Japanese Powder Camp 2012

Japanese Powder Camp 2012, Niseko

It's a long way, but it's worth it! Deep, deep powder and endless fresh tracks in champagne-light snow!

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Our base for the Japanese Powder Camp was the Niseko resort, on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is the best know internationally of the many hundreds of Japanese ski resorts, and has a snow record that is the envy of resorts around the world. It's not unusual to receive more than 20m of fresh snow at village level, and that's during a relatively short season compared to some of the high altitude resorts in Europe and North America. After flights from London to Tokyo and then to the nearby airport at Sapporo, it's a two hour coach trip to Niseko and to our extremely comfortable apartment which is to be home for eight days. The apartment is spacious, well furnished and just a few metres from the (free) resort shuttle bus which runs frequently to the main gondola. It is snowing hard as we arrive, which bodes well for our first day on the hill!

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Day 1

Our first day is unusual for Niseko - a perfect blue sky, and wonderful views of the nearby Mt Yotei volcano (which last erupted over 400 years ago). One of the consequences of the great snow record is bluebird powder days are relatively rare, essentially because it's always snowing! So we made the most of the good visuality to scout out some lines that we would ski later in the week. But that's for later, our first day was just awesome with loads of fresh tracks in the lightest snow imaginable (kept like that by the -15 degree temperatures we had for the first part of our trip).

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Day 2

Once again visibility was good, although a little bit of high, wispy cloud promised more snow. We headed to the top of the main peak (via a somewhat alarming single-seat chairlift and then a 20 minute bootpack up a well defined path) and found some wonderful snow which was generally knee-deep but sometimes deeper. The view from the top of the peak was simply stunning, and is one of the few resorts where you can see the sea and a volcano all in one glance! After the long descent from the peak we find the traverse out at the bottom of the main face which avoids another walk, but does mean a high speed roller-coaster of a ride throughout he tight birch forest to rejoin the pistes at the bottom of the resort. It provides a couple of hair-raising moments, but beats the 15 minute walk up the road that we would otherwise have to take. The rest of the day sees out finding more fresh tracks through the backcountry gates.

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Mike

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Day 3

The expected overnight snow is late arriving so we treat ourselves to a late start. This helps recharge the batteries and deal with the jet lag. The snow starts shortly after breakfast and begins to fall heavily. This continued, without stopping, for the rest of the trip, and it was still snowing heavily when we finally left the resort five days later! After a local lunch of noodles and sushi, bought very cheaply in the local supermarket, it was time for a bit of afternoon and evening skiing. One of the amazing things about Niseko is that a large proportion of the mountain is illuminated for night skiing. This makes it possible to ski off-piste, at night. A unique experience, and definitely worth doing for the novelty factor alone!

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Day 4

After bumping in to some friends (proving it really is a small world) we happened to end up in the "Lucky 50" gondola. in 2012 Niseko celebrates it's 50th anniversary, and marked the occasion by building a new gondola and painting No. 50 in gold. The weather was a bit blustery so the peak gates to access the backcountry were closed all day, so we explored the Annupuri side of the mountain and lunched in the Nook restaurant (most unusual dish of the day being "Octopus balls in bark of a Birch tree"!). After lunch we headed back to the Hirafu side for more fresh tracks.



Day 5

The weather was still fairly brutal on the peak by the piste patrollers decided to open up the peak gates as they judged the snow had stabilised enough to allow the powder hunters to be let loose! So with a howling wind and driving snow it was time to hoist the skis on to backpacks or shoulders and take the 20 minute bootpack (which was more like 30 minutes with the weather) to the summit. The visibility at the top was virtually nil, so it was a careful sideslip along the summit ridge to find a nice line to drop in to. Once in the first three or four turns were on slightly firmer snow with a gentle wind crust, but after that it was turn after turn after turn of deep, light snow. Faceshots aplenty, in fact more like head-high bow waves, took a bit of getting used to as a result of more than 1 metre of fresh snow in the previous 24 hours. This really was the justification for heading halfway around the globe! Just about every turn that day was in fresh tracks, which was indeed the case for almost all the time we were there.

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To see just how good the snow was see the video on our Vimeo channel.

Day 6

A new area of the backcountry awaited us, an avalanche controlled area called Mizuno no Sawa. Access is limited to those people who have attended an avalanche awareness lecture and you must ski with a buddy in this zone. These conditions tend to keep the crowds out, so you can lap around the relatively steep gully and find fresh tracks for a large part of the day. After attending the awareness lecture we donned our bibs, showed our licence and had plenty of fun. Deep untracked snow was in plentiful supply, and for each lap we took a slightly different line. It was snowing pretty heavily for most of the day, so it felt as if our tracks were getting filled in pretty quickly.

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Day 7
Final day's skiing before we start the long trek home. Low cloud and warming temperatures meant visibility on the peak was essentially zero, so a quick change of plan meant we stayed low during the morning, hitting the gentle slopes of Strawberry and Blueberry Fields for some gentle off-piste through the trees. After lunch, at our favourite restaurant - Hanazono 308 - for pork fillet with curry and rice, we headed through Gate 4 for yet more fresh tracks in the backcountry areas. A wonderful way to finish our Powder Camp!


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This final photo shows the road (closed in the winter) which we join to return to the pistes from the back country areas. The banks either side give a good idea of how much snow there is!

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Day 8 and 9
were spent travelling to Tokyo and then on the London. Breaking the journey with a night in Tokyo made it feel a bit less of an ordeal to get home, and next time I might stay for a bit more sightseeing. That would make a special trip even more enjoyable.

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