Woohooooo!!!!! It has started!!! The eagerly anticipated ski season is upon us!!! And this time Skilas is not doing things by halves; he has set up a registered ski tour company in Japan (Skilas Japan, www.skilasjapan.com) and is continuing to live the dream in Sapporo, Hokkaido – the fantastic playground of the powder Gods. Here is the start of his new season’s snowy journey…
Day 0: Sapporo
24th November 2015
New snow: 44cms (Sapporo)
Skilas could not have imagined a better way to wake up on his birthday. As he drew the curtains, a most beautiful sight came into view. Snow! Everywhere!! The HSM (Hokkaido Snow Machine) has kicked into gear earlier than usual this year and has deposited a thick blanket of powdery snow onto the city of Sapporo. A dump of 44cms, the likes of which has not been seen at this time of year for 62 years (and back in those days there were not many ski resorts around these parts…) A veritably monstrous birthday dump! What a great omen for the season to come…
The downside of this rapid and unforecasted monster dump is that it brings additional duties to the residents of this city: snow clearing is an integral part of daily life here from end November to April. And the first big clearing exercise of the season is always the toughest as backs, muscles, hands and feet become reacquainted with the snow shovelling moves and twists. I had to spend several hours clearing my front porch, street, garage entrance, parking space… And to think I have a good four more months of these daily workouts!
Of course, the impressive arrival of the white stuff unsurprisingly brought a huge wave of excitement to the local skiing fraternity. There was a definite buzz in the air! You could almost hear the whoops of delight from crazed powderhounds descending from the mountains. Skilas’ ski preparations sped up: all ski equipment and clothing was taken out, checked and tested. The skis were waxed in-house (thanks to a brand new waxing set – another great birthday present). The leg and core strengthening exercises were stepped up a notch. The resort maps were consulted once again, the snow reports read and re-read. It was soon time to choose which resort to start this new epic ski season in…
Day 1: Nakayama Toge
27th November 2015
New snow: 10cms
Somehow it didn’t feel right. I had to pinch myself again and again as I drove on the snowy roads out of Sapporo and into the mountains. Yes, I really was heading to the ski slopes. Yes, this was finally the moment I had waited for since my 93rd and final ski day of last season, some 223 days (over 7 months!) ago. It was really happening!! The first day of the new season!!!! Hokkaido Ski Season 2015-2016 here we come!!!
I drove to Rusutsu Resort to pick up my KWP season ski pass (which allows me to ski unlimited in 5 top Hokkaido resorts) and met up with Paul Hanlon (Rusutsu Marketing and Ski School Manager) to discuss the latest ski developments there. He told me that the hotels (Rusutsu Hotel and the new Westin) are already pretty much fully booked through most of the season; Rusutsu is no longer a secret resort that no-one has heard of. I recommend you all to come out quickly and ski here before it gets too crowded!
There was only one lower lift open in Rusutsu today (West Mountain), and as it started spitting with rain I decided to head to higher ground and drive to Nakayama Toge resort instead. As I drove up towards the mountain pass, heavy rain turned to sleet and eventually larger and larger snowflakes. A classic Hokkaido dump was taking place here – I was definitely in the right place! I arrived in the strong snowstorm but, as if majestically orchestrated by those kind powder Gods, the sun soon managed to poke through the clouds to welcome me with a glistening spectacle.
Nakayama Toge is a tiny resort with very small vertical and two rickety chairlifts, but it does often offer some awesome early and late season snow conditions – and today was no exception. First day on the slopes, and already first fresh tracks in deep powder! Absolutely superb conditions for November: knee deep pow, great visibility and no-one around. OK so I’m exaggerating here: there were in fact 6 skiers that I had to share the mountain with…
These were truly perfect conditions to warm up the legs, practice the carves on piste and the turns in the deep stuff. Hard to dream up a much better season opener!
Day 2: Sapporo Teine
28th November 2015
New snow: 5cms
It is such a treat to get these conditions so early on in the season! Another light dusting of snow to add to an already impressive and fast-growing base. The characteristic bamboo shoots were already clearly losing the battle with the snow as only a few green tufts were visible above the thick snow – and we are still only in November!
Although the few open runs down started getting choppy and mogly by the end of the day, the closed pistes were beautifully powdery all day. I didn’t dare venture off into the sidecountry just yet – far too dicey this early on with plenty of hazards to deal with (rocks, bamboo, bushes etc) – but it won’t be long until the cheeky monkey that I am will check out those glorious and hugely enticing Teine gullies…
Instead today was a cruisey day spent in the company of great friends (Jonski, Shadski, Yuriski), their kids, and family members (Aidanski). Some were skiing for the very first time; others were rediscovering the sport after some years away. A great opportunity to dust off the cobwebs and rediscover those smooth carving turns and the shots of adrenaline hitting the bloodstream run after run… There was even time for some night ski at the end to cap off a wonderful day in the snow.