International (Europe/Japan/Southern Hemisphere) Tohoku (Japan) - 2020 Trip Report

Mattadvproject

Love that powder!
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Feb 1st – Travel to Aomori and Start of Tohoku Trip
We were on the road by 9am to head to the Shin-Hakodate train station to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Aomori in Tohoku, the far northern tip of Honshu. We had to return the van to the Nippon Rent-a-Car next to the station first. We had purchased reserved seats the day before and had seats close to the baggage area at the front of the cabin. It was a quiet train so we used some of the overhead luggage compartments to store a couple of the ski bags.

I was excited to ride the train under the ocean but we found that most of the 1-hour long ride was through tunnels, so there wasn’t much to see. Still, it was another cool bullet train experience. Price was around $70 for a seat in standard class. We got to Aomori and it was raining. Yuck! Don’t forget that Aomori is one of the snowiest cities in the world, so this was a bit of a shock for there to be no snow. Oh well. We picked up our new van from across the road and circled back to load up the bags and the rest of the crew.

Then we headed to our hotel (the Daiwa Roynet Hotel) which was on main street, a little closer to the Aomori station compared to our hotel last year. This hotel is really nice, it’s brand new and well-priced. We were early for check-in so we went for a walk and had some lunch at a really nice branded steakhouse ($18 for a 300g ribeye). Then we checked in and had a little rest and catch up with work. We headed out around 630pm for dinner at an Izakaya restaurant that was a little expensive for the quality (plus you had to pay a 400 JPY cover charge to get in).

We finished off the night with a session of Karaoke at a place we had been to several times before. I’ve grown to love Karaoke in Japan, it’s lot’s of fun and I look forward to it now. Here you hire your own private room and order drinks, plus food if you want it and then hire the room in hour blocks. We hired it for 2 hours and that’s plenty of time. We had a fun session and then headed back to the hotel around 11pm.

Feb 2nd – Skiing Aomori Springs Resort
It was about 1 hour 10 minutes to get to the resort from the city. They’d had some decent snowfalls the day before (6 inches of fresh) but it was wet and heavy. I got to meet an old friend from Gulmarg who was instructing and guiding at the resort. I’d not seen Mike for 9 years or so but we’d kept in touch via Facebook for all these years. It was great to catch up.

It was the weekend and we didn’t get on snow till after 11am. My expectations were low. We took the gondola up and went down a green cruiser towards an old abandoned chairlift. We went straight into the trees next to the side of the trail and it was untouched. It’s a mellow pitch but a great warm-up. The skiing in the fresh was great. We took that down to the high-speed quad and then did a long traverse to the other side of the ski area to get over to the double chair and the upper trees that are steep and open.

Unbelievably, the snow in the trees was still untouched and I couldn’t believe it. It was lunchtime on a Sunday and no one had been in the trees yet. Score! We had the place to ourselves so we skied all 3 different tree lines. There was still plenty of untouched powder left over. The snow was awesome and we had a ball. We lapped there for several hours before it was time to start heading out. We had to drive to our new hotel in Hirosaki where we will be staying for the next 2 nights.

We checked in around 4pm at the Art Color Hotel, near the main station in Hirosaki. We drove to a really cool soba noodle restaurant run by a really nice lady who spoke some English. She was lovely and we all enjoyed some great noodles in broth. We were home early by 630pm and I could catch up on some work. Tomorrow we will hopefully do some skinning up higher and ski some of the longer runs through the trees.

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- Matt
 
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Mattadvproject

Mattadvproject

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Feb 3rd – Storm Skiing Aomori Spring Resort
It was starting to snow but freezing levels were expected to rise during the day, so expectations were low. The skies were dark and it looked like something nasty was coming. I thought it might thunder. At least the winds down low weren’t bad. We bought our lift tickets and headed up. Our mission was to explore the trees to the skier’s left of the groomed run that runs down the ridge away from the gondola. We had skied that run already, staying close to the run, but this time we wanted to start up higher and follow the fall-line more, without the turn, traverse right. This would be a little adventure and exploration time. The Gaia GPS maps were on and tracking.

Unfortunately, as we got up higher, the winds really started to hammer. They had to slow the lifts down to a crawl and they had to stop them several times. I think we were up there for about 45 minutes. The cabins were swinging pretty decently from side to side. I was glad when we finally got off at the top. We got our gear on and headed to our drop in point, almost immediately off the lift. It was completely untouched. There was about 20cm’s of fresh snow and you could feel the new, wetter snow underneath. Poking around with the pole, there was a noticeable saturated layer not too far down (just above ski penetration depth). We’d need to be careful if the pitch got steeper.

We had some lovely fast turns up high in the open turns. Then it started to roll over. We tried to start a traverse but got stuck and the snow was getting wetter. Time to stay in the fall-line and get through the steep part asap, for safety. We went one at a time and made it safely down. Nothing broke away on our turns but we still needed to be respectful on that face. Then we went into a gully and followed that to the right.

We came into a partially buried snowmobile track. We followed that as far as we could and it started to go uphill. It was still leading us in the right direction, so we took the skis off and started to bootpack. There was a really steep, short climb and I broke through unexpectantly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that threw my back out again. I felt a tweak but carried on. We followed the track again and it started to climb again and looking at the map, we didn’t have to take that option. We were able to put the skis back on and do a gravity traverse out to a clearing next to a run. Then we were able to easily get back into the resort.

On the way back down we heard the first clap of thunder and a flash of lightning that felt really close. Time to get out of there! There was another loud boom when we reached the bottom. The gondola was shut down but surprisingly they still had the chair going. That was enough for us and for safety, we called it for the day. Not the best way to finish up but at least we had experienced a new line and that gave us insight into a whole new zone. I think that line would work better if we did start traversing right a little sooner. I don’t think you need to do all the hiking around we did. I have it mapped for later.

We had a nice noodle dinner at a small, well-reviewed restaurant a short drive away from the hotel with a lovely lady who spoke some English. We were the only foreigners in the place. Then it was time to pack up for the ride to Hachimantai the next day. The temps were due to lower and the snowfalls increase, so we were more optimistic for good conditions the next day.

Feb 4 – Appi Kogen and Travel to Hachimantai
I got up and felt sore and then had a major twinge when I got out of the shower. I could barely walk again! Grrrr! Just when I was starting to feel much better and enjoy skiing again, out goes my back. Frustrating. Anyway, we still had to drive to Hachimantai which was about 1 hour 40 minutes away. It was decided to ski Appi Kogen as they had about 30cm’s of fresh snow with cold temps. I stayed in the lodge and got on with some work as the crew went out for a shred. They said the upper trees were skiing really well and no one had been in the glades, so they had a blast. Jeremy kindly took some photos of the day. Looked amazing!

They were done around 2pm and then we hit the road again for Hachimantai, our home for the next 2 nights. The hotel was massive and eerily empty. They have about 250 rooms and we only saw a few more people there. The rooms are massive too, we even have enough room for a full workout-stretching area, all with amazing views of Mt. Hachimantai which is a serious looking mountain. There are two resorts next to our hotel, Shimokura and then Panorama. Panorama is pretty flat and more for beginners and Shimokura is a lot steeper. The group would check it out the next day.

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- Matt
 
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Feb 5th – Shimokura
I’d heard previously that tree-skiing was massively frowned upon by management but then saw an interesting article in an Australian/NZ ski mag when I was in NZ this past summer promoting the tree-skiing at Shimokura, so I was keen to check it out this time round as we had skipped Hachimantai last season.

It had snowed hard most of the night and was snowing in the morning. It looked like being a pretty good day! Unfortunately for me, I needed to keep resting so Jeremy took the others out and off they went. I got on with work and stretching and they were back early but about 1:30pm, but they had had an 8:30am start.

Sounds like it definitely was worth the look as they found plenty of untouched snow and great tree skiing. They have organized gladed runs where you have to wear an armband so they have a record of who is out there. I think this place will be back on our list of places to visit in the future! Thanks kindly to Grant Nakamura Photography for the taking and use of these photos:

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- Matt
 
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Mattadvproject

Mattadvproject

Love that powder!
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Feb 6th – Super Secret Shred Place!
Sorry, can’t name this place as we found an absolute gem of a ski area and we’ll have to keep this one to ourselves for a little while. I found this place searching my favorite Japan website and it had the minimum requirements for vert, plus a lot of tasty looking trees in the photos I saw on their website. Then I went and checked it out on Google Maps and it was in the right zone and not too far of a drive from Hachimantai. Time to put our dice rolling pants on and go take a looksee. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

It was a beautiful drive up to the ski area, driving past countless fields of pure white, coated after the massive recent snowfalls in Iwate. We were there around 10am and there were only 30 or so cars in the carpark. It was bluebird and cold. Perfect conditions. We went inside to buy our lift tickets and were shocked (in a good way) to find that an all-day mid-week ticket was on sale for only 2,300 JPY or about $21. What an absolute steal. We’d been noticing the ticket prices slowly creeping up in Hokkaido (still nothing like in the US!), but in Tohoku, it’s still really cheap.

We headed up the beginner lift and then straight up the long second chair, to the top. They have 5 double chairs operating plus an abandoned double down lower at this resort. We took our first run down the groomer along the top ridge and then that turned into blower powder. It was tracked but still great skiing. My back was feeling ok again so it was time to ramp it up. We headed back up for more and this time took a lap through the trees close to the chair we came up. It was knee deep in places and we all scored a few faceshots. We did a few laps in this zone and then headed over to the other side of the mountain, to another double chair.

It started to snow again and it got really cold. We found a great run through the trees next to this new chair that took us into a wide-open gully but it was a straight shot out and certainly not the effort to get out like you can find with the creek beds in certain resorts in Hokkaido. This was getting really good. We did several laps in this area and then we decided to go for a slight hike (well, a few sidesteps and a bit of a traverse), from the top chair out along the ridge but in the opposite direction. We came out past a radio antenna array and then set up for some nice steep and deep turns. The sun came out and the lighting was amazing. They were probably the best turns of the trip for me. I had a blast. Grant got some great photos (cheers mate!).

The sun was still out but the clouds were fast approaching as another pulse of snow was on it’s way in. Our next run would take us out of the resort, down a big ridge and eventually onto the road (which we’d scoped on the way in before parking the van). We turned left off the top chair and down the main ridge a ways. Then we did a big right turn and down onto a big open face, out of the resort. This eventually turned into trees which had some sassa grass poking out, but not enough to disrupt things to severely. We had a nice long run down (nearly running over a massive rabbit or hare) before hitting the road.

Then it was some downhill on the road with a short skate at the end. What an awesome run and there were plenty more lines down to the road to explore. That added a whole new level to the ski area which already had a lot of fun lines. We went inside for a quick lunch and some snacks and then the rest of the group headed back up for another road lap. I didn’t want to push it with my back so I decided to sit this one out and be the shuttle driver for the crew so they could push further out along the road.

I drove the van out of the parking lot down the entrance road and then hung a right turn. There was this weird pointy-roofed building with a big carpark not far down the road that they were aiming for. We had a good line of sight for the radios and we had good coms. I saw the guys lower down the run and guided them in towards where I was parked. The runout was really flat so I drove to them. The road was deserted so I just pulled the van up at the side of the road and the team put their gear away. Then we drove back to Hachimantai and then down to Shizukuishi, start of our final zone for 5 nights.

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Beautiful views of Mt. Hachimantai on the way to the new resort


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Taking the beginnner double chair to the main double chair. You have the typical flat terrain at the bottom of the mountain and then the steeper terrain up high. You could mostly just lap the upper lifts without having to come down to the bottom lift


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Beautiful views from the top lift


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Mt. Hachimantai


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Nice pow of the side of the groomers for our first run


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Going up the upper double chair you can see the nice open spacing of the trees


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Jeremy powder slashing for the camera


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Eric


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Grant


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The micro-wave/cell tower at the top of the resort on our hike out to the next ridge (when I say hike, I mean sidestep and then a little shuffle traverse).


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Fields of untouched pow below us


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A nice face coming back into the resort


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The baselodge


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View of the backcountry line the guys took down to the road, at the end of the day

- Matt
 
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Mattadvproject

Mattadvproject

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Feb 7th – Shizzysquishi
It was the start of our final zone, with 5 nights in Shizukuishi. We’d stayed at the same hotel the year before and had loved the skiing in this area. There are many decent resorts in this zone but we decided to stay and ski at Shizukuishi, our home turf. It had only snowed a little bit the night before so I personally wasn’t expecting much, but you never know in Tohoku. We bought 4-hour tickets (3,700 JPY or about $35, plus they gave us an extra 30 minutes) and headed up to the tram. That takes you half-way and then you take a couple of double chairs to get to the top.

The first chair is quite slow but then the second chair is much faster. On the way up, we could see some of our favorite lines and they were untouched. No one had been in the trees for what must be, a few days. Now I was starting to get excited. We got off the top and turned left. We noticed for the first time, new signs in front of the different tree stands saying the trees were backcountry and the resort was not responsible for anyone entering and getting hurt. Good stuff! It looks like Shizukuishi has changed it’s treeskiing policy to allow people to enter the trees at their own risk. I like it!

The first trees were untouched and it was knee deep. The skiing was awesome. We circled back for more and skied another line in a similar area. Same thing, deep and untouched. We couldn’t believe it. It was game on. We kept lapping, over and over, having it all to ourselves. Finally, on about the 6th lap, a group of 3 Kiwi skiers caught up with us as we were taking photos. They were just as stoked as we were.

Then it was time to investigate the trees to the far skier’s left of the resort. They rarely get skied. The first lap we got a little low and had to do a short amount of bootpacking back up to be able to regain the ridge and then on the next lap, we had some really nice pitches and then hit the traverse line higher with a much easier out. We didn’t get stuck this time.

To finish the day, we took an old abandoned ski run to the far skier’s right of the run and enjoyed fresh tracks down that, down onto a long groomer down to the hotel. It had been another quality powder day and one that was totally unexpected. There seems to be fewer Westerners in the resorts that we are visiting in Tohoku this season and it’s really easy to ski untracked lines. My back was a lot better and I was so excited to be able to ski again. Hopefully I can ski everyday now till the end of the trip on the 11th. Fingers crossed!

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Jeremy with a nice pow-slash


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Grant at work behind the camera, making the magic


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Jeremy, hands up to protect his face running through the brush


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Mt. Iwate in the background, just poking out. You can see Iwate Kogen in shot as well. We went there last season but found them to be very anti-tree skiing, so it's unlikely we'll be back there this season.


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Eric diving in.


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Going.....


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Going.......


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Gone!


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Grant also getting into the action



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Grant enjoying the views of Mt. Iwate



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About to drop into a nice untouched run down an abandoned ski run



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Going to need the speed to get through this next part


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One of many abandoned ski lifts at Shizukuishi ski area. Such a shame.....


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Getting out the bottom, more fun than skiing the groomer.

- Matt
 
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Mattadvproject

Mattadvproject

Love that powder!
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Tempting!

Btw, those skis you're on look interesting. Initially I thought it was a DPS logo, but looking a bit closer and doing a quick Google search I found their website. Which model?

Yes, you got the right brand @peterm . They are Majesty Skis Superior LTD, 2020/21 model. They will be available next season in Europe, but the distributor I work with is not sure if they will bring them into the US. As for NZ, I'm not sure either. So far I'm liking them. They are quite stiff and torsionally they are really strong. I wish they had a flatter tail (not a big fan of rockered tips AND tails) but otherwise I like them a lot......

As for Tohoku, get a group of 4 together and you can have your own private group. We have a lot of people that want to do that. Pricing will be available in our spring, but please be aware that this trip is still very new (2 seasons now) so we are still dialing it in. So far this season, we've been able to get our guests into consistently good snow. Cheers Peter.

- Matt
 
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Mattadvproject

Mattadvproject

Love that powder!
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Feb 8th – Tazawako
This was another new resort for us. We were due to visit last year, but the day we were due to go, we’d heard that another Western guided group had been out there the day before and had tracked the place up, so we’d go elsewhere. It was our time to go this year. It was the weekend and they had called for heavy snow the night before, so we made the plunge.

It’s a beautiful drive to Tazawako. The road is pretty amazing with tunnels and bridges galore as the road passes through some very steeply-sided mountain sides. Then you pass by Lake Tazawa (more on that later) and then up to the resort. There are several high-speed quads and then a few doubles (6 lifts in total). It’s a mid-size resort with decent vertical (608m/1,994ft).

It was quite busy, with a lot of keen Japanese skiers and boarders out shredding the groomers. There were a few Westerners around too. We bought 4 hour tickets for 3,200 JPY ($30). We headed straight up to the high-speed quad and then up to a double at the top. They had just opened the double and it was all fresh, with about 25cm’s of new snow. It was a rush to find fresh tracks. People get after it here on the weekends and there were plenty of people looking for the powder. I guess we’d been spoilt skiing all the resorts mid-week. This was officially crowded.

Lift lines and some contentious lines were all getting skied without any thought, so it’s obvious that it’s a free for all at Tazawako, everything is in play. That’s fine by me. The trees up high were deceiving. You’d find a nice open section and then it would close up and you’d get brushed out. This happened a lot. It was hard to find consistent open trees and again this was different to what we had been experiencing elsewhere. First world problems!

The gullies at Tazawako are seriously deep and steep in places. You definitely need to be careful where you go. The best trees we found were lower down and we finally found a steep, consistent, open pitch that didn’t bush or gully out. We skied 3 different lines having the place to ourselves. Grant was able to get some decent shots. The weather came in and the visibility lowered. That cancelled our plans to go and hike out up above the upper lift, up towards the summit of the impressive Mount Akita-Komagatake.

I think that’s probably where the best skiing is and a reason I would go back. I would try to avoid the weekends too. I can see the potential of this place, but we need to explore it more. We’d made a decent start though. We had some lunch and then we were done skiing by about 1:30pm. The plan was then to go for a drive and a look around.

The first thing we did was to go and drive around the base of the mountain. There are 3 old abandoned resorts on the side of the mountain. If you wanted to tour and the coverage was good, they would make some fun options. Then we headed to Lake Tazawa. That was pretty special. The views were great and the water was crystal clear. We stopped at a beautiful shrine overlooking the lake and then kept driving to the golden Statue of Tatsuko. I bought a couple of hefeweizen beers (Tazawako Brewery) from a store near the statue. They were nice.

We had an early dinner at a soba noodle-house tucked away in a convenience store. That was surprisingly good with handmade buckwheat noodles and tempura vegetables and shrimp. The noodles are cold and you dip them in the hot broth that comes with the meal set. That cost about $11. Then we had the pleasant 50 minute drive to get back to Shizukuishi with the obligatory convenience (Lawson) stop for more supplies. Fireworks were going off at the hotel to celebrate the end of Chinese New Year.

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- Matt
 

Rod9301

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Nice trip, thanks for sharing.

Is there any steep stuff there?
 
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