The last two weeks of Japanuary were a blur, as this is the time that Hokkaido sees its largest influx of skiers arriving in search of deep powder snow. I just wrapped up a week-long backcountry trip in Daisetsuzan National Park with a group of five skiers from the US and Australia, and it was easily the highlight of my season here so far.
Although we were dealt more wind, less snow and less visibility than I would have preferred, we were able to accomplish more than I expected. Several in the group were fairly new to ski touring, so skinning uphill for every downhill turn was somewhat of a lofty goal. Even for really experienced skiers, hiking everyday for a week is a challenge.
With unstable weather predicted for most of the week, playing the forecast and trying to come up with a suitable plan became like a game of chess. We got one clear day early on that allowed us to get up in the alpine on the active volcano Mae Tokachi which set the bar high for the rest of the week.
Unfortunately, the rest of the week was forecasted with high winds and snow which left my partner and I concerned about the viability of finding good skiing to matchup with the experience of our group in the exposed, above tree line terrain found in the park.
We altered our plan on a daily basis and played the moves that we were given. In the moment when things aren’t necessarily going the way you had envisioned, it’s often hard to tell how successful things are going to turn out. In addition to weather, we were managing blisters, fatigue and a maybe a lack of confidence within our group.
As the days went by though, everyone got stronger, more confident and skills like kick turns, fueling, transitioning skis back and forth from uphill to down, as well as ski abilities improved. With increased efficiency we were able to push further each day of the week. On the final day of the trip we were able to summit the local Furano peak that few others ski.
In the ten or so times I’ve skied it in the last two seasons, I’ve never seen another track on its summit. We had saved this place as the final day exclamation on the week but at times we were unsure if it would happen. As I stood on the summit and watched the group grind through the final few kick turns, I felt so proud of these guys and what they accomplished over the course of the trip. That was the moment that I realized how successful the week had been.
I have the opportunity to ski some incredibly deep snow during the course of a season here, but moments like this are why I have chosen to become a ski guide. Sharing my passion for the mountains and the sport of backcountry skiing is what it’s all about.