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The Season of Pow - Japan, India and China

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

G'day Gang,

  Hope all is well. The winter is about to kick off for me and I'm stoked to report on what should be a pretty epic season. I decided to do a season long post as I have a ton of trips planned this year. Let me know if you would prefer me to do separate reports, I'm happy to do that. Anyway, I'm pretty excited about the upcoming season. Why? Well read on......


  In January I'm heading back to Japan to do a couple of sessions in Hokkaido. I'm really excited to be returning as last season (even though the locals were pretty down on how "bad" it was), I was blown away by how much snow they get. The terrain is definitely not the steepest, but for sheer quality and amount of snow, then Hokkaido is hard to beat. I learned a lot in a month in 2016 and I'm excited to double that experience. This time I get to go without any clients for 10 days first and I'm going to use that time to explore some new, hopefully even more under the radar resorts and sidecountry areas before everyone arrives on the 13th Jan. The long range forecast was for a weak La Nina season (so above average snowfalls) and already they have had decent snowfalls. It's looking like a much better start compared to 2016 which causes me to be very optimistic for an extra good time. We are just focusing on the Furano and Otaru areas this time around (we took Niseko off our list for 2017 as it's comparatively busy there plus the accommodation is much more expensive and harder to get, compared to Furano and especially Otaru). I leave on Jan 2nd so the skiing will start on the 4th Jan and will be out there until Feb 6th. Not long to go now.


  I have about 9 days at home in Denver and then it is off to Gulmarg, Kashmir on Feb 15th. That will be for approximately 3 weeks and I'll have 2 small groups. This time it is with regular clients so I'll actually be skiing again (unlike last winter when it was guiding the Level 1 film crew and there is a ton of standing around filming). There is definitely a lot more focus on skiing, when I'm guiding regular groups. I'm ready for that again! I know Jeelani my local guide prefers that too...... We are lucky to even be going to Gulmarg this winter after all the tension in Kashmir this summer. It's been a really tough summer for the locals with all the protests against the Indian government and the subsequent crackdown by the Indian army against the local people. It was pretty bad. We nearly cancelled our season but are going to push ahead now that things have finally calmed down (Gulmarg was quiet all summer, so much so that they couldn't even run the gondola as there were zero tourists in town, the cities were where the troubles were). Thankfully the gondola is running again and the domestic tourists are starting to return. Soon the Western skiers will return as well, but I'm sure the mountain will be extra quiet this season as only the most hardy of Westerners will come. If the snow is good, then come the end of Feb and the start of March, then we might have the mountain to ourselves. That's a pretty mouth-watering prospect. We'll see what happens. The season still hasn't started yet and there is very little snow on the ground (see photo from yesterday), but that is normal in Gulmarg. The season generally starts a lot later than most Western resorts, but when the snow does come (normally early next month), then it comes in hard and often. There is no reason to worry given we won't be out there for another couple of months.


Local traders in Tangmarg getting ready to sell Kongri's (clay pots used for personal heating). Pic: Jeelani Rather


The hustle and bustle in Srinagar finally returns - life starts to return to normal. Pic: Jeelani Rather


The first domestic tourists return and the gondola resumes operation. Pic: Jeelani Rather.


The mountain is gradually turning white again..... Pic: Jeelani Rather



Head Gulmarg Patroller, Shabir after the latest storm. Pic: Shabir Skipatrol


  I'm coming straight home from India on the 13th March and then I have 5 days at home (really glad I get to spend a few days at home between trips) before heading to China. This trip, I am super excited about. I have never been to China before and I have been invited out to the Xinjiang (with a photographer, so expect some quality photos from this trip!) to come and check out a new cat skiing operation and a new heli ski operation that are starting up this winter in a remote area of NW China. If you remember back to an old Warren Miller movie they filmed in 2008 for their move "Dynasty", then they went to a very remote area in the Altay area in the Xinjiang province and that is where we will be going.



  If you have been following the growth of the Chinese ski industry recently then you will know that it is absolutely booming over there with the lead-up to the 2022 Chinese winter Olympics. They are putting up new ski areas like crazy right now. The problem has been that despite this massive boom, there are relatively few resorts going up in the more mountainous areas that actually have decent terrain and snow. Those areas are typically away from the major population centers and aren't necessarily sustainable for skiing..... yet! Hopefully that is about to change with the start of the heli and cat skiing ops outside of Altay and the Kanas. We'll find out soon when we head out there on the 20th March. I don't know much at all, I haven't seen any of the hotels, I know practically nothing about the heli or the cat ops, it's all a bit of a mystery and that to me, only adds to the excitement.


  What I do know is that local hunters in that area have been skiing in the Altay mountains for potentially thousands of years (well before the Norwegians would have been skiing) and there is an amazing ski culture where locals make their own fully-rockered fat skis with horse hair skins permanently attached to the bases and they use a long pole as a rudder. I can't wait to see all this for myself. Supposedly this ski culture is on it's last legs as the local government is banning hunting and the locals have no reason to ski. Maybe tourism could be the way to save this old craft? We'll see, but the chance to be a part of a new era of skiing in the region is an exciting prospect. I can't wait! 


  We have a very well-connected local coming with us (he has put the trip together for us) and I'm sure we will be in good hands. Hopefully my China visa is granted and I get my passport back on Dec 30th (as I leave for Japan on Jan 2nd..... it will be tight!). I've only cat skied a couple of times and I've certainly never heli-skied before, so this is a dream come true and I am truly thankful I have been given this opportunity. You guys will hopefully be the first to read about it. Here's some photos of the mountain they are running the cat this season (see why I got excited in the first place.....). I don't have any photos of the heli terrain yet.


All photos courtesy of Maolin Gu.....


Tasty, tasty terrain!




Maolin (right) with a champion local skier and his handmade local skis. You can see the horsehair skins that are nailed to the bottoms and the pole that is used like a rudder for steering, not that they like to turn apparently, the locals say turning slows you down too much and is inefficient!


  I hope you guys will follow me on this season of adventures. It should be a fun ride.


- Matt

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 18

Subscribed! Looking forward to all the reports. :)

post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 

G'day Gang,

  Good news (for me at least and this thread too I guess), finally got my passport back and my new China visa was in it. That means I'm officially going to China (and also Japan, given that I am flying out on Monday, nothing like leaving it to the last minute!). I booked my flights to Beijing a couple of weeks ago (flying to Beijing is unbelievably cheap too, I paid $560 USD for Denver to Beijing return) and now I just have to book the internal flights. It's interesting to note that the domestic flights will probably end up costing more than the international flights....... oh well, it's still a good deal all round.


  The plan will be to fly to Beijing, overnight there on the 20th and then fly to Altay (Aletai is the other spelling of the place that I have seen). I have a photographer (Grant Nakamura) coming so we will be really able to document the trip. There is not much video of the skiing in the Xinjiang area and specifically the areas that we will be visiting. I do have a video of the mountain that the the cat skiing operation just north of Kanas that we will be visiting and it looks very tasty! 



  Obviously this video from last spring was made before the cat skiing op has started. It's got some serious terrain and the potential for avalanche hazard as well. The tree skiing down low looks pretty nice too. Can't wait to try some of those local hand-made skis, that looks like serious fun.


  I'm leaving for Japan on Monday, now I can actually go as I have my passport back. I'll report back then.


- Matt

post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 

Travel Day


  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 Cynthia (one of our guides) and her friend Marie (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.


- Matt

post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thursday 5th Jan

Exploring Furano

  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.


Many, many thanks to Marie-Claude Fillion for these great photos!























post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 

Friday 6th Jan

Sahoro Resort

  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.












post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 

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!


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! Sorry there were no photos in this report, I have plenty for Asari......

post #8 of 18
Thread Starter 

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 foreigneat, 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 2 way 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

Asarigawa Onsen

  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.
























post #9 of 18

Matt, that is a ridiculous amount of snow. Looks like slides are everywhere?

post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by ralba View Post

Matt, that is a ridiculous amount of snow. Looks like slides are everywhere?

G'day Ray, the snow here is average for this time of year. Asari has a base of around 180cm's, so coverage is pretty good. Most of the bamboo is covered and there's no chance of hitting any rocks or anything. Were you looking at these pictures and seeing avalanches? There's no avalanches in Asari, it's pretty mellow. There are plenty of ski tracks in these photos, but no avalanches. Cheers for the comments Ray, hope you and the family are well.


post #11 of 18

Loving your TR, great photos and information. Source of inspiration, planning on going to Hokkaido in a year or two probably. Do you provide guiding around Hokkaido? Seems to be quite a few operators and if I was going to go would be interested in touring and getting away from the more obvious traps.

Honshu seems to be getting hammered, I'm off there in a couple of weeks. Getting frothy and stoked up on it.

post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by 2meke View Post

Loving your TR, great photos and information. Source of inspiration, planning on going to Hokkaido in a year or two probably. Do you provide guiding around Hokkaido? Seems to be quite a few operators and if I was going to go would be interested in touring and getting away from the more obvious traps.

Honshu seems to be getting hammered, I'm off there in a couple of weeks. Getting frothy and stoked up on it.

G'day 2meke,

  Thanks for following the blog, glad you are enjoying it. I'm a little bogged down, getting way behind in the writing unfortunately but getting out after it every day. The snow gods have stopped co-operating at the moment unfortunately. We've not had any fresh snow for nearly a week now (after getting dumped on in the Otaru area) last week and it's been dry here in Furano. We are here until the 19th and then we head back to Otaru where the weather is supposed to change. It's a challenge trying to find decent snow that hasn't been tracked out. I am guiding a couple of small groups and if everything goes well, we'll be out here again in 2018. Our program is currently based in the Furano and Otaru areas which are a little bit quieter with the Westerners and the snow can stay a little on the fresher side. We moved away from the Niseko area this year so we could focus on the quieter areas. It's a challenge to find under the radar places as Hokkaido grows more and more popular with Western skiers and boarders. Hope you have a great time in Honshu!

Kind regards,


post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 

Kon ni chi wa! Massive apologies for not posting in such a long time...... guiding day and night got the better of me and I got way behind. 15 hour days for a month straight will do that. I am still alive thankfully and now the Japan trip is done. I'm currently in Tokyo sitting at the Narita airport. I have 8 hours to kill so time to start posting again. I only have 9 days before I will be off to India, so will get as much done as I can (might have to shorten the daily reports a little bit therefore).


  Overall, the trip has been awesome. It's been challenging at times (as it always is and that goes with the territory), especially as the snow didn't co-operate for the entire Furano leg of session 1 (forced me to get creative which was good, we still managed to ski untouched lines everyday and explored some great new areas). Thankfully it snowed hard when we arrived in Otaru and then kept going all the way throughout session 2. Those guys really got the goods!


  Here's the rest of the reports.......


Tuesday 10th Jan

Mt. Notgoingtotellyou

  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……  


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.

post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 

Francisco is a very safe snowboarder......



Resort X has it's own ski museum!






I wondered where my old slalom pants went to......



The locals believe the mountains are full of goblins...... the museum has a cool goblin mask section.










No rope ducking when this guy is on patrol. That is a samurai sword under his left arm!



Path to the shrine, just outside the ropeway.



Francisco, on the path to enlightenment!



Awesome little statue near the shrine.



Make a wish!



Found this awesome little vantage point, overlooking Otaru.



I have a ton of video of the riding, but only one photo of Francisco. In deep in the woods.



Otaru BBQ time. Francisco was on a mission for King Crab and muscles. He was successful in his mission!



Down the hatch!

post #15 of 18

Wow!  I MUST make this trip.  Looks amazing!!!

post #16 of 18
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by locknload View Post

Wow!  I MUST make this trip.  Looks amazing!!!

It's a fun trip for sure! The snow is awesome (even in a not great year) and the culture and food right up there too. Don't come to Hokkaido if you are looking for long, steep runs, but if you like short, sweet and deep, then this trip is for you. We'll be out there again next winter, dates and costs should be out in April sometime. Can't wait to head back out there.......


post #17 of 18
Thread Starter 

Here's a quick video of some of the skiing in Kokusai from the 9th of Jan - Ross and Francisco in action with me supplying the annoying sound effects.......




post #18 of 18
Thread Starter 

Last clip for today...... here's a quick edit from Mt. Notgoingtotellyou. Francisco and I had the place to ourselves. No other gaijins to be seen and all the snow in the trees was untouched! It was an epic day!




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