And so we were on our way. As the Japanese ANA Boeing 787 gently left Vienna over Siberia directly for Tokyo. The plan had been made way back in October. After five long years of absence Žiga, Gašper and I would be heading back to Japan. After a mild doctorate in Meteorology we decided our final destination. Hokkaido.
Like most of the world with a few exceptions the Japow snow gun was running on fumes. A lot of resorts on Honshu, the main Island of Japan were looking more like my home resort of Pohorje, green rather then white. Fortunately Hokkaido did have some snow. A few days before our arrival the Instagrams were ablaze with Japow spray shots from Niseku.
Even while we were on landing approach towards Tokyo Haneda, our plan war merely rudimentary. We somehow settled to start our powder hunt in Furano. On our last visit we opted to go to Niseku instead, a somewhat over run, yet the most prominent of resorts on Hokkaido. We did not stay for long there back then.
When we arrived at Sapporo airport with AirDO and the HOKKAIDO welcome fare (look into it :P) late on a Sunday, boarding the Hokkaido Resort Liner, a prominent direct bus connection the the ski resorts of Hokkaido, the snow was furring already. In the morning, after our first breakfast at the smallest Hotel I have ever been to, the Peitite Melon, we were ascending by cable car up Furano resort. It had snowed over night. A good 15 cm at -15 degrees. That meant fluffy snow. I had ample info on the whole area from my Bavarian friends, Furano being quite a beloved destination for German powderhounds.
The Resort itself is pretty classic hotel resort design with two ski hills linked by a chair lift. What is interesting is the upper steeps and open areas from the top. Open faces and a lot of nice Japow woods. There are different gates that you have to go trough and as usual before you do that you have to register at the mountaineering counter, in case of emergency. I think the registrations are a good balance for crowd control in Japan. Thou practical there I do not think it would be a viable option in Euroland. We are just to egoistic for that kind of order. All in all the resort reminded me of Zauchesee or the Nordkette. The problem of both being that good terrain is far to easily accessible. That also means Powderstress regardless of Japonese rules. The early bird catches the worm.
The great antithesis to this is the quite substantial back country that you can leave trough an unmarked gate from the highest cable car. After riding some Japow on our first day inside the resorts boundaries, we soon discovered this magical trail. Our second day was also, quite to the regular weather of Hokkaido in January a bluebird day. So instead of shelling out 60 bucks for a day ticket we rode the Furano Gondola to the top and from there headed into the great beyond.
This was Hokkaido as I remembered it. No people, lots of base fresh snow and nice wide trees. As I was putting on my G3 minimalist skins on a sunny day at -10 degrees and getting my Leki Aegon2 poles ready for touring I thought how lucky we were to be here now. Winter. Finally proper winter. Everything was white. No grass anywhere.
As we set out on a skin track our goal was a peak with a nice steep line towards the south. In the evening before I was trying to figure out its name but did not. It would not be upon our return back and the translation help of my old friend Nazumi from Kyoto, that we would know that we were on the south peak of Furano called Furano Nishidake. I had mistakenly thought that we were non Nunobedake, another epic lines peak a bit further to the south.
At about 1500 m the threes became big snow giants and I was thinking of the last time I had used a proper Poweder setup like my Dynastar Manace with the SHIFT binding for steep slack touring. After a good hour and a half we reached the top. The steep ridge was an epic place to be. You could see all the peaks to the west. Asahidake, Mt. Furano… so beautiful.
We meet three Frenches at the peak who were spotting the steep culis to the south. They were filled up with snow alright but the question was would they hold? Like then we were facing the same dilemma. A, B or C 😛 I was happy that my Lange XTFree 130 were super stiff boots. In any case I could charge the culi full power.
After entering between B and C culis from a huge wind-lip We were ready to go. We decided to take the B culi. It looked like one could do a few super fun fast turns and then speed out trough a narrow chute. Just what we were looking for. Since I had the new Ferrino FULLSAFE 30+5 airbag I was to be the test bunny just in case anything broke lose.
I started my descent and after two conservative turns I noticed that all is well and started darting down. It was so much fun. I accelerated to full trough the narrow chute and while coming out noticed a problem. Bamboo holes in the outrun. You see a big problem in Hokkaido is holes that form when snow accumulates on Bamboo. Usually in January these are not a big issue, not surfacing until March but with almost half less snow then usual even at 3 m , apparently not all were covered yet.
Being to fast to turn out I jumped over the gap and landed in the snow while loosing one of my skis. Then shortly after me Gasper darted out of the chute but luckily I could divert him barely. Žiga already saw us and avoided the whole thing all together. We were laughing like happy kiddos. On the way back we also had to do some creative river crossing. The second day on Hokkaido was super fun already.
Then we descended trough woods back to the resort boundary. It was time for well deserved Ramen noodles and a good beer.