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post #1 of (permalink) Old 03-04-2009, 07:42 PM
Seedy J
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TR: Rusutsu (Hokkaido) Backcountry, Shiribetsu-dake

We'd signed up for a Niseko backcountry tour. The previous night, I called the guide for a status update, and he said that visibility would be too poor to do a Niseko BC tour. He suggested that we go to nearby Rusutsu instead. A bit of a downer, but we decided to go along with it.

Once we arrived at the Rusutsu parking lot, we got a crash course on backcountry gear and how to use an avalanche beacon to find people who'd been buried, then went into the Rusutsu hotel. The place reeked of bubble-era ballerness... an amusement park near the resort (the bubble liked amusement parks), a big carousel in the lobby, boutiques, and marble floors in the bathrooms. You could even get exotic foodstuffs at the snack bar.

You should've seen the size of the can!

Our destination was the peak of Mt. Shiribetsu - 1104 m/3622 ft.

Part of Rusutsu is on Shiribetsu, but the lifts don't go very high up. We took the lifts as high as we could, traversed over to the hiking trail, and strapped on our snowshoes.

At the halfway point, we took a short lunch break. Our guide pointed out the slope we'd be riding down.

Does this count as "steep?"

Further up the mountain, the weather started to turn cloudy and it started snowing. Things started to get a bit more surreal. We started seeing things you just don't see at resorts like windlips, cornices, and bizarre snow formations.

After 3 hours of hiking (thanks to my slow ass), we finally reached the peak, took some pictures, and swapped our snowshoes for snowboards.

Sorry, no riding pics because... well, we were too busy having the run of our lives! Here's how it went:

1. We had to do a bit of traversing to get around the thick forest. I had to go switch, making things a bit more difficult.

2. Decently steep bit through some trees (don't know how steep, forgot to turn my GPS on). "Head down a bit then go to the right." I wasn't confident that I wouldn't bail if I tried to do a toeside turn. Moreover, I didn't really know where I was going and didn't want to go flying down the wrong path. I had to sideslip part of this (I know, I'm a horrible person). Later on, I realized I would've been fine riding it normally and the correct path was painfully obvious.

3. BOMBS AWAY! No tracks other than ours. I quickly learned that what they say is true - wild snow is different than resort snow, even the legendary Niseko powder. This run redefined what I thought of as good powder. Lighter and drier than anything I'd experienced before. You couldn't ride it like you'd ride resort snow either. Forget face shots - if you turned too sharply, you'd get completely engulfed in flying snow just like you see in the videos. This run required wide, gentle arcs. With no bumps, ice, tracks, chowder, or other nonsense to worry about, falling wasn't a concern and there was no need to hold back. I couldn't tell how deep the snow was because the SL-R and I were just floating over it, but the big rooster tails that came with every turn suggested that it was bottomless. Later on, my friend (who fell once) said it was about waist-deep, and he's probably close to 6'6". Unbelievable stuff, felt amazing to ride on. Compared to a used-up, icy intermediate run, this was a piece of cake.

4. Our guide had warned us, "Backcountry is about quality, not quantity. It'll be a long hike, you won't get many turns, but they'll be the best turns you've ever had." Sure enough, it probably hadn't even been two minutes and we were nearing the end of our run. As things started to flatten out, the snow started turning to hardpack, and I spotted the ski tracks we were told to look for and follow out. They led straight into a forest. Good thing I was up on my tree riding skills.

That's it! Thanks to Andrew at Black Diamond Tours for showing us the goods and my friend Mark for the pics.
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