After our initial taste of Japan in the town of Narita, we were very eager to explore the island of Hokkaido. The first logistic to tackle after landing in Sapporo was that of the rental car. The language barrier was ever present as we ambled from desk to desk inquiring about car availability, eventually receiving the same “no car open” response.
The woman at one rental option did not speak any English but typed into a translator app on her phone and allowed us to read the output which, when we asked about other locations having cars open, read “They will not rent you a convertible. It is too cold.” I guess typing ‘cars and open’ translated into asking for a convertible! Thanks to a few more exchanges between phone translators she arranged a shuttle to take us to another office that had small cars with ski racks and 4WD. We were psyched!
Fortunately the woman at this office spoke English and promptly got us oriented with the right set of maps, pamphlets and a (mostly) English GPS. With our boards on top and bags in the back our Japanese ski-mobile was ready to rock! Cooper took the first leg of driving and as co-pilot I was vigilant in ensuring he adjusted to driving on the other side of the road, pretty wild at first for sure!
We drove into Sapporo to pick up a few last minute items and groceries then began the two and a half hour drive to Niseko. With massive snow banks in the city, we were thrilled to see how things were stacking up in the mountains. We enjoyed sunshine and blue skies as we ventured out of the city into the snowy hills and then the mountains of southern Hokkaido. The amount of snow on the sides of the roads and buildings was impressive. Huge snow blower trucks like those at Mt. Baker are working constantly as well as four-meter tall snow fences anchoring the snow and creating epic looking pillow lines–hopefully more on that later.
Incredible views of Niseko Annapuri and the stunning Mt. Yotei welcomed us as we arrived in Niseko that afternoon. Some friends from Bellingham were staying at a place called Aspara Lodge so we checked in with the super friendly host, then went in search of another friend who guides in the area to get the low down on touring spots. A bit of weather was forecasted for Tuesday so we suppressed our urge to ascend Mt. Yotei and opted for an exploratory powder mission near the Kiroro Ski Resort.
An hour of driving through white walled roads brought us to the parking lot of Kiroro. Joined by our two friends, we skinned up through the cartoon-like snow plastered trees. With uncharacteristic sun the last few days we hoped to find preserved pow on north facing slopes. The avalanche bulletin (fairly generic, lacking specifics) reported overall low danger due to the fact that we were four days into a high pressure system and no persistent instabilities were present, but we needed to see it for ourselves. Our assessment wasn’t as confidence inspiring as we hoped so we decided to stick to the treed rib that we had skinned up, which seemed to hold great snow. Dropping in to my first run in Japan was a blast as I ducked and weaved through the characteristic deciduous trees, enjoying boot top pow and very playful terrain. Watching Cooper rip down on his new toy and throw plumes of snow into the filtered sunlight was supreme. The tiresome long flights, a sleepless night in the airport and envy of snow back home all vanished as we reveled in the bliss that only powder skiing with friends in a new place can bring.
We skinned up to another ridge and enjoyed a great runs down through treed slopes, some with a bit of wind buffed snow but still very fun. The options for skiing in this area seemed to be endless: numerous ridges leading to the alpine as well as loads of treed slopes stretching in every direction. We are excited to continue to see what this place has to offer.
(Guest blogger, Henry Hagood spends half the year on the waters around Kodiak, Alaska, commercial fishing in order to enjoy winters to the fullest. When there are good friends and good snow, he can be found enjoying both in the Washington’s Cascades and British Columbia. When either wanes he’ll jump at the opportunity to travel abroad or migrate to warmer climes for spearfishing and the ongoing search for the best taco.)