The Father, The Son & The Ski Guide

The season’s first full mission with Alpine Backcountry Guides started on 8JAN. I have had plenty of time to warm up since Christmas. It was always nice to feel somewhat ski fit before hammering out some mileage on the mountain. Skiing with youngsters almost half my age was always going to ask the best of me, and the ‘Old Guys Rule’ sticker on my skis always kept me realz.

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Pre tour intel from Morven for Mission:Greenberg was the possibility of the need for speed and aerials. And the intel was accurate. We started in Furano and it had not been snowing for about a week since the big dump on NYD. With the side country still quite bushy Doug, Harrison and I cruised around the resort in search of some fun terrain to ease into on the first day. The groomed pistes were superb, grippy and fast, and after half a day of tearing up variable consistency snow and with a belly full of ramen we were down to a two men crew by the afternoon. What was to happen at the end of this day would set the tone to all but one afternoon of our search for powder and fresh lines for the rest of the week.

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The mountain is always full of hidden treasures, it would be great to have a bird’s eye view to spot where they are hidden.

On this day we were skiing down some frozen moguls when I thought maybe we should venture into the a well known side country area. Being a popular spot it was well skied out except along a narrow bank where you could easily exit the area back onto the piste. ‘Let’s go explore’ was greeted with an ‘OK’ and off we went down the bank and immediately thought ‘Umm, no wonder no one came down here’. A little bit of a struggle later, and we were duly rewarded with a pristine knee deep soft powder line 8 days after the last snow fall. It was a pretty good way to end the day.

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There was no new snow expected anywhere around central Hokkaido the next day. In fact we were greeted with a little blue sky and sun.

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Gaurev joined us as tail guide today and the back country of Tomamu was on our radar after some intel from Chris who skied there a few days ago. With touring gear, we should be able to find some soft, hopefully untracked snow to play with. It was a good place to get familiar with touring gear and practise transition between ski and hike mode. The approach to the area we were interested was quite popular, but soon as we dropped below the traverse line it was just superb boot high powder skiing with plenty of pop on a fairly playful gradient safe enough to be more daring. Tomamu at it’s best could be described as lift accessed backcountry heaven with its protected forest and tour friendly slopes. The hazard at this resort was the Ultra spicy ramen. It was as it stated, very hot to handle!

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We had to decided to ski somewhere different everyday, so day 3 took us an hour north to Kamui.

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This retro-chic resort was great for a weekday ski as hardly anyone was around except some school groups, retirees and a handful of tourists. Coinciding with a little snow top up it was a very decent day out, and we all jumped through the ‘V de Triomphe’ as part of our Kamui initiation. Flipping between the back and the front mountain it was just an easy, smooth and relaxed day of cruising. In keeping with tradition Harrison and I finished our day skiing fresh lines in a neglected patch of forest with a zebra patterned snow surface from the gentle afternoon shadows of the trees. Beautiful and chilled.

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We were blessed with a little top up on our final day based in Furano, and it dawned on me that we still haven’t ski the Kitanomine side of the resort.

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We ran into Morven and Andy who had some time off from working at HQ, so we ventured into the Majik Garden together. It was not a noteworthy trip this time as the main section was not as utterly spectacular as it normally was. However, in true Andy form he stayed at the tail and as always manage to find a clean line to smash through which was rather poppy and heart rate raising. We skied the Premiere zone area immediately after that as I threw the ‘ski guide’s playbook of building up the day’ right out the window. We were all pretty spent by the time of our late lunch. To make it four out of four afternoons of pow hunting, the crew reduced to just the two of us again and we went bush bashing around the Link and as expected clocked off work with another couple of fresh lines.

Transfer day to Tokachi meant a visit to Fukiage onsen, one of my favourite onsen because it was a simple outdoor onsen on the side of the mountain with nothing else. It was always hit or miss as it was a popular place to visit after a day of ski touring. It was a small place and thus fills up quickly. The tranquility of the onsen was dictated by your fellow bathers’ attitude. So timing was key, and 5pm in the dark was just perfect. Dark, quiet and all to myself.

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The wind was picking up and still no significant snowfall, so we thought any day was a good day to ‘rest’ those ski legs and go for a hike instead. With a beautiful pink and yellow sunrise over Furanodake, we took a scroll up Mae Tokachi away from everyone.

The snow was a little packed and we skied down a mini gully to savour the wind loaded snow caught there. We switched over to the classic route in the afternoon for a little exploration only to find nothing spectacular at all. The Reward to Effort Ratio (RER) was at it’s all time low, and our 100% afternoon fresh pow record was finally over.

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It was unavoidable and finally we made it to Asahidake, the crown jewel of Central Hokkaido on day 6.

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A few wispy clouds and blue sky was a good welcome to this volcano, and we could see most of the upper mountain and the fumeroles. Visibility was great and this freaky spring like phenomenon was evident throughout the rest January. Navigation was a joy and we quickly set off to sample some of Asahidake’s super short but good quality pitches. We were back in good form for powder sprays and aerials. A mini ski tour to access my favourite areas of the mountain to find quite a few people has taken advantage of the great visibility to venture out. We would have to push out even further to get some fresh lines, but that will have to wait because my favourite Tonkatsu ramen was calling! It was no surprise the ‘second last’ run of the day was incredibubble, although this time the effort required to get home was a reasonable 20min hike out for Harrison on snow shoes. We finished the day tired but smiles all round.

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It was not often that I felt a bit suboptimal to be on the last day of the tour. We just had so much fun this week despite the conditions. We were able to go as fast and far as we wanted, explored and push our skiing (snowboarding) to another level. Great food, good laughs and great company were about to end.

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On Harrison’s request we spent a day skiing with a full crew in Kamui. We revisited the V de triomphe and built a kicker through it. Lesson learnt here was bring a bottle of cold water when building a kicker with soft snow. For the rest of the day we milked every last tight space in the trees in the name of fresh lines to claim that we were truly lovers of tree(s) skiing. And with an elaborate selfie we called it mission accomplished.

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net (3)

Post trip notes in the diary:

‘…this is arguably the most enjoyable tour to date…’ 15 Jan 2017


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