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Seedy J 03-04-2009 07:42 PM

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.

Seedy J 03-04-2009 07:43 PM

killclimbz 03-04-2009 08:10 PM

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Awesome! Though I think you should have taken some time to photo slut it up on the descent. I know it's kind of a pita, but the down turns always seem to be worth it. One of these days I am going to make the trip to Japan to ride the bc there. It looks fantastic.

oneplankawanka 03-04-2009 10:08 PM

Schweet. Does that exotic foodstuffs..LOL.. sign say 'canned bear'>|? Arigato 4 posting. Kanpai

No really. The size of the can.. u are referring to the bathroom right?

I'll have a churro and round of canned Bears for me and my homies please. :eek:

BigGameHit 03-04-2009 10:12 PM

that sweet bro. Ill have to hop over to that island and experience that. im only about 2-3 hours from there.

arsenic0 03-04-2009 11:13 PM

Thats awesome dude, i knew the SL-R was a good pow board but you make me wanna take mine somewhere like

Seedy J 03-05-2009 02:17 AM

killclimbz: I know... I wish I had some pics of the descent, but it was the first real backcountry (aside from the Niseko peak if that counts) any of us had done, so we were kind of blown away by how good the riding was. If you ever make it over here, I hear Hakkoda has amazing backcountry. I'm hoping to make it out there next season.

oneplanka: I mean the can they had the bear in, of course :D.

BigGame: Definitely try to make it up to Niseko/Hokkaido while you're here! The resorts here on Honshu just don't compare.

arsenic: The first time I took it out in powder, I was surprised at how well the SL-R handled it. If I'm planning on riding mostly powder, I put my bindings on the next to last set of holes. You don't even have to try to keep it floating.

BigGameHit 03-05-2009 02:28 AM

Hakkodo is freaking awesome man and the view is amazing man. I road it last week. Ill be in Japan for the next 4 years. once I add some more experience, ill try to tackle what you accomplished for sure. so far i have been to Yakiyama in 3 times and Hakkoda once in my baby career.

killclimbz 03-05-2009 08:55 AM

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It's great that you had a blast your first time out doing something like this. Sounds like you'll be doing it again. Japan, for all it's population, is still in it's infant stages for backcountry riders from what I've seen. Not many people doing it compared to what's available. What a great time to get into it. Get out there, explore, and take lots of pics for us to check out.

BigGameHit 03-05-2009 09:27 AM

yea Hakkoda is only an hour from me. i can see it from base lol.. check this out.

this is my view from my dorm room

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