So I left MEL on JAL early this morning. Being a night flight I hardly had to use the in-flight entertainment, but when I went searching through the audio I found the offerings a bit drab. Found the sweet spot in ‘90s but even then - ,mmm bop? You’re f$@king joking! Did enjoy a bit of Lenny Kravitz with ‘fly away’ - fitting I suppose. By the time I got to the chess, I was hopelessly outclassed. I’ll put that down to it being at 5am I s’pose. Flight went smoothly- that 787 with 2-4-2 seating really is a treat. And the food? By airline standards I thought it was really good. And proper local Asahi beer.
So for me this is day 1 of 17, where Myoko, Tsugaike, and Niseko are on the itinerary. Between Tsugiake and niseko I’m going to check out somewhere new, but this hasn’t been decided. Thinking Tenjin, Nozawa, Arai.
Continuing on, the flight concluded on time and customs and immigration seemed to run a lot more smoothly than I remember it being a year ago. Touchdown at 08:25, aboard the 09:48 N’ex after getting my 5 day JR east Nagano pass sorted. Oh and the oversized bags were waiting when I cleared customs. Efficient!
I rolled into town and ditched my bags at the JR East bag storage in Tokyo for the grand sun of 1200Y. Worth it. Couldn’t find any ‘street foody’ type places so headed to Akihabara. Found an awesome ramen and beer for 1300 - was the only gaijin there. Did some quick shopping at Kanda (the ski shop area), then cbf walking back to the JR station. Got the subway back.
Took a couple of snaps at Tokyo Station. Last time it was under construction and I didn’t see it. Looks really good:
Apparently there’s some kind of sporting event coming up:
The day’s pretty much done so off to Myoko on the Asama 617... could do with an onsen...
So.. Tsugiake has been my post for the last couple of days and will be until Saturday. This is a mountain with great views, great terrain and long runs - in fact rumoured to have Japan’s longest at 8.5km. Skied a bit of that run yesterday but unfortunately the lower sections closed due to lack of snow.
Managed to spot my favourite Japanese animal - a ’Komashika’ (serow in English, too far for phone lens to pick up) far in the distance... Spotting one is said to be good luck.
Above pics looking North from Tsugaike with the red buildings of Cortina visible.
The new snow here certainly wasn’t the 53cm claimed by snow-forecast, it was more like 20. Had a go at the trees, via the “DBD” access pass (requires sitting a 20min lecture to gain, but I borrowed one from my hosts) but the new snow was only dust on dynamite. Would be good to go up the closed Ropeway area (above top lifts) but that is starting to get moguls on it...
Ropeway building below-left
As a side note I’m doing some instructor training here and my hosts have been excellent with a mix of free-skiing and drills. They have been very accommodating and mixing me with their guests whom are hilarious... not to mention giving me a room with a view:
Their vehicle fleet goes alright too:
Lastly a shout out to Rob, whom I met on the slopes - you’ll have to join now...
With Thursday being what I decided would be my last ski day in Tsugaike, I decided to takyyubin my skis off to Niseko and have a lay day Friday, given deteriorating snow:
So I got a lift then went for a walk around Happo and got some shots from the bridge over the Matsukawa:
And other spots around Happo:
After returning to Tsugaike, I went to the onsen. Not just any old onsen, not just the one near the gondola but the local onsen. The staff were a bit apprehensive it seemed - I heard them saying “gaijin” a few times but they let me in. I observed the customs by showering beforehand, sitting on the little stool etc. Was very refreshing to use both the inside and outdoor springs.
Was fortunate enough to see the fire festival - quite a good event with lots of food trucks.
Headed off to Tokyo this morning (on the train as I write this) via Matsumoto. The attached pics of my last post are taken in and around the castle. Seems the fish are even biting...
A good way to break up what will be a long expedition to Niseko.
Back in Aus now - will fill in the story when I get a chance. Re corona - Hokkaido Mayor told everyone to stay inside over the weekend, crowds noticably thinner last Sat in Niseko. No real screening at airports though (CTS, HND, NRT, MEL).
Where was I... so after taking a couple of hours to sample Matsumoto Castle, it would be 11.5h before I reached my accom in Niseko. That place is so annoying to get to - it's no wonder people take the train all the way to Kutchan or consider a ferry to Otaru from Joetsu... Oh well, only another 10y until the Shink goes thru Kutchan/Sapporo.
HND at rush hour - queue of planes to take off:
My attempt at the photographer's 'golden hour' from 35,000ft:
Sunday 23rd Feb was a good day to be waiting for my takkyubin to arrive (sent from Hakuba Friday AM), since the upper 3/4 of the mountain was shut due to wind. It ended up arriving at 11am. Knowing I had a training day the following day, I bought 3 points and donned the skins to get slightly above the open lifts:
What the pic doesn't really show is the next 12 turns of knee-deep untracked. "cool story bro" I hear you say but that was the first taste of famed Japanese powder I'd had in over a week in Japan, so it was cherished. The queues for the Ace pair were so long and such was the thirst for pow, I figured it was worth skinning the extra distance from the top of Family quad. Further, I knew Monday would be a powder day but also that I'd be stuck on my 'prep day'.
Tuesday: I should have been preparing for my Wed/Thu exam (yes as an instructor), but there was still pow to be had. The phone went flat after I hiked to the Mt Annupuri summit. Damn. Whilst up there, I could see the sea of Japan, uninterrupted views of Yotei and all around. Bluebird. Proceeded past the rime-crusted North Face and descended down into the good stuff, which was still availed of untracked lines. Got to the bottom and started the traverse out down the road and ultimately back to Hanozono.
In the interests of SDS and Aus season uncertainty, it's time to finish off the TR with a delayed report...
Continuing on, Wed/Thu (26/27th Feb) I was being put through my paces and sitting my exam. Passed (phew). On reflection trying to get that done on a "holiday" is quite difficult - for me I had trouble applying the right level of focus (think beers, distraction, pow, not wanting to wait around etc). I did manage some photos of Yotei though:
Hard enough as it is to get a shot of Yotei without clouds as it is so every opportunity... Took this one as it reminded me of Feathertop and the Razorback (unsure of mtn range, looking N-NE ish from Hirafu piste):
Friday was a cruisy day around the pistes with friends - the day began fine but started to close in about lunchtime, going on to accumulate about 5-10cents during the afternoon. No pics from this day, but it was the one day I decided to buy an all mountains pass, so went right down to Annupuri and back to Hirafu.
Saturday, the last ski day, the last day of Feb that comes around every 4 years. I had until about 14:00 to get back to the hotel, pack up and meet the 15:10 bus to CTS. Weather, new snow and conditions were good, so I decided to try and re-create the magic of Tuesday's conditions, although wasn't prepared to hike the peak to do it. For me, a lap of Mt Annupuri Nth face and traverse back to Hano base area is about 1.5h, so I went out the top gate instead:
Note the killer walk-out mid to lower left of 1st pic:
The pow I was about to hit:
Said hit pow:
Another Yotei shot (maybe the clearest):
After all these years coming to Niseko, it took me until my last day of this trip to realise the killer walk up the cat track (from below gate 5) can be avoided altogether via a peaceful traverse through the bush (and back to Hanozono base):
So that was almost it. A quality pow run to finish off. But there was time for more, but probably not the same run/area. Too risky in terms of time. I did manage to explore skiers right off the top of Ace quad though. Straddling the no-go zone, there wasn't much pow there but I persisted and dropped in to an unusual (for Japan?) pine tree area, which I always wondered about from the family area. Fittingly, the last run of the day and back to base with this view: