Jan 20th - Rolling the Dice
My expectations were pretty low as the weather forecast wasn't calling for any new snow but when I woke up, there was about 3 inches of fresh on the van. So you're saying there's a chance? Well, maybe, but I thought we might hit the road and try somewhere different. Unfortunately I was down to only 1 as Phillipe was nursing a bit of a muscle twinge from the day before and he wanted to rest for the big powder that was forecast for the 21st, so it was just Caroline and myself. I'm not going to name this resort we went to as we have something pretty special there, but if you've been to Hokkaido before, then it shouldn't be too hard to work out....
The sun actually started to come out and it was a lovely drive, about 1 hour 15 minutes drive from our base in Funrano. We arrived around 10:00am and had purchased our full-day lift ticket (5,900 JPY or $45). Officially, we were supposed to download an app to sign up for backcountry access but the app was all in Japanese and looked like more a marketing tool, so we didn't complete the signup for that. We'd just have to be responsible for ourselves (which we always are).
We had a nice warmup run from the top of the top chairlift and found untouched snow in the trees, about 3 inches and none of the icey crust we had been witnessing in some aspects in Furano. That was a nice start but then it was time for the real stuff, the backcountry bowl area behind the summit. That's an easy sidestep and traverse to get to and when we got up there around 11am, there were only a couple of tracks. Yes please, we'll have some of that!
It had been a few years since I had last been there so the priority was staying a little higher and finding an easy traverse back to the resort and marking it on the Gaia Pro map I had recording our tracks. We had some lovely skiing through the trees but didn't get much vertical before we hit what I thought was going to be the high traverse. Sure enough it went through really well and after a long but easy traverse, we made it back to the resort boundary. It was an easy ski down some groomers and we popped out next to the high-speed quad we had just taken up. A very efficient lap!
We definitely needed to do that again! This time though I wanted to head far skier's left to a large open bowl with open birch trees on it and it was completely untouched apart from two tracks (we had seen two people skinning back up from lower down below our original traverse line). We skied an amazing line to the right of the two tracks and had great vertical down to the skin track. The skin track went up for a short way and then went down and pretty flat, so I decided to just sidestep up and then we could get a little speed up and traverse a fair way. My goal was to try and regain our original traverse line without putting the skins on.
We had a bit of brush to bash through and then another short sidestep but finally we merged back onto our original track. Perfect! The bang for the buck just got a lot higher and the juice was definitely worth the squeeze..... now we had a pretty efficient way out (plus getting in was another easy traverse). We circled back for a 3rd lap and the sun came out and that was the icing on the cake. We ended up skiing two more laps with the sun out and the lines were just spectacular. It wasn't the deepest snow I've ever skied in Japan (boot top deep) but with the sun out, it was such a beautiful, aesthetic line and possibly in my top 5 of lines skied in Japan. That is a run that definitely makes a trip to Japan live up to the expectations. Caroline was stoked and she said some of the best runs of her life. That just made my day! After all the challenges I've faced in the last 3 years, I'm glad I stuck with it.....
So, we made 4 laps in that zone and all were quality, especially the last 2. What a surprisingly awesome day. We had a tasty lunch (Nepalese curry with a cheese naan that absolutely rocked). We finished if off with a visit to an old guiding friend, John Morrell who used to own a store in Furano but moved to this zone. He has a lovely little lodge and can skin up into the mountains from directly behind his home. What a great setup. It was nice to catch up with him as I hadn't seen him for 4 years or so. We made it back to Furano and had a lovely dinner at my favorite restaurant Masaya. Awesome day! Now it's snowing so hopefully should be a solid powder day in Furano.