Here in Hakuba, the end of February tends to mark the conclusion of powder season and the beginning of spring. With the forecast looking decidedly unwinter-like for a couple of weeks, we rallied a crew to journey north in hopes of just a little bit more Japow.
The trip started with an early wake up and a three hour drive to Niigata, a city in Central Honshu on the Sea of Japan. From there we jumped on an eighteen hour car ferry up to Tomakumai, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. After another early wake up on the ferry, we drove onto Hokkaido to find that our hopes to extend winter had been confirmed: it was really damn cold, and kind of snowing.
Our first stop on Hokkaido was the ski resort of Furano. Thanks to Patrick Fux, our fearless leader, Swiss organizer, and Powdermaniac, we were hooked up with some seriously swanky accommodation at the Prince Hotel. For a dirtbag like me, this was really a treat.
While in Furano, we were treated to a pretty good storm, leaving us with almost two feet of fresh. It was the real blower too, just like in the movies. At this point we were all pretty sold on Hokkaido.
After a few days of powder skiing at Furano, we did a day trip to Kurodake. On an island covered in flat, boring terrain, Kurodake is the exception. This place has an abundance of big, steep terrain, accessed by a single tram, that is pretty clearly intended for summer use. Unfortunately for us, our timing was off to enjoy what Kurodake has to offer. We had fairly stormy conditions, and the snowpack was absolute crap – a foot of old condensed powder sitting on two feet of facets. I certainly intend on revisiting Kurodake in better conditions some day. If anyone has more experience with this place, I’d love to hear it.
After Kurodake, we went for another day trip to a small resort called Kamui. This place was remarkable for two reasons. First, we received a short tour from the resort manager / badass, Mitsuiko Maeda. Maeda-san is 72 years old. He skis every single day that the resort is open. In the summer, he is on the resort cutting brush and maintaining trails (most of which he designed). We skied one run with him, which he hammered top to bottom, at a pace that had my quads burning. He was riding on a pair of Field Earth skis, which his son designs, that were completely concave in front of the boot (take that, DPS Spoon). The other cool thing about Kamui was the gondola lift line, the first genuinely challenging and easily lap-able inbounds run that I’ve seen in Japan. This zone is pictured below.
Our next stop on the trip was Niseko and the Black Diamond Lodge. As residents of the Hakuba Powder Lodge, the Black Diamond was interesting to see, as they are both the hub for backcountry skiers in their respective ski towns. We found Black Diamond to be fully deserving of its reputation as a backcountry mecca.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of skiing around Niseko were the avalanche barriers. We have them in Hakuba, but they aren’t built up into full on pillow lines the way they are on Hokkaido. These things really are just as much fun as they look.
After a week and a half in the north country, it was time to return to the rain. We drove back to Tomakumai, boarded the ferry, drove from Niigata, and finally arrived back home in Hakuba 30 hours later.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Zach Paley. For more pictures, and for his take on the trip, visit his blog.
For even more stories and photos, visit Powdermania.com, as well as Powdermania’s Facebook page.