Work has now quietened down and so I’ve been taking full advantage of my extra days off that I’ve been given to make up the extra hours I worked over Chinese New Year. Working only four days a week compared to the six I was commonly working means I feel like I’m basically part time and life is very cruisey.
Last weekend there was an insane dumping of snow throughout the week, which meant super deep powder at levels we hadn’t really seen since the end of December. The chef here at NBS, Gwilym, and I shot off for three days to go and explore a bit of Hokkadio and check out some other resorts. This was our route:
We set off straight after work on Wednesday to get to Otaru so we could ride Mt. Tengu in the morning. This was the same ski hill that had crazy snow when we stayed last time but we didn’t have any gear so I was excited to finally get to go. Evidently the weather gods have no intention of letting me ride there as when we rocked up nice and early for first lift, the lady there gave us the cross symbol and ‘too many winds’ explanation for the lifts not being prepared for opening. This was a bit of a crushing start to the trip, but we decided to head straight off and having spent the previous evening screen capturing google maps, as we had no GPS, I remembered seeing a small ski hill next to one of the mountain roads that we would be driving on so we thought we would go and try check it out.
We paid to use the toll roads and shot through Sapporo before heading out onto the mountain crossing road. We ended up at Katsurazawakokusetsu Ski Area that had one 1.5km chair lift, tress both sides of the run and 80cm of fresh snowfall. The place was pretty much empty, but the chair was rolling round and we found that we could get three hour passes for $15! We grabbed our gear and jumped on the lift.
We cruised down to the start of the tree line to be treated with completely untouched, steep snow. I’ve been up early to ride in Niseko and the snow is pretty fresh, but this was completely fresh with zero tracks down it. For the next three hours we had some insane runs and for long stretches of the time we were the only people on the hill. One Japanese guy came up to us at the top to try out some English and show us his weird dancey moves that were supposed to be his version of short terms.
Our drive then continued across the mountain road with an hours delay as we waited for a tractor to come and pull a truck out the way that had spun out across the road. The snow was falling pretty heavily and the windy steep hills were pretty treacherous. On both our drive to Otaru and the one over the Furano we had to wait as a lorry was pulled back into its lane and helped up the hill.
We still managed to arrive into Furano before it got dark and after checking with the tourist information where our (un-signed) hostel was we checked in and headed out for some food, pool and beers. Furano is pretty large ski resort with a huge 101 person cable car that can take you up. We got up before the first lift and went to check out the runs. One part of the mountain was being used for some kids race day so after queuing too long to check out that we headed over to the tree section. The mountain was so much quieter than in Niseko and when the ‘premium powder zone’ opened at 11am the snow was absolutely insane. Sections down through the trees were shoulder deep of super light powder and our attempts at getting gopro footage involved lots of trying to wipe the lens clean.
The riding was epic to say the least and by the early afternoon we were both exhausted and ready to head on to our next destination. There’s a rule in skiing that you should never call your final run, that when you get down from one just decide then that its time to call it. We made the mistake of calling the last run and my request to Gwilym to get a shot of me shooting out the trees at the bottom led to a stronger branch than I realized clotheslining me across the face and sending me sprawling. Nothing that an ice-pack and a few tissues doesn’t fix though.
We then set off down South along the country roads skirting the national parks to take us to a random small little village. I’d struggled to find a place to stay down in the small rural towns with websites not aimed for western clients and seemingly booked up or stupidly expensive. Luckily airbnb came to the rescue and we had a log cabin booked in the middle of no-where, with nothing but a decent steak restaurant over the road. We arrived, went and cooked our own meat platter and then the owner came round with a friend in the evening to drink beer and wine with us which was fun.
On our final day exploring we were having a rest day from skiing and instead heading into the Noboribetu national park to see Hells Valley with its geysers and volcanic landscape. We then drove up via Lake Toya before returning back to Niseko and back to work.
These past weekends have been pretty hot and sunny, and even with the mini dump of snow it certainly isn’t powder weather. My past couple of weekends have been spent riding around in a hoody and checking out the end of season parties (and cheap drink deals!) We did hike up the reverse peak of Annapuri which had some very sketch sections where the snow was collapsing, but the ride down from the top was super fun, until the glue like snow towards the bottom of the run.
As there’s only so much riding you can do when the snow is pretty heavy, we’ve also just been taking off on random trips around Hokkadio. My house mate James has got a car for this month so yesterday we went on an explore to Cape Kamui, a place we found with about 2 minutes googling. Pictures below.
All my travelling around Japan has now been sorted and I’m heading out with my mate Eoghainn for three weeks of adventure – we’ve had to pre-book our accommodation as the spring time is very popular due to all the cherry blossom so everything for that is organized. From there I will be heading solo into China before quickly checking out Hong Kong then straight into ACLE work somewhere near to Rome.
People are starting to leave Niseko now, including my roommate Craig, which can make mountains a bit of a depressing place, but there’s still a good number of fun people around and with the sun shining it’s nice to be able to head out not in a thousand layers for the first time in a few months!
I’ll update you all when I leave.