With a 960 low closing down Tokyo airports and a howling southeaster
keeping all the top lifts and gates closed, it is an inside day today.
Time to fix gear, rest and prepare for the expected 1m of new snow in
the next few days.
Except for a couple of warmer days with high freeze levels Niseko, and
Japan in general, is having a great season. Continual top ups have kept
everyone at all levels happy and out amongst it. The resorts are skiing
exceptionally well and there have even been a few bluebird days,
somewhat a rarity in January.
For the backcountry enthusiast like myself there is always plenty to
choose from. The only down side being when it hasn't snowed for a couple
of days and all the guided groups go looking for any remnants of
untracked and the easily accessible BC spots get overrun. Unfortunately
the unregulated guiding system here allows inexperienced guides loose in
the backcountry with novice clients. Poorly conceived skin tracks and
large groups looking for Nirvana, bombing anything left, can spoil what
is usually a quiet and respectful pursuit. If you are hiring a guide in
Japan make sure they have some credentials. There are plenty of good
operators amongst the choices.
With my BC partner out of action for a couple of days it was a lonely
old skin track yesterday as I was the only taker on one of the four
access trails onto Yotei Zan, the local volcano. With a moderate
avalanche danger, plenty of new snow and variable conditions I didn't
get to treeline, opting to head down when the storm alarm went off on my
watch and the visability dropped suddenly as cloud engulfed me. Having
to cut trail through knee deep snow on my own may also have had
something to do with it. Some Paul Kelly and Wilco in my ears helped.
The skiing was okay but the time alone in the forest was awesome. The
Japanese call it "Shinrin-Yoku" or forest healing. Japan's version of
"Life Be In It" for those that can remember Norm.
Understanding weather and forecasts and being able to relate it to your
location is going to make or break your time in Japan. Strong winds may
close lifts on one aspect of the mountain while another is all time.
Incoming fast moving storms can catch you out with equipment and
transport. High avi danger doesn't necessarily mean don't go - maybe
lower, low angle slopes are the go. Snow-forecast.com and willy weather
are two of many sites always on my screen. In Niseko, the avalanche
report comes out daily at 8.00am care of Nisko Nadare. It also gives
information on expected lift and gate status. Get a local map, work out
the orientation to the resort or your BC destination and plan your day.
Even on a guided day arm yourself with all the relevant information
rather than relying solely on the guide. A little research will enhance
Main Range Backcountry