Mt Pinneshiri: Ski touring up north


I had just pulled up at the onsen after a day of skiing at Kokusai, an hour or so west of Sapporo, when the message came through from Goro-san: "Pinneshiri is 8:30 set in [with the Google map on the right]... Very far. All right?"

"Very far" was accurate. Pinneshiri was a good five hours from Kokusai, and that included taking the toll roads to skip the Sapporo traffic. To get there by 8:30 the next morning was going to be a mission. But Goro-san's recommendations are not to be take lightly. He's been living and skiing in Hokkaido all his life. Six days a week he's the cool and collected proprietor of Cafe Nomad (カフェ ノマド) in Higashikawa. On the other day he rips. I smashed a quick bowl of yakisoba and hit the road.

At 5:30 the next morning I met Goro-san and T (short for Trygve - a hard charging Norwegian guy who's coaching nordic skiing in Higashikawa) outside Cafe Nomad. We all piled into the into the bus and drove due north. Goro-san had called up a friend from the area to join us for the day. Kougami-san is apparently notorious for his epic road-biking exploits during the summer, and shortly after meeting us at the car park he set about pleasantly destroying us all on the skin track. At least I didn't feel guilty about not breaking trail.

Now, the details are little hazy because of the language barrier, but as I understand it, Kougami-san "found" this mountain just four years ago. Before that, it doesn't sounds like anyone was skiing there. It's 10 minutes from his house and he's been guiding, hiking and dropping lines there ever since. It's basically his mountain, and it was a real privilege to ride there with him for the day. In perfect bluebird weather he showed us the best snow on some sheltered southern aspects. The terrain is fun without being intimidating, the snow was super dry after the clear conditions overnight, and the skiing was awesome. A good crew, in great snow, on a beautiful mountain, with no-one else in sight. Basically the perfect day. To the north we could see the Sea of Okhotsk, and to the west we were looking out towards the Sea of Japan. With the ocean on three sides, Pinneshiri gets a lot of wind, but for us it was perfectly still. They don't call Goro-san "Mr Bluebird" for nothing!

We headed down in the soft light of the late afternoon and grinned at each other like idiots in the car park. Kougami-san headed off, and the rest of us went to the onsen, which was literally just over the road (I've reached the point where this seems completely predictable and normal - it's Hokkaido). Then it was back into the van and a stoked, quiet drive back to Higashikawa. Skiing has plenty of good days, but there are just a few days that are better than good, that stand out in your memory. Pinneshiri was totally worth the drive.