Niseko, Japan, Jan. 23, 2011

Tony Crocker

Staff member
Saturday was a Patrick kind of day. I left Hakuba at 6:20AM and arrived one bus, 2 bullet trains, 2 local trains and 12 hours later (it could have been 15 if not for making 2 close connections) at Black Diamond Lodge in Niseko. I chose to stay here because of their interesting tour packages. I would have preferred their 9-day Hokkaido tour r ... LowRes.pdf which is longer, more varied and half the price of Extremely Canadian’s Niseko tour. There was no group on that tour during my time, so they’re fitting me in on a daily basis.

A “Power Trip” ... #powertrip was starting my first day Sunday, so I skied with that group Sunday at Niseko and Monday at Rusutsu. They have since moved on to Furano, where the resorts are small and the emphasis will be skinning into the backcountry. Sunday’s skiing should demonstrate the appeal of the Power Trip to many FTO readers.

Saturday was mostly clear on Hokkaido though it was dumping like crazy during my train rides in the northern part of Honshu. Weather was still good as we were picked up at the lodge Sunday.

Here’s a typical start of a weekend day lineup at the Grand Hirafu base.

There were 12 of us in the Power Trip group, with 3 guides, Colin on snowboard, Toby on skis and a Japanese tail guide Yuya to keep an eye on stragglers (that would be me on the hikes). After a warmup run we can see at distance our upcoming destination, a bootpack above the top lift to the Annupuri summit.

Here’s our view of Mt. Yotei waiting for the top lift.

MRG skiers will feel at home here. 4 of the 5 lifts into the Niseko alpine are singles! This at an area with 3 gondolas and 7 detachable chairs lower down.

The bootpack rises from the top lift at 4,000 feet to the summit at 4,400 and took 15-20 minutes. The pace is brisk as we’re not dealing with the altitude issues of the American West. I had my usual temperature regulation issues to work out, and the weather started to close in during our first hike. The first run was on the east side of the summit, ending at a cat road at 2,100 feet which we had to walk up 5 minutes, visible at distance here, before skiing back to the Hanazono base.

Once off the summit the powder was excellent quality though somewhat cut up. The easterners would probably be right at home in those deciduous trees. I had to get used to dodging branches, and on that first run my legs weren’t as responsive as I would like after the hike.

So now 4 chairs and another hike. This time we pushed farther out to the northeast, so the powder was less cut up and I was much more comfortable despite the worsening weather. One pic from that run:

This run ended at the very long Jackson traverse, well worth it for the powder but tough on the snowboarders.

We reached the busy Hanazono base at 1PM and voted to skip lunch as the summit hike closes at 2PM and the guides recommended a backside run ending at an onsen (hot spring). Toby went for some candy to give us on the 3rd hike. Then Colin led all of us to the summit while Toby and Yuya retrieved the 2 vans and drove to the onsen to pick us up.

We started down the same NE ridge as the second summit run, but quickly cut left onto a broad, deep and untracked north slope. We had close to 1,500 vertical of waist deep pow, easily the deepest snow I’ve skied since Chatter Creek 2008. I was quite disappointed to see the onsen loom into view at 2,500 feet. With that snow I was hoping it was down at 1,300 feet like the ski area base! Sorry, no pics of that in the fog and dumping snow. But here’s what our skis on the back of the van looked like just from the drive from the onsen back to the BD Lodge.

11,300 vertical of skiing and 1,200 of hiking. But 7K of powder, and as admin and others say about quality…

For dinner the Power Trip group went to an Okonomi-Yaki restaurant.

This variant of Japanese food
Japanese pancake batter with meat (pork, squid and shrimp in my case), Japanese Worcestershire sauce, bonito flakes, green seaweed, mayonnaise and fried noodles
Has not yet been exported but I think it should be.

It was a hearty and delicious dinner, welcome after a busy ski day with no lunch.
The pix make your trip seem way more real to me. My fave is the view from the top.
Those trees reminded much more of Snowbasin than anything I've ever skied on the EC. They were pretty wide open and not very tall.
Niseko originally had 3 or 4 separate areas. They are joined at upper elevation, and you can still buy a slightly discounted ticket good at only one of them.

Trees look to me to be eastern type trees with more western spacing. I'm getting more used to skiing in trees (and groomers) with the Head Jimis on this trip. There is enough powder each day that I prefer to be on them for that.
I'm pretty sure I've had a dish like that at a Japaneese restaurant in San Diego. It was in an area of specialty Asian restaurants and I've never seen it elsewhere.