food we wanted to order. We both went for a pork and noodle broth bowl. It cost 800 JPY (around $6.50) and was huge, like 2 meals in one. It was so good though. Goodness knows how many etiquette rules we broke, but we happily chop-sticked and ladled our way through it all. The locals were all slurping and burping away anyway, so we were pretty low-key compared to them. It was all good; I had wanted to have some good ramen so happy to tick that off on day 1. 

  We got back to the hotel around 3pm feeling pretty tired after all the walking around we had done. Then a Japanese friend of mine that I used to teach skiing with back in Mt. Hotham, Australia, got in touch with me. She lives in Tokyo and wanted to meet up. I hadn’t seen Akane for more than 10 years, so it would be nice to see her again. She came to the hotel and we took the subway to Shibuya, an area made famous by the Shibuya Crossing, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian crossings.


  It was pretty cool; there were tons of people crossing about 6 different crossings that intersect whilst being surrounded by massive video screens and neon lights. It’s definitely one of those moments that let you know, “right, you are definitely in Tokyo!” It’s definitely worth seeing. Akane was a great guide; she took us around all the little backstreets where all the younger Tokyo-ites like to hang out. It was very vibrant with lot’s going on. We went into a parlor that had all these vending machine games and some video games. We played a couple of rounds on this giant drum beating game. The premise was very simple, you had 2 sticks and a giant drum in front of you, then you had to beat your drum to the timing of the beats on the screen and the music, whilst competing against your friend. It was lot of fun!


  We finished off the night by going to a local restaurant. This was an “Izakaya” style restaurant (kind of like Spanish Tapas) where you order several small courses and the food is gradually brought out. Again being with Akane was really helpful, we chose a couple of the items but she ordered a bunch of different things for the table. We started with some Edamame and then moved on to some tasty little sweet beans and then she surprised us with some raw octopus and some cow bits (liver, stomach and intestines). I am sometimes not the most adventurous when it comes to eating foreign foods and admittedly, I was feeling a little nervous about 4 weeks full-on Japanese food in general, but I was game to try everything (knowing that we at least had the backup of the Buck Rodgers toilet back in the hotel if it didn’t work out!) this time.


  Well, I tried the raw octopus and the cow bits and I have to say, they weren’t my favorite if I’m honest, but I gave them a try at least. We finished with this giant beef and cabbage broth that you cook on your own little cooker on your table. That was pretty good; we finished that off pretty quickly. Then it was time to head back to the Subway and back to the hotel as the jet lag was starting to kick in. We said good bye to Akane at her stop and proceeded back to the hotel. It had been a huge day and we’d gotten to see a lot. We were both feeling pretty confident about riding the subway and we’ll explore a few more places in Tokyo tomorrow, before heading to Sapporo on Wednesday. Then the skiing can begin! Sadly the Buck Rodgers toilet had to be used a fair bit last night. Seems like the raw octopus and the cow bits are having a bit of a battle in my stomach…….



post #5 of 57
Thread Starter 

A few photos from the adventure so far......



Not a bad view from the hotel..... the Tokyo Tower!




I wouldn't normally post pictures of a toilet, however when it comes to hi-tech Japanese toilets, then these are pretty cool!




Some of the features you get - heat seating, deodorizer and then the water features; the "bidet" and the "spray", which are basically the same thing, a jet of warm, cleaning water, one is just harder than the other.




The gate to get into the gardens at the hotel.



Zojoji Temple right next to our hotel......




Gordon in front of the temple.




Part of the fun of being a tourist is guessing what everything is...... I'm assuming these were little prayers tied to a prayer fence?




Burning insense in front of one of the temples. It was just after 9am and there were a lot of business type people going for a blessing. I'm assuming it was the workers going back to work and getting a blessing for prosperity?




Start of the Ginza shopping area.




Tokyo Subway map, showing the price of all the fares in JPY.




Akihabara district with all the electronics stores......




More of the Akihabara district.




Time for some well-earned lunch. A small bowl of pork ramen......




Akane to the rescue! My friend Akane was an amazing local guide for the night.




Start of the Shibuya Crossing area.




We are definitely in Tokyo now!




Shibuya Crossing before the crowds convene.




Start of the crossing, let the crowding commence!




Heading deeper into Shibuya.




Vending machine game parlor, these are very popular in Japan.




Different machines have different prizes. These anime figurines are hugely popular.




Akane giving Gordon a lesson on the drum game.




Izakaya restaurant in Shiboya district. Here we have Edimame, beans and then the raw octupus.




Our spicy beef broth before it started cooking. You can see the massive chunk of beef, then you have cabbage and fried tofu in there as well.




Various meat skewers, they were my favorite!

post #6 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 4 (Wed 6th Jan)


  This was the travel day to get to Sapporo. Gordon was flying out of Narita and that was more than an hour train/bus ride, whilst I had to fly out of Haneda, so that was only about 30 minutes for me via taxi and monorail. My flight left at 9am and arrived at New Chitose around 10:30am, so it was really quick flight, pretty much straight up and then straight down.


  I did manage to see Mt. Fuji as we took off from Haneda (I was sitting on the left hand side of the plane) and it looked beautiful.  The plane ride was quick and smooth, we touched down in New Chitose on schedule. I headed to the Hokkaido Tour Bus sign and Gordon and our friend Dave was there as well. We were all feeling a little peckish (do you sense a bit of a theme here?) and we found a proper tempura restaurant in the airport. We all had the same assorted seafood tempura bowls with Udon noodles and they were amazing, definitely the best food of the trip so far.


  After about a 2.5 hour wait it was time to jump on the bus for the 2.5 hour drive across to Niseko. We met our 3rd group member Chris, no long before we got on the bus. There wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground in Chitose but as soon as we started to climb away from the town, the snow quickly started to get a lot deeper. After about 80 minutes, we drove past this amazing lake (Lake Shikotsu) and into the mountains. It was dumping with snow and the snowbanks were getting higher and higher. Hokkaido had been off to a pretty slow start snow-wise, but this was looking really good,


  The bus goes to Moiwa first, so we hopped off at a big hotel called Niseko One and waited for the cabs to come for our door-to-door service. They arrived after about 20 minutes and took us to the Moiwa Lodge where we were staying for the next 5 nights. Moiwa Lodge is a cozy Australian owned lodge that sits right next to the ski slopes. It’s warm and friendly with people staying from all over the world. Moiwa is not part of the main Niseko lift system and has its own separate ski area. It’s known as a much smaller but quieter resort, great if you want to beat the crowds in the main resorts of Niseko. You can ski to and from Annupuri (we’ll do that on Friday)or get the lodge’s shuttle bus to make it across to the main area.


  We settled in that night; had some dinner and then Javier, another one of our group (4th member) arrived from Spain. He was pretty tired, but he managed to grab some dinner and chat with the rest of the group. Stefan, the 5th member of the group, was not due to arrive till later the next day. So, it was an early night for all of us and then our avi safety training was scheduled for the next day.

post #7 of 57

Thanks for posting this, Matt. Our group from DC almost went out there this year but we lost some critical mass and may shoot for next year.  Will be watching your thread to learn about your experience very closely.  Have fun!  I have been to Japan once and really like it there.  The pix bring back great memories. 

post #8 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 5 (Thur 7th Jan)

  After a decent breakfast, it was time to start the avalanche safety training with the group. I’d put Gordon and Dave through the training before in India, but Chris and Javier were relatively inexperienced with their beacons. So, we started indoors with the theory session and slideshow, before moving outside for beacon practice.


  I wasn’t sure where I’d run the on-snow portion of the training but we found a suitable slope that was open and gently sloping, off the side of one of the runs that was nice and protected. After doing a demonstration run, the guys got to do some single burial, single rescuer scenarios. They did 2 each; one slow and then one against the clock. Then we did a group single burial scenario and then finally finished off with a couple of group rescue, multiple burial scenarios. With enough practice and constructive feedback, the groups skills and especially the communication and teamwork, really started to improve. I could see it and so could they. Everyone was in pretty high spirits and feeling pretty confident about their abilities.


  The group would be ready to go out the gates, should conditions allow, the next day. We finished up around 3:30pm, everyone was pretty tired and ready for some food and a rest. We had a couple of beers at the bar and then Stefan arrived. He’d been traveling for more than 30 hours straight, so after a quick tour of the lodge, he was so wiped he just went straight to bed. I’d have to go through the avi training with him the next afternoon (which was fine as I’d also put him through the same training before in India, so it would be more of a quicker refresher for him).


  After a big day of shoveling and running the training, I was pretty spent so hit the hay early, ready for a big day of skiing the next day.

post #9 of 57

Sounds like a great trip!

post #10 of 57

These are awesome! Love the pics! :) 

post #11 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 6 (Fri 8th Jan)

  We finally had all the team together and were due to ski for the first time. We were also due to meet our local guide Jen who would be with us for the rest of the trip. The plan would be to start in Moiwa, ski a few runs there and then head over to Annupuri, which is the start of Niseko proper. We bought 6 single chairlift ride tickets as this was the cheapest option.


  Moiwa is not part of the Niseko United ski area. It is a small (and much quieter) area to the west of the main resorts that make up Niseko. It is not part of the Niseko United lift ticket system and only has 3 lifts. The main quad chair gives you access to the best terrain, with some nice open, steeper bowls at the top. You can ski from Moiwa to Annupuri and vice versa, when there is enough snow.  


  We started with a cruiser run and then eventually stepped it up each time. They have a couple of gates at the top and we went out through gate 6 a couple of times, working our way further and further out. The snow was tracked up in some places, but we did manage to find some untouched lines. Where it hadn’t been skied it was knee deep. The snow was light and dry and I managed to get a couple of legitimate faceshots. It was fun skiing.


  For our last run in Moiwa we pushed hard skier’s left and came out into another open bowl. I found a ridgeling that worked into an open face and Gordon and I did a little follow cam action. The snow in there was really good, probably the best skiing of the day. Then we kept pushing left at the bottom and came out in Annupuri.


  We had a quick stop in one of the hotels for snacks and water and then we hit the main gondola. We would take several laps using the gondola. One thing that was surprising was that they don’t have big racks on the outside; you had to take the fat skis inside the 6 person cabins. It was a bit of a struggle, kind of like being back in Gulmarg and their old gondola…… We hit up a bunch of different gates; unfortunately the upper mountain was closed due to the wind. The first run we found the snow to be very different. Given that Niseko is a lot busier than Moiwa, most things were tracked up, but die to its higher elevation and exposure to the wind; the snow was scoured in several places, leaving for so-so skiing. 


  So, the plan would be to head lower down and go through the G7 gate, which would be more sheltered. The skiing in here was pretty good in places, but it was definitely more tracked. We found a lot more brush sticking out and it was pretty tight going in places. They definitely needed more snow. We finished the day by going back through the G8 gate and pushing hard right so we could ski back to Moiwa. It had been a fun first day on skis.


  We got back to the lodge and then got changed so we could go hit up the local onsen. Onsen is Japanese for hot spring. We had a really nice one just down from the main entrance into Moiwa. It was only a 20 minute walk. Now, there are a few rules (in terms of etiquette) that you need to follow when using the onsen. Now, nearly all proper onsen in Japan are naked, you can’t go in wearing your swimming shorts. You have to take a shower before entering. There is a little stool and a bucket. You sit down, put the shower on or fill up the little bucket. You then wash using the supplied soaps and shampoos and then rinse yourself off. You are then clean and ready to go into the onsen.


  The water is super-hot, I couldn’t take too much before I started to feel a little light headed, so I was only in there for about 20 minutes. You then have to get out and shower again. What is really cool is that they have these electric massage chairs, so you can finish off with a quick session in one of those and you are definitely feeling a lot more relaxed after that. I was definitely feeling better after all of that.


  We walked back to the lodge and then the owner organized a taxi to take us to one of the local restaurants (Moiwa is pretty spread out). The restaurant provides the transportation for you, which is super convenient. It was an Izakaya style restaurant, so it had a mixture of everything, from sushi to ramen to steak to hot pots. We all left feeling very satisfied. It was a great day.

post #12 of 57

What a fantastic thread, thank you!


I've been talking to my son about going to Hokkaido together for a couple of years, and we're targeting next year. I have to get us out there before too long, he's 15 and is growing up. Got to ski together and do adventurous things every year as much as possible. My Dad was ill when I was young, so I was on my own getting into skiing. But I'm working hard to stay healthy and keeping fit, so I'm taking advantage of this time with my kids. It's the best time of my life so far, and I'm truly grateful for this. When I go to Japan with my son, it'll be a little dream come true--for both of us. 

post #13 of 57
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Super D View Post

What a fantastic thread, thank you!


I've been talking to my son about going to Hokkaido together for a couple of years, and we're targeting next year. I have to get us out there before too long, he's 15 and is growing up. Got to ski together and do adventurous things every year as much as possible. My Dad was ill when I was young, so I was on my own getting into skiing. But I'm working hard to stay healthy and keeping fit, so I'm taking advantage of this time with my kids. It's the best time of my life so far, and I'm truly grateful for this. When I go to Japan with my son, it'll be a little dream come true--for both of us. 

That's awesome Super D! That sounds like a great reason to go, good on you! You'll love Japan, it's an amazing place and it's blown me away, especially the culture. If you can get around and explore some different places, then I'm sure it will be a trip of a lifetime. The skiing and snow is great and the people are wonderful. It's an adventure for sure, but one well-worth taking. The reward is pretty big!



post #14 of 57
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

That's awesome Super D! That sounds like a great reason to go, good on you! You'll love Japan, it's an amazing place and it's blown me away, especially the culture. If you can get around and explore some different places, then I'm sure it will be a trip of a lifetime. The skiing and snow is great and the people are wonderful. It's an adventure for sure, but one well-worth taking. The reward is pretty big!




Matt, that's what I'd like to do for sure. I don't think we could stay more than 10 days, so not as much exploring as we'd like, but will hopefully be the first trip to be followed up with a second to do more.


Do you lead the avi safety instruction, or did you find someone to book classes with? And is it something you think should be done there specifically, due to exposure to the same exact snow conditions and terrain you'll be skiing, or would it be sufficient to get instruction stateside before the trip? This is also something on our short list. And, additionally wondering if we can rent airbag packs (if needed, assuming it'd be a good idea).

post #15 of 57

My bf was possibly going to go boarding in Japan but plans fell through.. One day he'll hit the area I'm sure. I definitely need to make a visit to Japan, being part Japanese as well.. it just looks amazing and so much fun. 

post #16 of 57
Thread Starter 
Apologies for the big delay in the posts, it's been a lot of work to guide all day and night and then keep up with the blog. I'm all caught up now and can continue on with the story.....
Day 7 (Sat 9th Jan)
Grand Hirafu
  The local guide picked us up and we drove to Grand Hirafu. The original plan was to head over to the backside of the mountain and ski an off-piste run to an Onsen, but the weather was coming in and it was unlikely the upper runs would stay open all day. We started off going to some of the lower gates, but the wind had really ravaged the snow and the skiing wasn’t great. We decided to head higher.
  We made it up to the summit area of Hirafu and onto the (in)famous single chairs. These thing look pretty sketchy, but they are actually pretty fun to ride. They don’t have a safety bar or a back to them, so you feel a little exposed. I like them because you can actually keep your pack on though. We got off at the top and started up the boot pack but we didn’t get very far. Everyone was focused on getting to the summit, but we only hiked about 30 steps before we got off the bootpack and started to traverse.
  The snow was untouched and thigh deep. I started out a little too far to the right, on top of a slight ridge. I kept hitting hard spots so then I moved a bit more skier’s left into a slight gully and there the snow was much better. I had about 6 or 7 properly deep, snow up my nose, legitimate faceshots on every turn. It was epic. That all came to an abrupt end when I saw one of the group had crashed and I had to stop as I needed to help dig them out of their bomb hole. This had given me my first taste of legitimate deep, untouched Hokkaido pow and I knew I would want more.
  We skied down a ways and looped back to try and get up high again; this time we would push for the summit and take the bootpack all the way to the top. When we got back to the single chair, it was closed due to the wind being too high. D’oh! Our opportunity was gone! We skied some more of the lower gates but they didn’t have great snow. There was still a lot of bamboo sticking out and the trees were really tight. So, the best turns were definitely had on that run on the short bootpack. Hopefully I can get up there with the second group and redeem myself……. Niseko is a big place with probably the best vertical and sustained pitches of any of the resorts we would ski. It's steeper than I thought it would be with some pretty tight trees (plus plenty of open glades too). With the right conditions, it would be a great place to ski. I wasn’t too stressed though, we had Rusutsu to come the next day and supposedly there was a lot more snow there. I’d get over my loss in Niseko.
post #17 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 8 (Sun 10th Jan)



  The plan was to head to Rusutsu, about a 40 minute drive away from Moiwa. I had to organize the pickup of our rental van at 9am from Toyota in Grand Hirafu, so this would be a slightly later start. Finding a van at such short notice that was going to give us enough passenger capacity and luggage capacity was going to be a big challenge. I had finally tracked down a Toyota Regius Ace van, direct from the Toyota rental company in New Chitose and I was hoping this was going to be big enough for the group.


  It’s hard to find accurate information when looking for these vehicles but it turns out that the Regius Ace van was perfect for the group. It’s not the plushest vehicle for 6 people (plus the driver), but is probably the best option for mid-sized groups who have a lot of ski gear. It has bench seats for 6 in the back but most importantly, it has a ton of cargo capacity and skis can be slid under the seats and the luggage can be piled up on top. The van has AWD and snow tires, plus (very importantly), English sat nav. Once I had learned how to program that (it’s most common to put in a telephone number for the destination which is actually very convenient!), then it was really easy to get from point A to point B.


  Originally I thought I would have to take the shuttle bus back to New Chitose Airport (nearly a 3 hour drive), but Toyota arranged to have me pick up the vehicle in Hirafu. That would save a ton of time and effort.  I just had to do all the paperwork and then pick up the keys. We’d be leaving the van in the parking garage and then we’d take the local guide’s van. So, we had a slightly later start and after the 45 minute drive to Rusutsu, made it to the resort by about 10:30am.


  Now Rusutsu is a pretty cool place. I didn’t get to see the main village where they have a hotel and a massive fairground complex, but I really like the resort and the terrain. The area is pretty easy to get around. You have 2 main areas; the West Mountain (much smaller, we didn’t even go there) and then combined areas of Mt. Isola and the East Mountain, the latter having the best terrain. The mountain is pretty big, with 12 lifts, but the layout is very easy. It’s just a series of big ridges with lifts going up each one. You can start in one area and just keep heading skier’s right. They have a lot of great tree runs, with some completely open spots to as tight as you want to get. All the trees are open and in-bounds.


  It was a really cold day, as we made our way from East Mountain to Mt. Isola, you gain altitude and exposure to the winds. We started with several quick laps underneath the main gondola in the trees and headed further out skiers right. The snow in the first couple of areas was nice and sheltered and really nice and dry. There was definitely much better coverage than at Moiwa and at Niseko, with no bamboo sticking out.


  I don’t remember how many laps we did, but it was non-stop. Completely untracked runs were hard to find, but we found a few. By the time we got over to the Mount Isola side, the snow was definitely more wind packed, but with the constant blowing snow, tracks would fill in quickly. The run back to the carpark down a groomer at the end of the day, was particularly cold. A few of us started to get some frost nip and by 3:30pm we were done and it was time to head back to the car and home to the Moiwa Lodge for out last night.



post #18 of 57

Rainbow Jenny, MaryG, Lizardqueen and I were in Hokkaido Jan. 8-20.  Amazingly, we ran into Mattadvproject in the Kiroro sidecountry while skiing with Black Diamond Lodge guides on Jan. 12.


By sheer luck we did a little better with the snow than he did. Japan had a slow start to the season and conditions in most Honshu resorts are marginal. Hokkaido’s snow has been oddly distributed. Furano in the interior averages ~60% of Niseko’s snowfall, but through early January Furano had received Niseko average snowfall and vice versa.  Furano Jan. 9 had amazing powder of the highest quality but a very limited amount of lift served terrain to take advantage of it. It’s clear to me now why Black Diamond Lodge and Matt take tours out here are with alpine touring gear for lift assisted backcountry skiing.   http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=11995 .


Jan. 10 at Tomamu http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=11996#p75261 did not have as deep snow as Furano but had better fall lines and tree spacing.


After skiing Tomamu we drove to the Niseko One Towers where we spent the next 8 days.  On Jan. 11 we skied Moiwa http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=11997#p75262 guided by Rainbow Jenny's friend Chris. Here's Chris skiing from Gate 10:


Jan. 12 at Kiriro http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=11999  we were guided by Sandy of Black Diamond.  It dumped all all day and was cold so we took few pics. I think Matt may have one of some of us.  This was the storm that kicked Niseko into high gear.   Rainbow Jenny made opening bell with Chris and had an epic morning.  I got out late and on the wrong bus, so was on the hill at Hirafu at 9:30 Jan. 13 http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12000.  I nonetheless had an outstanding day. Snow and fog were just enough to deter some skiers but not enough to close lifts or sidecountry gates.  Thus I still got untracked runs out the G1 and G2 gates late morning and in G7 late afternoon.


Jan. 14 at Rusutsu http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12005 we were again with by Sandy of Black Diamond. This was another lucky day as Niseko had some wind holds but Rusutsu did not.  Here are Jenny, Liz and Mary at Rusutsu:


Jan. 15 at Niseko featured both abundant new snow and nice weather. http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12006 .  I'm about to get several face shots here in the G2 bowl.


The nice weather brought out many more people than on Jan. 13.  So when I got to the G11 gate around noon much of it was tracked up.

Supposedly the last time Mt. Yotei had been visible from the ski area was Dec. 24.


We were all pretty beat by now so we had a mellower day Jan. 16. It snowed all day and the upper gates were closed, but there was still lots of powder via the lower G1 and G7 gates.   I managed this mishap on the last G1 run.


Jan. 17 at Niseko http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12007 had over a foot of new snow with weather not quite as good as Jan. 15 but better than Jan. 13.  We all made opening bell and saw these early tracks as we rode the upper Annupuri lift.


Rainbow Jenny in the first bowl out the G2 gate.


Lizardqueen in the second bowl from G2.


On Jan. 18 Niseko's run of consecutive days with at least 10cm new snow finally came to an end.


With new snow every day, terrain choices had been dictated by powder potential. So Liz and I used our last day in Niseko to ski some new terrain, such as the G11 and G9 gates and the Miharashi trees which are a short bootpack above the Hirafu gondola.


Liz and I finsihed our time in Hokkado with Black Diamond's "Happy Ending" tour of Sapporo.  On Jan. 19 at Sapporo Kokusai http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12014  it was still dumping even though it had stopped at Niseko.

Our guide Mattias got this shot of me.


We then relaxed at the Asarigawa Onsen and had dinner in Otaru, reputedly the “sushi capital of Hokkaido.” We trusted Mattias’ expert guidance in ordering, but we also picked a couple of impulse items off this conveyor belt.


On our final day Jan. 20 at Sapporo Teine http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12015 our luck with the snow finally ran out.  There would have been good powder skiing off the upper lift but it was closed for wind.  Teine was the site of 1972 slalom and GS events and there is a summer amusement park on site, though not as big as the one in Rusutsu.  Our guide Mattias there:


We left at 12:30, visited the Hokkaido Jinga shrine and did some shopping/dining in Sapporo.

post #19 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 9 (Mon 11th Jan)

Travel day to Otaru


  We decided to have a bit of a lie in and have a later start. It was only an hour and a half to Otaru, so we took our time. This was going to be my first proper time driving, so I was a little anxious. It turns out the van we hired was a great choice. Once we had the sat nat figured out, it was pretty easy going.


  The drive was really nice, the scenary was so surreal. There was so much snow on the ground, the fields we absolutely covered (and this was supposed to be a poor season in Hokkaido, a good season would be incredible). The snow was at least 5 feet deep, just on the flats.


  As we got closer to Otaru, we drove past the entrance to Kiroro. It would have been tempting to stop in quickly, but there was no need as we would be skiing there the next day. We made it to the high point near Mt. Kenashi and then it is downward to Otaru. The sun came out (for the first time of the trip) and we had our first view of the ocean and the Ishikari Bay. It was absolutely stunning; the white of the mountains and the vast cold-blue of the ocean. It was such a beautiful contrast. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stop and take any photos; all the scenic overlooks and carparks were inundated with snow and were closed.


  The road slowly wound its’ way down to the coast and we could see the Grand Park Hotel Otaru. It is quite an amazing place. As Otaru is not a ski town, the rooms are super cheap. The rooms are big (by Japanese standards) and we were up on the 14th floor. We had ocean views and could see some small whales in the bay. It’s nice to stay close to the slopes wherever possible, but this was such a nice change of pace and it would be exciting to see if this stop would work well with the program.


  After everyone was settled, we went for a walk. There was a large shopping mall attached to the hotel, so we had a quick walk around that. Then we went outside and tried to walk to the canal district. This proved to be a little longer than expected; we got about half way before we decided to hail a cab. That proved to be a good move as it was pretty cheap and it got us out of the very cold weather.


  We took a stroll down the canal and then we came across the Otaru brewery. We stopped in for a late afternoon snack and a locally brewed beer. The brewery was actually a large German-style beer kellar, with Bavarian music playing and German snacks. We had a couple of the beers (I had the Weiss and it was really good) and some snacks before we left.


  It was getting late and everyone was thinking about dinner, so there was a large restaurant open a couple of doors down. This was called the Otaru Unga restaurant and you had to cook your own food. You had a large table with a metal pan in the middle. The chef fires up some coals and puts them in your pan in the middle of the table. Metal grills are placed over the coals. You then order what you like (ordering a set menu is the easiest way to do it) and they then bring all of the uncooked food over on a tray.


  We had several trays of food, with different meats and sea foods, with instructions in the menu on how to cook the foods. Stefan had ordered 10 raw oysters as an appetizer and they were swiftly dispatched. We had mackeral, pork, steak, abalone, sea snails, sausage and assorted vegetables. It was a tasty feast and a really fun way of eating a meal. I will definitely be taking my second group there. It was getting late so we called for a couple of cabs and headed back to the hotel for an early night. We had a big day of skiing at Kiroro to come the next day.    



post #20 of 57
Thread Starter 

Niseko was fun today! I was trying to teach some of my group how to do "cheater faceshot turns." Basically, with fat skis, go as fast as you can, find a big untouched patch of untouched pow and then throw the skis sideways. These are the results......



 Apologies for the grainy quality, these were some still taken from some video we shot today. You don't need the deepest snow in the word to have fun here, as long as it's blower pow it seems to work pretty good no matter what!



post #21 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 10 (Tue 12th Jan) Kiroro

  I was really looking forward to Kiroro. I’d heard some great things about the place and had been seeing a bunch of Chris Davenport’s video’s showing some deep an amazing pow. It was about a 40 minute drive from Otaru (made slightly longer by the GPS trying to take us over a mountain road that was closed, so a quick detour was needed). Once we got there, there was snow everywhere and it was snowing pretty hard.


  Kiroro has a pretty strict policy about skiing in the trees in-bounds. They don’t want you to do it! Everything is roped off which is potentially really frustrating. Now, where this place gets really good, are the backcountry gates at the top of the mountain and this is where we spent most of our time.


  You need to get a backcountry access pass before you can go out of the gates. If you go to the mountain center, which is in the baselodge, you can submit a travel plan (basically you just tell them the areas that you will be skiing out of the gates) and then you get a little ticket. The gates are monitored by the snow safety team (bright green jackets) and you have to show them your backcountry pass the first couple of times. They stay at the gates until around 11am and then you can come and go as you please.


  We took the main gondola up to the larger of the 2 peaks and straight away there were 2 gates. Now, we took the gates to the skier’s right and we traversed out and came to a large open meadow. There were only 2 tracks on it and it was relatively steep. We dropped in one at a time and had some amazing turns. Unfortunately, we came to a creek bed and had to follow it out for quite a long time. It was hard to justify the number of turns for the amount of traversing we had to do through really tight trees.


  We went back up again but this time we went out the gate to the skier’s right. There we found much better turns. There was plenty of untracked snow to be found but the real positive was that the run out was much easier and you got more turns in, but the real bonus was that you came out near the bottom of the #2 double chair, so you could lap really quickly. It really boosted the scores from the team for Kiroro having the gates at the top. There were more gates across on the other peak but we didn’t get to try those. I’ll try them with the next group (and we did!).


  After lunch Dave, Gordon and Javier split up from us and I took Stefan out the gates we had already been skiing. On the traverse back, we came across another American group and it turned out to be a couple of people I already knew from Epicski: Tony Crocker and his partner, plus Rainbow Jenny and a few of their friends. I knew Tony was going to be in Hokkaido at the same time as us, but I had no idea that he was going to be in Kiroro at the same time as us, so it was completely random to bump into them like that.


  In fact it happened again; I bumped into another friend from the States back at the base lodge. A good friend from Telluride, Paddy O’Connell who is now a writer for Skiing magazine, was out there doing a piece on skiing in Hokkaido. Such a small world! It had been a good day with some funny surprises, bumping into a bunch of people I knew already. It was still snowing hard but we managed to make it back to Otaru safely, with a nice beef curry to warm me back up back at the hotel.


  I'll post some more pics next. I have plenty of POV camera footage, but I will save adding that until I get back to the US and when I have time. I'll be leaving for India around the 14th Jan so I will only have about 10 days or so back in Denver..... no rest for the wicked!



post #22 of 57
Thread Starter 

Alrighty, time to add a few more photos to break up my ramblings......




Anyone know what this cute critter is? We saw a few of them in the park at night near our hotel. I have no idea what it is......




Cuddly demon spawn and their offspring......




Gordon in front of the Tower Hotel.




Air Pokemon at the Haneda International Airport.




Some of the crew ready for departure to Moiwa (from left to right: Chris, Gordon and Dave). They have managed to organize themselves in order of height! You can't teach that.....




Snowing hard at the half-way stop on the way to Moiwa. Hopefully a sign of things to come!




Our first view of the main runs of Niseko. Niseko is 4 ski areas combined; from right to left you have Annupuri, Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu and then Hanozono. It is a big mountain with good vertical.






Our first 5 night's accommodation in Moiwa Lodge, and Australian owned lodge at the foot of the ski runs in Nisekomoiwa.




Chris, Javier and Dave, standing in front of the Moiwa sign. Moiwa is a great little ski area with decent vertical, steep open bowls with great tree skiing, all minus the crowds of the main Niseko areas.




I said uncrowded right? Here you can see 2 double chairs on the left and then the main chair, the detachable high speed quad on the right. We didn't ever need to use the double chairs, we did all of our skiing from the quad. The quad had the automatic bubbles on them (watch your head when they drop or come up at the end!) so you stayed warmer on cold days. They are a great idea and you definitely need them in Japan.




You see a lot of Japanese army out practicing at a lot of the resorts in Japan. These guys are skiing on skinny skis, with tele bindings and leather boots. They definitely have their work cut out but they are all giving it a red hot go!




Javier's preferred mode of transportation!




Gotta stretch before you go into battle!




The food at all of the ski lodges we went to was amazing! Plus it's super cheap too! $10 for a massive bowl of ramen or a bowl of curry. The ordering system can be a little confusing at first, but it works. This is basically the menu with all of the prices on it. You choose your food and then pay and order it at a ticket machine. You receive a ticket that you give to the person behind the counter and then the food is prepared and your number is called out. Pick up the food, eat and then enjoy! Good stuff.


More photos to come......

post #23 of 57

Awesome series of posts. Thumbs Up 

Thanks for sharing. Japan is the final frontier for a lot of us North American veterans of recreational skiing.  Mixing in skiing and touristy stuff sure seems like the way to go for a possibly once in a lifetime chance to enjoy that culture.

post #24 of 57
"Mixing in skiing and touristy stuff sure seems like the way to go for a possibly once in a lifetime chance to enjoy that culture."

Most of my "touristy stuff" was done in a summer trip in 2009. Kyoto is the top place for cultural sites. Japan is easy to get around on the JR rail pass but Hokkaido is somewhat of an exception. In 2011 I used a bus and 4 trains over 13 hours to get from Hakuba to Niseko because the Shinkansen bullet train stopped at the top of Honshu and it was 3 slow trains after that. The rail situation is improving though. The Shinkansen will open to Hakodate in southern Hokkaido this March. Eventually there will be a station in Kutchan not far from Niseko.
post #25 of 57
Originally Posted by Jamesj View Post

Awesome series of posts. icon14.gif  
Thanks for sharing. Japan is the final frontier for a lot of us North American veterans of recreational skiing.  Mixing in skiing and touristy stuff sure seems like the way to go for a possibly once in a lifetime chance to enjoy that culture.

James, I think of Hokkaido Japan as the Alaska US in some ways: gorgeous and remote wilderness. And most Japanese have never been to Hokkaido! It's the size of Ireland (island) with a million less people and the bread basket/agricultural and seafood center of Japan.

it doesn't have to be the final frontier, I find it quite accessible (perhaps it helps that I'm of Asian descent) and of great VALUE. The skiing is quite family-oriented in general. I fully intend to return regularly and even to go during summer for road cycling. PM me if I can be of help.
post #26 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 11 (Wed 11th Jan)

Sapporo Kokusai

  It turns out that Kokusai was the surprise sleeper hit of the whole trip so far. I didn’t have too many expectations for this place as according to my trusted Japow guide book; this was one of the lower-rated resorts we were going to be hitting. It turns out it was one of the best, with hardly anyone skiing any of the trees and no other foreigners there to compete with for freshies.


  Kokusai looks small from the trail map, but it is much bigger in real life. There is 1 gondola, 1 high speed quad and 2 doubles with decent enough vert. The fall-line is pretty consistent with some decent pitches giving you plenty of turns. It’s only 30 minutes from Otaru along a decent road (without all the switchbacks you have getting to Kiroro). You are pretty much parallel to Kiroro and they both get similar amounts of snow.


  I had read that Kokusai had a somewhat vague policy when it came to skiing in the trees and going into the backcountry. Allegedly, if you look like you know what you are doing, then patrol will turn a bit of a blind eye to anyone skiing off the groomers. Still, first time coming to a place and you never know exactly how it is, so we didn’t want to push it on the first run. Or did we?


  We skied half the main black run and then started to look at the trees. We had seen a sign that seemed to say anyone that went out of bounds was responsible for themselves, so we went for it and went into the trees. The trees were pretty tight but the snow was untouched. The skiing was great. Stefan was finding it a little tough without doing much of a warmup, so I stayed with him and made sure he was ok. Dave, Javier and Gordon got out pretty quick, so by the time we met up back at the gondola, they were ready to charge.


  The boys had gone off and found an amazing run out of bounds from the top of the gondola. We managed to meet them after their next lap and they took us to the drop in point. The snow was hardly touched, Stefan and I dropped in and skied fresh untouched all to ourselves. We found the traverse line to the skier’s left and followed the creek bed. It was hard going as we had to do a lot of traversing and a ton of sidestepping uphill.


  We did a couple of different runs and then after 2 hours, it was time for me to ski with Dave, Gordon and Javier. They had been off skiing the out of bounds area and had been having a blast. They had had some mixed results with the traverse back to the resort, having gotten too low on one occasion and then having to posthole up to their waists to gain the required altitude. I wanted to find the best traverse out and we made that our mission. The key was hitting this hidden, hard right turn to get to the left side of the creek. If you did that, then it was plain sailing!


  So, for the rest of the day, we kept lapping in the same zone, skiing untouched lines every time. It was the best day of the trip so far and definitely surpassed all of our expectations. We drove back to Otaru for our last night’s stay at the Grand Park.



post #27 of 57
Thread Starter 

Day 12 (Thu 14th Jan)

Sapporo Teine


  Sadly it was time to leave Otaru and head further north and inland, to Furano. It was going to be a long drive, but we were keen to hit up Sapporo Teine, site of the 1972 Winter Olympics, on the way. I’d heard good things about Teine, supposedly they get a lot of snow and they had a relaxed policy to backcountry skiing. I’d also heard the views were amazing.


  The drive took about 40 minutes (including a little diversion up a closed mountain road). We kept driving until we reached the Highlands base area as that was where the better skiing was supposed to be. Looking up the mountain, we could see a pretty jagged peak with some big cliffs and a bunch of large satellite dishes on top. The runs looked short but pretty steep, with a tasty looking high speed quad going to the summit (which had replaced the old gondola).


  Tickets were cheap; we bought a 4 hour pass for about $25. The wind was ripping and the wind chill temps were pretty low, but the sun was actually out for the first time of the trip. It would still be a day to wrap up warm though. The layout of the mountain seemed pretty simple, we’d be spending most of our time lapping the quad and then maybe looking around some of the other chairs.


  When we got close to the top, we could look back and check out the view. It was one of the best views I have ever seen. To the right, you had Sapporo, all laid out like something out of Sim City (it’s a big city with more than 1.5 million inhabitants) and then to the left, you had the ocean. Everything was blanketed in snow. It was pretty surreal.


  Apparently our group doesn’t like to do warm up runs or groomers, so we went straight into hiking mode and took the short 5 minute hike (pretty flat) along a groomed cat track to the summit and out towards some chutes past the cliff section. We found a really nice wide chute that had some nice chalky, wind-blown snow in it. It wasn’t deep pow but it was a nice change to be skiing something genuinely steep and chute-like. I personally really enjoyed it.


  So, we ended up doing several laps in this area. The runs had definitely been affected by the wind, but they were steep and technical. We finished the day with a couple of laps on the double chair areas on the summit (a little too flat for most of the group) and then we had to head back to the van. It was still a two and a half hour plus drive to Furano and it would be getting dark. It started dumping as we left, thankfully about half way into the drive it started to let up. We couldn’t see a lot during the drive, but we could at least see the snow banks at the side of the road and they were huge. Furano would surely have some good snow; it would just be a question of how good the terrain was.


  Our hotel was going to be the New Furano Hotel. I knew that the location was supposed to be good (pretty close to the Kitanomine gondola station) and that the hotel was on the cheaper side (for Furano), so it wasn’t going to be too plush. That turned out to be all true, but at least we had a great location.



post #28 of 57
Thread Starter 

Quick little live update..... we thought we had the best skiing of the entire trip in Kokusai yesterday (28th Jan), but then we got to Furano today and they just opened the "premium zone." Wow, it was epic, definitely the best turns of the trip so far. We did 3 laps out of the gate and this is what we sampled.......



Me getting some really deep snow in my face! This is why they call it the "premium zone", it is aptly named!




Setting up another turn in the deep stuff in Furano today....... we get to do it all again tomorrow. Thanks to Nick Wilder for the photos.

post #29 of 57
  I had read that Kokusai had a somewhat vague policy when it came to skiing in the trees and going into the backcountry.

That is not what our guide Mattias of Black Diamond told us.  All of our runs were off the backside of the gondola with moderate traverses in and out.  Mattias said there is also good off-piste terrain along Kokusai’s gondola line, but unfortunately the local forestry bureaucrats just closed it to skiing this season.  This removed half of the lift accessible tree skiing that Black Diamond had been using in the past.

post #30 of 57
Had one of my two best Hokkaido powder days (out of 15) at Furano early January lapping Premium Zone. Even the tree run (off Link Lift back to Furano side, before where the rope begins) on the absolute last chairs of the day (at 3:32pm) was waist deep fresh track. Nephew, niece, and I all had ear to ear smile.

And boy, was the onsen at Prince Hotel a treat afterwards. Haven't seen such a large and busy pool since... Gellert Thermal Bath of Budapest! It made the family drive to Asahikawa afterwards much more relaxed.
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