Keen followers of the Powder Project instagram account (@thepowderproject - it's good) will no doubt be wondering, "Who's that guy in the orange jacket?"
It turns out he's my brother, James. Not only is he ruggedly handsome, he's a good ski touring partner and we've done a bunch of good trips together in New Zealand and Japan. He's basically the perfect photo model. At least until we can afford pro skiers.
Like Anto, James answered the call for ski partners last winter in Japan. I was glad to have a strong ski partner around, but I was a little nervous as I waited by the arrivals gate at Chitose Airport. James has done seasons in Canada and New Zealand, and skied in the US and India. Plus he's skied in Honshu and Hokkaido before, seen the crowds at Niseko, and was a bit skeptical that I'd be able to find him anything new or interesting. To make matters worse, I'd talked him out of heading to the interior of British Columbia and now Hokkaido had turned on a week of warm weather.
With the high temperatures making a mess of conditions, we headed to Asahidake to get above the rain that was forecast for the lower resorts. We found a few good lines in some windbuff up high the following day, but visibility at the top of the ropeway was just about zero and we were navigating to the tops of runs by GPS. That said, it was a good way to get James' ski legs going, and conditions at the lower resorts must have been horrific.
The forecast delivered and a storm rolled in than night. With the wind howling the next morning, we made a day trip to Furano to make the most of its sheltered aspect. While the Asahidake ropeway was closed, we skied some of the driest pow I've ever seen, had fresh tracks all day, and were back home in time for an amazing meal and an onsen at our accom.
With bluebird conditions and a foot of fresh snow at the accommodation, the next day was a no brainer. We lapped the gondola at Asahidake, pushing further to the skiers' left over the day to keep finding fresh lines. With the hill starting to track out, we hit Higashikawa for some amazing gyoza then drove around the northwestern edge of Daisetsuzan National Park to Kurodake.
Kurodake can be a surreal place. We turned up the night before some of best the conditions I've seen anywhere and were the only people in the pension. Another group arrived a little later, bringing the total number of skiers on the hill the next day to maybe 30? It's hard to tell because once people spread out you don't see anyone. There's a write-up of the day's skiing in an earlier blog post, but the short version is that it was one of the best days I've ever had on skis. The pension owner assured us of Kurodake's reputation for silky powder, and he was right. We hit an incredible line in ridiculous conditions. 700 vertical metres of steep over-the-shoulder pow? Done.
With the next storm coming in from the northwest, it looked like the winds would shut down Kurodake and Asahidake and there would be good snow in the Otaru area. Still buzzing a ridiculous day, we grabbed a hasty ramen in Asahikawa and rolled west to catch the next dump.
The winds were low the next day so we headed to Teine. The pow was only boot deep, so although we spent the day riding steep lines, jumping off stuff and putting first tracks through the trees, it was almost a let down from the faceshot-every-turn conditions of the previous three days.
All season I'd been hearing rave reviews of a resort I'd never been to called Kiroro. One gentleman even claimed to have spent 18 days guiding there the previous winter (we met in a cafe that he had mistaken for a ski shop, so in retrospect that should have rung some alarm bells). The fact that foreigners raved about it and the locals never mentioned it should have been a giveaway, but it didn't twig. James and I went there the next day to check it out.
It did indeed dump and the snow was good. But the terrain was... Well... Not quite as advertised.
Later that day we scrapped our plans to stay in Otaru and went back to Kurodake. Sometimes, you just have to know what you want in life.
The really big lines were windscoured from the last storm, so we spent our time working through some sneaky runs in the main cliff band. It turns out there's quite a bit of terrain out there once you figure out how to get around.
Mercifully, by this time James was getting tired. We headed back to Furano to dodge a storm on the last day, but even there the wind was setting up a bunch of slabs and called it a day early after watching a snowboarder kick out a size 2 avalanche under the link chair.
We spent the final evening drinking local microbrews before getting a much needed early night. After a week hectic week of very good skiing, I dropped James off at Chitose for his flight home. Now I just need to talk him into another trip this year. There are still so many more places to explore...