Powder Dream in Japan
We - that is Alexander, Heinz (Hene), Roger, Thomas, Willi (Wilu) and me (Peter) together with Ruedi, the 'Chef', of course - meet up at the airport of Zurich. After the changeover and a change in airport, we arrive in Tokyo. Later on, in Sapporo, we meet up with Chris, our local guide. From there we drive in a small bus to Nieseko - a long but completely smooth arrival.
In the morning, we again drive with the small bus, this time to Chisenpuri, a disused ski-region. It is said, that this season there was a substandard amount of snow. However, the walls of snow around the parking area are quite impressive indeed. The week before the temperatures had been rather warm and it rained, which is why the underlying snow was rather hard. A small tour, initially going through birch forest and undergrowth up to the Chisenpuri, weather's gray, the further up we get the windier the weather gets and further down in the forest there's good snow on top of the hard surface. The snowy birch forest - one of the optical and atmospheric highlights, which accompanies us throughout the whole travel. We then also tackle another slope and in the end we did traverse 800 metres in height. Back in the hotel most of us go to the typical Japanese Onsen - pure relaxation.
From the Annupuri village with the support of a ski lift we ski two of the Gate - free-ride variations, good snow even if quite often driven over. It's a mix between a giant slalom and a tightly laid out special-slalom. Afterwards, we go all the way up with a single seat ski lift, that looks like milking-stools hung up on a cable. The ski lift brings us up to the foot of the 'Fujiwara no sawa' and then it goes back down on the northern slope in the back. The wind was harsh in the beginning, but afterwards the snow was extremely fresh and perfect to ski on. Then we have a relaxing break in the Goshiki Onsen. Afterwards, totally relaxed, we ascent a small slope with furs, in order to get back to the car and because the snow was so beautiful we did the whole thing over again. A last short version in the ski lift area and then, after a day of skiing cumulative 3,200 metres down the mountain, we ski down to the hotel with another delicious Japanese supper in sight.
In about an hour of driving we go to the volcano Yotei. Against all expectations - the weather often changes quickly against what was forecast - the sun comes out. The ascent through fairy tale like forests decorated with the sparkling snow, is simply wonderful. Slowly the clouds start creeping up again, above the forest boundaries the snow is hard and unwelcoming. When we, after ascending 1,500 metres, reach the summit, we find ourselves in a thick fog. Sadly, we have to give up on the mountain panorama. Slowly we make our way down again over the hard, sometimes icy, snow until we get into the forest region, where we can finish the downhill run on good snow and sight.
Today, free-riding in the Rusutsu region is on the plan. In the morning we tackle the southern part of the region. It offers one thing especially: innumerable options. From heavily used to not used at all, from wide to small, this region offers every possible option a skiing enthusiast could wish for. Around noon we change over to the northern face, where we, after short ascents with furs, had the two best downhill runs over perfect powder snow - not yet, but almost 'Chamklatpagne Powder' - but don't tell that to Ruedi! Another experience rich beautiful day (3,600 metres in height).
After Kiroko we slowly make our way up, with the help of lifts and furs, the beautiful ridge. It is very cold, the sharp wind on the windy ridge is cutting in our skin. The fog with its occasional clear spells transforms the landscape of trees and bushes half buried in snow into almost ghostly soft pictures of grey in grey and white. One immediately starts to understand by what the calligraphic art style of the Japanese people might be inspired by. After a while of ascending, we 'flee' from the bitter cold and thus we go down a south-eastern slope, where we then take a little break. After the small break away from the cold, we go back up to the ridge. Shortly thereafter, we go over to the north-western face into the forest region, in order to enjoy some amazing downhill runs, which will bring us back to the skiing region. (1,300 metres in height)
Transfer from Nieseko to Furrano with an intermediate break in Sapporo. Because we are here a few days before the famous snow festivals, we are not able to see the finished beauty of the many snow- and ice sculptures. However, we do have the chance to look at the not yet finished sculptures very closely without having to worry about a huge crowd. We also have the chance to admire how these sculptures are made, with a lot of passion and enthusiasm; the process is simply fascinating and very impressive.
An hour of driving with the car from the village Kamifurano to the starting point for the ascent of the mountain Kamifurano. From the parking area it goes steep down in a brook bed and on the other side it goes steep up again, and once again we find ourselves in the magical snowy forest, that mostly consisted out of birch- and spruce trees. Soon we leave the forest zone and the climate becomes increasingly harsh and pale. The sun shines and he visibility is good. In the summit region there are many impressive thermal fields with fumaroles and sulfur puffers. Downhill run on the northern face of the ridge in search of good snow, which we found. Then we go back and with a little bit of 'poking around in the dark' we ascend the summit of the Furano to the west. During this ascent we mostly crossed over hard and windswept snow, and we had to deal with harsher and harsher wind conditions. Today, we learned once again that the perfect free-ride touring skis, which are perfect for soft and fresh snow, are not very good on hard and sometimes icy snow. (1,200 height metres)
After another - especially popular with the fish-lovers of our group - authentic Japanese breakfast, we go to the Mateocachi, another active volcano. The impressive aspect of this journey are the fumaroles half way up and then the sulfur emissions of the volcano. Our view into the crater was denied by the fog. For the downhill run we find good snow in the ditches of the otherwise rather snow free mountain (800 metres in height). For the finale of that day we went into a wonderful 'open-air' onsen, which was only a few minutes away from the parking space. Very hot pools in the middle of a snow covered mountain forest - a wonderful highlight.
Today we tackle the highest volcano of Kokkaido, the Asahidake. Ascent with with the cable car, putting on the furs, at the moment it is still sunny, but the wind is already blowing. We pass mighty fumaroles and continue our ascent, the wind becomes stronger and harsher. The wind becomes stronger and stronger, the temperatures are getting colder and the clouds are quickly coming closer. Later on we start carrying our skis, and for the last part of the ascent we put down our skis and backpacks. On the summit, where an icy wind blows, the few holes in the clouds are quickly closed. The descent and the downhill run go over icy snow and the wind constantly blows in our faces, which sometimes even leads to frozen skiing glasses. We then poke our way through the dark to the mountain station of the cable car. And after warming up, we tackle the downhill run down the rest of the mountain. (1,200 metres in height)
Our last skiing day we spend in the Furano skiing region, which offers many different possibilities (from free-riding to piste-riding). (4,300 metres in height)
After the return to Tokyo we round up the travel with two days of sightseeing, one of which we spend in Kyoto, where we travel to with the impressive Shinkansen; and the other day we spend in Tokyo. It is a first impression of the rich Japanese culture and its monuments. In order to have a thorough impression of the Japanese culture one would have to do a separate and longer travel.
Also in Japan weather determines what happens. The powder snow is sometimes - excellent further up the mountain - hart pelleted or blown away by the wind. The wind is a dominant factor for temperature and the texture of the snow.
A beautiful, very interesting travel with good company.
The highlights were, apart from the skiing and the interesting tours, the onsen - especially the ones outdoors - which we visited during or after the skiing tours. Another highlight of the travels were the almost mythical and picturesque landscapes with snowy (birch)-forests and trees, even with the grey weather.
Many thanks to all the fellow travelers and especially to Ruedi for the great time