The French Connection

February, we were right in the mix of the season and it was Chinese New year. A bright new day with blue skies and that dry soft Furano powder greeted Todd, Andy and I. We have a long day ahead, but could not resist powder fever. We headed up the first lift to find a pristine 3m puff to drop off. We all shared that same feeling that perfectly smooth snow needed to be drawn on, preferably by us, in sets of 2 lines. To round off the morning we went home via the Majik Garden. 4 perfect runs, 1 perfect morning. Check it out on https://youtu.be/cFCQdbLpAeg

We were skiing with the Chaix and Stocker family this week, and first up was our favourite warm up resort Kamui (remember how to pronounce it?). It was hero snow conditions – soft with a firm base not too deep, but enough to make your own lines. We returned to ‘Lemmings Log’ and the ‘V-Tree’ for some aerial practice to get ready for a long week of skiing. The mishap of a slow speed spill by Cosima put a stop to the jump session, only to be superseded by losing all the Chaix, Marie and Elliot on the second last run of the day. They had to walk back up the ridge after dropping past me and not traversing high enough to cross the creek. The ‘Don’t ski pass me’ rule was reinstated and we made the last lift with 10 minutes to spare. One last ride from the top to the bottom was exhilarating and our warm up day was over.

(Click on image to enlarge)

 

Our first dinner together was at a small Izakaya. With 12 of us and no table reservation system in place it was always going to be a mission to accommodate us. The owner was not too keen with our patronage, and we had to be a little sneaky with our approach. With a little diversion and generated confusion, we managed to funnel all 12 of us on to a table. The next challenge was how to explain we would like to drink our own wine. We had some amazing food and Google Translate lied and told the waitress that it was a special occasion thus the special wine. All was well and we had a great night.

Day 2 was truly something special. It was a rare bluebird day in Asahidake. Fresh pow and sunshine. It was amazing to be able to see clearly all the places we used to navigate in white outs. The mind was working overtime trying to memorise the landmarks and match what we read on the topo map with what we could see. It was days like this that you could truly appreciate the beauty of this volcano, the added bonus was the big dump we had the night before. It was just superb sightseeing and skiing. It was days like this that would sway a Frenchman to ski in Japan rather than France. A quick visit to Mont Bell outdoor gear shop with a lot of restraint wounded up an otherwise incredibubble day!

 

 

The wind was playing tricks on us on day 3 and we had to abandon plans to return to Asahidake due to suspended gondola service. We high tailed it to Furano for a cruisy day of exploration on the New Prince side of the resort. Some of the lifts were closed due to wind, but later opened to allow for some fresh lines in the afternoon. We noticed some wind scouring at the exposed aspects of the mountain and opted to stay in the trees. Hump day 3 was done and ‘Cuisse’ were primed and ready for more skiing the next day.

 

 

Furano was my number one place to ski, and it showed everyone why over the next 2 days. Even I was impressed with what it had to offer in terms of the steep and deep stuff. Whilst some of us were worried about skiing the same resort for 4 days and that we might ‘get bored’, we were able to discover new areas everyday so much so that we only had time to ski two runs twice due to popular demand. I couldn’t reveal where we went here, but I have definitely entered a detailed description in the little blue AIARE book for further reference. You will just have to come ski with us at Alpine Backcountry Guides to find out. Unless you do the sneaky thing like these two skiers who tailed us into the drop zone of the Majik Garden, only to miss the entry point as they got powder hungry and overtook us and dropped too low. We waited patiently for them to depart before descending into the Majik Garden which was a virgin powder field that morning. The crew were very good and waited for me to get in position to take photos before tearing down the powder field with a face full of snow and a big fat grin.      

 

 

A trip to Furano was never complete without a visit to The Diamond and The Lava Dam Wall. Powder field and cruisy tree runs with mini pillows to pop every which way was my kind of heaven. It was only 2 seasons ago that this line was rarely skied, I guess you just cannot keep a secret this good. But like all good things, it must come to an end, or does it? We have been skiing in Furano for the last 3 days, and no new snow was due, so where should we go? Was it too much to ask for some fresh powder lines? One person who did have to leave today was our specialist tail guide Morvan who has to go home for her ‘Sprocket’. She has mastered her powder skiing just in time before her departure, except that right hand 😉 It was wicked to have met you, Morv!

 

 

It was time for the crew to put on their skins, free their heels and get on over to the back country. We signed out with ski patrol first thing in the morning, Andy conducted the transceiver tests with everyone, and we were ready to go. We kicked and slid along the corniced ridge with a beautiful panorama of Furano city and the Tokachi mountains to our left. A perfectly calm overcast day for a hike in winter wonderland with the prospect of a great ski as the reward. Admittedly the skin up track was set a little steeper than I liked, so apologies to Marie for the hard way up. But somehow I think she will thank me for that ride down. We reached the top of the shoulder next to Nishidake and rang the cow bell on the tree to signify the end of our climb. It was a little sketchy reaching the top with hard packed ice and some wind, but the view at the top on the back side of the mountain was well worth it.

 

 

With Andy’s advice we traversed hard right to ski the steeper line down. We narrowly missed the true north facing line (retrospective look on the GPS). The snow was just epic, the kind that will make everyone ski like a champ. Who wouldn’t like ‘Hero Snow’ right? It was worth taking a moment to absorb it all, because that epic run turned out to be the last powder run for us this trip. Everyone skied down in style and at their own preferred rhythm, it was beautiful to see. We managed to avoid a large section of the exit track which was a sketchy toboggan track, scaled the lava dam and got back to the resort for a deserved late lunch.

 

 

We all wished the weather forecast was wrong about the rain and warm temperature. The next day was a write off as the rain began washing away snow and spring like conditions lasted for almost 48 hours. The snowpack was reacting so quickly we abandoned plans to ski backcountry after a quick trip to Tokachi. Better be safe than to risk for a little bit of fun. We may have ended on an anti-climax, but to reminisce on the first 6 days of powder skiing quickly brought back smiles to our faces. Lea always skiing at my heels; Elliot flying off drops at every opportunity; Gaspard showing his balanced and controlled turns on the steeps below the gondola; Marie demonstrating some superb skiing and the most amazing face plant; Cosima incessant smiles as she cruised down the slopes; Laetitia’s ‘Cuisse’; Oscar and Victor’s hilarious crash stops into the powder and aerials; Olivier and Christophe’s passion for good food, good wine, and… great powder skiing; Andy as my co-pilot making sure everyone and their gear were in good order, and that mysterious invisible tree that took him down…

So many contenders for favourite run of the week made this a cracker of a week. We are definitely making friends on a powder day! Thank you amazing weather and everyone!  

 

 

 


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