looking back at kiroro’s epic storm week

so after just one day of riding i had kiroro and niseko at neck and neck however i had a feeling that that was going to change very quickly.  i got up the next day and though there was a decent dump coming, i wasn’t completely motivated to ride.  i checked the report at 7am and they had gotten 31cm overnight.  good effing gawd.  within 15 minutes i’m dressed and out the door while haha remains deep in her comfortable slumber.  i get to the shuttle bus stop and i see the same group of elderly people that was there yesterday however the bus was definitely busier today, mostly filled with luggage laden travellers planning to spend a few days up at the resort.  i make it to the lodge and there are maybe 40 people in the lobby in total, workers included.  the place is dead.  i trade 4500 yen for a 7 hour pass and start lapping two open fields on the lower portion of the mountain to get my legs going.  with a foot falling overnight, the snow is noticeably slower and i decide to leave the gulley area that i was riding yesterday afternoon, for later this afternoon after somebody has laid down a runout for me (yes, i’m lazy even on powder days).  with perfect visibility up top, i take the gondola up and am greeted with -10 degree weather and mild winds.  i take advantage of the good visibility at the peak and poke around through new terrain before finding an amazing stash near the top of their ‘powder zone’.  i see plenty of tracks but everybody is dropping in at a different point.  not to discredit the rest of the day but this is easily the best run of the day, i was wearing this smile for the next hour:

the far left line was sweeet

and the video from my angle:

i then followed a pair of japanese riders through a sidecountry run.  glorious turns, one after the other and noticeably deeper than the other areas but the pitch isnt very steep and before i know it, the run is over and there’s a 10 minute cattrack out.  by this point it was about 3pm and i decided to head over to the gulley area and there were still only two tracks laid down in there.  unbelievable… this run wouldn’t have lasted an hour at whistler yet it’s almost made it to the end of the day here.  i link a couple of 10 minute laps together through that area and after my pass expired at 434pm, i head back ot the lodge to catch my shuttle.  i exchange a few post-powder day smiles with the few people i pass in the lodge.  it really feels like kiroro is trying to make a push to become hokkaido’s next niseko/whistler but fortunately for whoever makes it here in the next while, the crowds haven’t really cooperated.  i head home, down my complimentary bottle of hokkaido milk from the lobby and enjoy a tasty oyako curry donburi / soba tsukemen combo for dinner

the following day, haha joined me for the shuttle ride up to kiroro; she had planned to visit the onsen for the day while i got a few turns in.  the forecast is not nearly as nice but -8 degrees, 16cm overnight and clear skies should make for a decent day.  since most of the mountain isn’t as steep as some others, the slightly lower amount of snow today worked out good so that you could carry more speed throughout all the zones.  this opened up some more tree runs for the morning and then once the blizzard rolled in around noon, i headed back down for better visibility.  of course, i ended up back in the same gulley run as that’s the best zone once the top half of the mountain is socked in with fog and the only other people i saw in there all day was ski patrol.

we rode half that area together and maybe i was zoning out or just didn’t care but the end of that section has a slight incline where you have to walk/hike out over a two foot hill.  i must have thought that being on skis meant that they would just charge right over it but instead two of them rolled backwards and i smashed right into one of them, knocking him completely out of both of his bindings.  nobody got hurt in the exchange and we all shared a laugh and parted ways.  the forecast for tomorrow looked amazing with about a foot and a half of fresh snow expected so i called it an early day.  as of when we were loading up the bus, it was snowing ‘heavily’ with flakes the size of my pinky fingernail.  tomorrow had all the makings of being epic.  i caught the 215pm shuttle back home with haha where we promptly took a nap before making it out for a curry and potato rice cake dinner at nearby nagasakiya mall.

580yen chicken curry + potato rice cakes

up bright and early and expecting at least a foot on the snow report… 46cm, what?!!  i hop on the bus and i run into chris for the second day in a row; an american expat who now considers micronesia his home and this is his closest snow destination.  a four day trip to hokkaido couldn’t have worked out any better for him in terms of weather.  the sun is beaming down on us on the whole drive up the mountain and all i can think of is which area i’m going to sink my teeth into first.  i speed over to the first legit spot that i had found on the mountain; my ski patrol stash.  one problem… i can’t get into the area.  there’s a 15 foot incline that i need to ride up before i get spit into the dropin zone and from the moment i get stuck, i can assure you there is plenty more than 46cm of fresh snow here today.  this is on the lower portion of the mountain and there is easily two feet.  i’m sure of this because i’m digging out my board and although i know it’s strapped to my feet, i can’t seem to reach it through the mounds of snow.  sigh, ok then… onto my second stash.  i take the gondola up to the peak of the mountain and ride over to another spot.  i see six japanese guys standing around in thigh deep powder, trying to pick their line.  i laugh as i speed by then, take a jump into the same area… and get completely stuck in thigh deep snow.  this is unreal, the mountain has actually been crippled by the dump!  well, since i know that all the spots i would normally ride are completely buried, i choose to head over to the nagamine side in hopes that they have some ridable terrain.  the six japanese riders that i saw stuck earlier followed suit and we all get a taste of of what waist deep snow is like.  i’ve seen 50+ cm days before and this trumps them all; snow is hitting my armpits as i ride down.  it’s so deep that if you can’t make any sudden turns or risk losing all your speed and coming to a standstill.  it’s frustrating yet awesomely enjoyable at the same time!

after a few runs to get the juices flowing, i head back to the main area in hopes that there are some decent runins to get to my spots and that’s exactly what happened.  all the main runs got their powder packed down so up i went to my patroller stash.  this was beyond ridiculous, this has been a favourite run of mine this week because of the pitch, length as well as the quality of snow.  there are steeper faces but they’re much shorter and more of a pain to get to, plus this area remains fresh until the end of the day.  the run is also a mere 8 minutes long round trip including the lift.  i can feel my smile tearing my facemask.

mind.  blown.  kiroro had already leapfrogged niseko in my resort rankings and is now making a serious contention with rusutsu for #1.  i ride this face for the next hour and do everything in my power to delay my entrance into my favourite area on the mountain.  i overhear a ski instructor mentioning that they had broken trail from the opposite peak which is enough to get me to bite.  i’m the first track in and it’s heaven.  there’s so much snow that it’s not even boarding anymore, it’s full on surfing.  my front leg is only useful for steering and i’m barely even pressuring it… i enjoy it to the fullest as i fully expect some work to be done once i get to the bottom.  once i get there i realize just how brutally underreported we are for the day.  i’m about 50 feet from the runout point but have lost all my speed due to the sheer amounts of snow.  after some deliberation, i unstrap my bindings to begin the hike out and with every step up, i get deeper in snow.  i’m literally chest deep in snow and have to keep myself calm that this isn’t the spot where i get buried alive.  this is also the exact same run that i have been riding all week but the storm has turned it into a completely different animal today.  earlier today i found myself in two feet of legit snow but in here i was looking at 3+ feet, all of this being light hokkaido snow thanks to the -15 temperature (plus wind chill).  30 minutes later and many calories burnt off, i’m at the skiier’s trail and ready to head back out to civilization.  i spend the rest of the day booting around in areas that require less work.  today is going down in my journal as one for the ages.  there’s the saying ‘no friends on a powder day’ but man do i wish i had a couple around to share this one with.  it’d only make it sweeter.   i make it home completely spent of energy and recharge with a delicious chicken, leak and soba meal down the block.

juwari soba dinner at yabuhan

i woke up the next day feeling like a train hit me.  the snow report shows that kiroro received 10cm overnight and i’m completely uninterested in what it had to offer.  my body’s had enough and it’s telling me that today is a no-go lol.  i go back to sleep to prepare for a late lunch.

we had extended two more days in otaru to catch the end of this storm cycle so i had no choice but to spend friday up on the mountain.  -14 degrees and 14cm overnight made the early start seem a little less painful, though wind chill was bringing the temps down to -22 at some point today.  this storm has completely trashed my body in all ways possible, i’m somewhat thankful that i’ve been stockpiling fat over the last few weeks of eating.  once i get off the lift this morning i feel something that i’ve never felt in all my years of snowboarding… contentment.  i’ve been ready for the end of snowboarding season before but this is different.  i’ve chained together epic days before but i think it’s the amount and quality of riding that i’ve seen over the past few weeks (and this one week especially) that has sealed the deal.  i think this is my first powder hangover and what a weird feeling it is lol.  nevertheless, i find myself moving at a slower pace today and taking some more time to smell the roses.  it’s sunny all morning so i spend my morning checking out new areas in the nagamine area.

the rest of the day went by surprisingly quickly even though i was taking my time getting to my spots.  the temperatures got even more vicious in the late afternoon and i ended up cutting my last day an hour short (the value conscious asian in me died a little bit) but i figured that keeping my extremities from being amputated due to frostbite was worth the 200 yen extra that i paid for my lift ticket.

in love with this natural terrain

i shared a bus ride back with a group of american riders who had trekked it to hokkaido for two weeks and have also spent the last week milking kiroro for every drop of powder.  we collectively scratch our heads at what a gem this mountain is and how the crowds are nonexistant.  rusutsu and niseko were both not busy by north american standards but rarely have i even seen our local mountains as empty as kiroro was.

as amazing as it was i still give the nod to rusutsu as top dog.  the heavy snowfaull, lack of crowds and varying terrain allowed kiroro to leapfrog niseko but rusutsu still wins out with steeper fall lines and a larger number of lengthy runs.  i feel like rusutsu required little to no traversing to get to your spots on the mountain whereas kiroro requires you to spend a few minutes of traversing to get to your spots.  the night riding at rusutsu is also hard to top as i ended every night with a huge smile on my face, whether it be pow turns, carving fun, tree runs or even a pre-midnight snack hike:

9pm turns are the icing on the cake

so rusutsu remains #1 but it’s by a very, very close margin.

running list:
1-rusutsu
2-kiroro
3-niseko
4-teine
5-kamui
6-furano

so, bucket list checked off and snow hangover in full effect.  i came to japan in search of heavy japow and i’ve found it at kiroro.  the scary part now is how i fight off the urge to come back to hokkaido every winter.

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