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Seafood and blower pow.

Seafood and blower pow.

This winter we decided to leave the main Island of Japan, Honchu for the north Island of Japan, Hokkaido. This promised us new terrain and even more snow. Can this be possible?

Mid January I was scheduled to tail guide for the Hokkaido Backcountry Club’s cat skiing operation. This operation is located out of a small fisherman's town located on the west coast of Hokkaido, called Shimamaki. With the town being right on the Japanese sea everything is about the fishing. There are two onsen hotels, and two local restaurants where in one of them all the fisherman come in to weigh there fish. Which get’s photographed and hung on the wall, a nice decoration. Sea urchins are the biggest market, they get sold expensively to China. In winter the town is calm and empty, not many fisherman are able to go out, since the sea gets wild and stormy.

These same storms make for crazy amount of snowfalls, and an insane snowpack. Every morning we drive from the coast 15minutes into the mountains where we change onto a so called ‘cat’. Also known as a piste bully, with a box built on top of it fitted for 12 powder seeking guests and their ski gear.

loaded cat

We drive another 40minutes in the cat to reach to feet of the mountains we wanna be skiing that day and than get the cat to drive us up there, and we get let loose to chase the blower pow on the way down. Over and over again. A big ridge offers us some alpine like turns while on stormy days we ride through the perfectly spaced Japanese silver birch trees. 

Two weeks in a row I found myself blown away by the quality and stability of the snowpack, not even mentioned the daily reset of +-20cm we got….

To finish the day up in style we would make our ways back to the onsen hotels, go for a hot soak in the onsen and grill the widest variety of fresh seafood on a table grill. 

 

Only in Japan.

Rishiri

Rishiri

A tiny island a little north of Hokkaido, the island is nothing but a volcano. A 1721m high non active volcano, fully covered in snow. 

 

It’s been on our to-do list from the first day we’ve been on Hokkaido, the north Island of Japan. And the second weekend of March it was the time. We where done working, had still two weeks to play around Hokkaido and a big high pressure system was right where we wanted it to be.

After our last day of work we pack our bags and set up our car to be our temporarily home for the next couple of days. 6/7 hours later we arrive to the ferry terminal of Wakkanai, where the traffic signs are also written in Russian, making us realise how far north we are, and we convert our car into our bedroom. 

We wake up with the sun rising out of the ocean and not a single cloud in the sky. A short nap on the ferry extend our sleeping time and we get to the island of Rishiri at 8.45h in the morning.

The volcano is looking amazing, the last week has been very snowy and there has only been little wind. Jackpot!

We definitely want to ride one of the north facing lines, and decide to bring up our sleeping and cooking equipment to allow us to spend a night on the mountain. 

It takes us about 5 hours to the summit, where an amazing view with 360 degrees of ocean around us awaits us. In the distance we see the island of hokkaido and the even tinier neighbouring island Rebun. It looks like we can ski down on all aspects, but having the sun out all day we pick our lines distanced from the south face to get the best snow.

We pick a nice line and ski down to the a hut which we find on an elevation of +-1230m. The hut is covered in rime which makes it almost hard to enter, but with a little help of our ice axes we find our way in. The hut or bivouac how it seems to be called does not look like it has been of any use over winter and is not equipped whatsoever. But we came prepared and settle right in, after which we are right in time to see the full moon rise in the east and have the sun setting in the west. 

We roll out our sleeping bags and cook up some ramen. And than try to keep ourselves warm in our sleeping bags which we also fill with our boot liners and gloves (the only way to sort of get them warm for the next day).

When our alarm goes of the world has turned around and we see the sun rise on the east and the full moon set in the west, it couldn't have been any more perfect.

we leave our overnight equipment behind and make our way back up to the peak. The day seems even sunnier than the one previous and the up-track goes quick. A little boot-pack and some so called ‘billy goating’ on a solid crust of ice on a 50 degree angle above no fall zone got us into the north face. Right where we wanna be, exactly on top of the line we picked out. 900 vertical meters with top to bottom blower pow on a big open face asking us to open up. Hands down, best line of the season.

Another line is staring at us, we make our way back up, pass by the hut and pick up our stuff and get ready to ride all the way back to the car, back to the ocean. More blower pow, more steepness, more opening up is happening, quit possibly there was some hooting and howling going on.. 

 

Mount Rishiri is all we could wish for.

Yotei

Yotei

We moved into a place in Niseko town, a 15 minute drive away from the office where we have our morning meetings before we head out every day, chasing pow. This 15 minute drive gives us an amazing view on Mount Yotei (whenever it's a clear day).

Mount Yotei is an inactive stratovolcano 1898 meters high. As soon as the first clear day came around our mind was set, we where going to ride this mountain, ASAP.

The 5th of Feb was such a clear day, it was even forecasted days ahead, and we where definitely not the only ones with the idea of climbing this beauty.

An early alarm made us able to enjoy a beautiful red coloured mountain while the sun was rising in the east. We had planned to hike the south-east side and come down in one of the good looking chutes down that same side. The skin track was put, there where several early birds ahead of us, and the first climb in a little gully through the trees warmed us up. Before we knew we where at the bottom of some big avalanche paths and we decided to stay on a high ridge along the paths to make a nice, safe and easy to climb skin track. This is where we lost the crowd, who manly followed up the summer route which included a good amount of boot packing.

Winds picked up a bit while getting into the alpine, but the sun kept shining on us, and a bunch of switchbacks later we found ourselves cracking a beer at the hut located just little ways away from the peak. Sheltered from the wind and with our faces in the sun we enjoyed our lunch and planned our decent. 

We climbed the last few meters, summited Yotei and got to ski down the crater! Yes, you can ski down in the crater of Yotei, where it actually holds it's best snow, some smooth soft turns got us excited for the rest of the decent down the actual face. We got back onto the ridge, walked a loop around to see how the northside is looking from the top (next clear day, check.) and dropped into some wind hammered snow op top which soon turned into some boot deep pow down the chutes on the south/ south-east side of the volcano.

A great day, a great adventure, a great mountain. 

Route planning.

Route planning.

The hut, located just a couple more switchbacks away from the summit.

The hut, located just a couple more switchbacks away from the summit.

Looking down in the crater of Mount Yotei.

Looking down in the crater of Mount Yotei.

Hokkaido

Hokkaido

Sometimes it seems that life is running faster than you can actually keep up. That's what's happening with us right now.

After another amazing fall season spent on the Canary Islands, La Palma Robi had to make his way to Canada. The 2nd and 3rd Module of the Canadian Avalanche Association Level 2 course where awaiting him in Whistler. 2 weeks studying, digging in the snow and freezing your toes of since it was freezing cold in Canada at that time. All worth it, he can call himself a avalanche technician now. 

I made my way to Japan and Robi crossed the world a couple weeks later and before we knew we moved in to our new home for the season on Japan's northern island, Hokkaido;

Hokkaido home

We'll be here for the season, guiding around the Niseko area and taking clients into central Hokkaido for the real Japanese experience. Stay tuned for some powder updates!

Mission White Horse.

Mission White Horse.

Sometimes, it`s worth it, to sleep in a 0 degrees environment, with your (smelly) boot liners in your sleeping bag.

Wintercamping

Last week we set up our tent in the mountains, in the snow, at around 1900 meters. To quickly catch some sleep, or maybe more shortly close our eyes and get up at 2am to climb a peak. Shirouma dake 2932m.

Wintercamping

Camping in a tent....

Bobthebuilder

Or building shelter....

 

Dinerinthemountains
dinner

Diner.

Sunrise
Sunrise

Sunrise.

Ridgewalks
ridgewalks

Stormy ridgewalks.

Dropin

And this is why it`s worth it, at 7.30am the next day, this is where we were dropping into!

 

 

 

Pictures made by the most amazing #Dylfoot & Lisa Dreier

 

 

 

Cultural Japan.

Cultural Japan.

While we actually spend all of our time in the snow, and don`t see much more than only that from Japan, I sometimes feel like we`re lacking on experiencing the Japanese culture.

Not after January 15th.

It takes about one hundred villagers to build the shrine for the Nozawa Fire Festival. The shrine which they will try to burn down in full force on January 15th.

Nozawa Onsen is the town where the Fire Festival is happening. Every year on the exact same date. Nozawa is a beautiful ski town situated an hour or two away from Hakuba where we`re at (if you don`t decide to drive the summer road which takes an hour extra, been there done that).

The trees they use for the festival are cut down in October a brought to town two days before the festival takes place. Surely they`ll have some sort or more sorts of ceremonies around this shrine for the two days towards the festival, but on January 15th is the so called “fire-setting battle”. An offensive team which pretty much includes all man in town attack the shaden (also known as wood pile with 42-year-old man on top of it) with blazing torches. The shaden (and it`s man) gets protected by all of the 25-year-old man out of the same town. 42 and 25 are unlucky ages in Japan……

So, just to get you to picture this for yourself, man attack man and a big burnable woodpile with more man on it with fire, and try to light it all. Right.

The festival ends with a huge bonfire, the whole shrine will go down by the end of it, the 42-year-old man which were on top of the shaden actually have a hidden ladder on the back of the shaden where they escape on. Nobody actually gets burned, everybody involved does ends up with cuts, bruises and surely also burn marks. And everybody involved and all of the crowd gets slightly intoxicated by the liberal sake which gets poured all night. All I can advise you is to go, enjoy and not to wear your new down jacket.

“The festival originally began as an invocation for a good harvest health and good fortune in the coming year, but has expanded to include a good ski season as well”, AMEN!

Why we`re in Japan.

Why we`re in Japan.

January 1st last year was white, really white blower pow. We had been in Japan for about two weeks, and Japan had welcomed us with at least a meter of pow in our first 3 days, and the sky had not really been clearing since. AWESOME!

The rest of the season didn`t change much, it dumped, we rode, it cleared, we rode more, and that all over again, and again.

Japan is the country of endless snow showers, daily fresh tracks, snowmonkeys, chopstick dinners, onsens, heated toilet seats, vending machines and much more. The one thing even more epic than the other, obviously we spend most of our time enjoying these endless snowshowers and putting in those first tracks. But how good is spotting a monkey on your way out of the backcountry? And what about the freshest sushi at the end of a good touring day? Not even mentioning all the other goods the Japanese cuisine has to offer. Relaxing your muscles in one of the many beautiful Japanese onsens, while picking your lines for the next day. And being able to pick up icecream, beer, coffee/ hot chocolate, soda and soup all out of the same vending machine?! Pretty epic, letting myself not get in detail about the heated toilet seats.  And now I haven't even mentioned how kind, friendly and welcoming Japanese people are. 

This is why we're in Japan!

This year, January 1st looked a little different. Although we`ve been touring in about 40cm of freshies (up high) the snowpack is a little disappointing. We're finding the goods up high, but the valley still looks pretty green and rocky and we're downloading the gondola and the end of our days, most days.

But besides the missing snow, everything else is still here. The good vibes, the mountains, the snowmonkeys, chopstick dinners, onsens, vending machines and heated toilet seats. And this is why we stay, and wait patiently.