I am going through an identity crisis.
For years I have been shunned by skiers in the swiss Alps for being a snowboarder. “Make too much noise”, “Causing avalanches” (yes, really) and most offensively, “wearing baggy trousers” were all comments I heard daily whilst living in Verbier. So, I decided to learn skiing when a couple of friends of mine were one man down to compete in the Patrouilles Des Glaciers 2012 ski touring competition. I was asked because of my general fitness levels and obsessive fascination with the competition. Nothing motivates me more than a challenge so overnight I changed from an exercise avoidant snowboarder to an early rising skinning skier …. and managed to just about get my skiing skill level up to scratch before race day.
Whilst I didn’t get much powder in Verbier that year, I did start to take a liking to the whole skiing lark, particularly as I found (from a physio’s perspective) that my body welcomed the symmetry and it opened up the mountain much more than a standard (not split) snowboard. But Jeremy Jones, if you’re listening, yes I will demo the Ultracraft 156” for you.
So I decided before I moved to Japan to sell my board and invest in some powder ski’s. I was thrown into this identity crisis when I was confronted with a majority ruling of snowboarders in both my house, workplace and Nesiko in general. And seeing as I’m much stronger on a board, I initially reached for it in the first couple of days. Since then I’ve decided to suck it up and be a humble beginner again as powder skiing is a whole different ballgame…although its been helped amply by a pair of Armada JJ’s 175cm skis.
So I am now orientated with Hirafu, Nesiko and a bit of Annipuri. I’ve been to Rusutsu (more below) and will be checking out Moiwa tomorrow. I’ve hiked the peak three times (once on skis) and dropped into the back bowl off the peak yesterday which was all sorts of lovely-ness. If you are willing to get up early and put in a small bit of hiking, the rewards are there to be reaped. It’s that simple. So whilst my “do I ski / do I board?” dilemma continues, it truly is a first world problem.
As mentioned above, if you are willing to get up early and take a detour off the beaten track you will be rewarded handsomely in the form of the light fluffy stuff. Rusutsu, like Hirafu, saw 13 meters snowfall on average last year however the main advantage Rusutsu has over other resorts in Hokkaido is the accessibility of the tree runs and back country. It’s possible to ski straight off the lifts and into the best tree skiing in Hokkaido and then ski straight back out onto the lifts. Rusutsu is a 40 min drive south of Hirafu and costs 4500 JPY (£26/ €30) for the ski pass. Our 8-seater with roof rack set us back 9300 JPY p/d (£55/€65) divided by 8 people….no brainer! With a standard ration of 4:1 skiers: boarders I was keen to hit the steeper trees (not literally) straight out of the lift and put my JJ’s to the test.
We quickly learned that anywhere is possible and had particularly good fun on Mt Isola dropping in either side off any of the “Heavenly” runs. We even did a quick stop for lunch around 1.30ish and were delighted to still find fresh tracks in the trees afterwards. It just kept giving out more and more.
I realised that at the end of the day – skis, snowboard, splitboard, telemarks or even a mono-ski would have done the job for a powder day that needed very few other ingredients for a day that would give tree heli-skiing a run for their money.