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2017/02/20 Mountain Collective Tour: Banff's Sunshine Valley, Canada
π 2017-02-20 00:00 in Snow
After Banff's Lake Louise Resort, we finished our tour with Sunshine Valley, another resort 45mn away but affiliated with Lake Louise.

Sunshine Valley is a bit more towards Calgary and definitely an interesting set of 3 mountains which start with a long ass gondola ride (20mn or so) to get to the real snow village where most of the lifts are. The day we went was family day, so driving in took a while with a long line to the parking lot, but at least we got a spot in said parking lot, not everyone did. Thankfully the lines at the lift were not that long (<5mn in singles line), despite the crowds.


many many cars
many many cars

after a long gondola ride, finally arrived to the real base
after a long gondola ride, finally arrived to the real base

got 4 inches of powder in the last 24H, not bad
got 4 inches of powder in the last 24H, not bad

backcountry gate that required an avalanche beacon
backcountry gate that required an avalanche beacon






It was all nice and good until we went side country, I hiked up a short minute to get over a rocky ridge to a snow path where others had been. And honestly it's hard to know after the fact since I couldn't see all the way down when I went, but I believe I didn't get a good edge while dropping the top cornice on my toe side, which caused me to fall and land on my back, going down head first without being able to stop. I remember catching air twice, feeling some rocks, and eventually I landed after the 2nd jump on my back where I took off over some rocks and landed in soft enough snow. My backpack made a hole in the snow and stopped me there. Thankfully outside of being a bit frazzled, I was 100% fine. The only damage was my GPS watch that got shattered against a rock. From what I can tell this is the track I did while sliding head first on my back:


Since in the end, I was perfectly fine, I finished the day with Arturo and counted my blessings...
Sunshine Village is definitely an interesting resort, worth going back to (and they have wifi at the top of lifts as well as pokestops, woot!)

I did better the rest of the day :)


2017/02/19 Mountain Collective Tour: Banff's Lake Louise Resort, Canada
π 2017-02-19 00:00 in Snow
After Revelstoke, we went to Lake Louise in Banff. Nice resort. Just big enough, a nice backside and runs facing away from the sun, which turned out to be good given the high temperatures for february.


nice lodge
nice lodge


oh, they did have that wretched poma lift that flattens your private parts and makes you wait in pain until you get can off at the top
oh, they did have that wretched poma lift that flattens your private parts and makes you wait in pain until you get can off at the top



they also had a bra tree
they also had a bra tree

sadly, a few lines at the bottom of the back valley
sadly, a few lines at the bottom of the back valley

very cool snow covered boulder field on the edge of the resort
very cool snow covered boulder field on the edge of the resort


front side had a good sledding operation
front side had a good sledding operation



2017/02/17 Mountain Collective Tour: Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada
π 2017-02-17 00:00 in Snow
While the snow we got driving up there from the airport was promising. The road was closed for almost 30mn by the time we were there for avalanche control, which is supposed to be good (new snow), but sadly because people voted for Trump, we got some global warming, and the snow levels were way too high.

Revelstoke is far from everything, and has the grand total of 2, yes, count them right, I said 2 lifts. And because they live in luxury, they are at least quad high speed detachable. You then add a gondola to get up from the river they also called a base and parking lot, to the bottom of the lift, and that's it (ok, technically the gondola is 2 gondolas since they connect instead of being a single gondola that goes all the way up, and there is a magic carpet somewhere). Now, terrain wise there is actually a lot of terrain if you don't have global warming, but a lot less when you're stuck on the top 3rd of the moountain, or only the north facing top 3rd of the mountain,. At that point, if there are even a few people, the sole 2 lifts get long lines, and they did...

The first morning, we were at the resort at opening time, and 2/3rds for the mountain were iced up in a bad way, while the top was ok-ish but anything south facing was still questionable:

low fog in the morning, it probably impacted helicopter operations
low fog in the morning, it probably impacted helicopter operations




it's called the lemmings line, a hike to the north bowl
it's called the lemmings line, a hike to the north bowl

north bowl was actually good for 2 runs, but the bottom was very painful :(
north bowl was actually good for 2 runs, but the bottom was very painful :(


the sun came out in the afternoon and melted all the frozen snow
the sun came out in the afternoon and melted all the frozen snow

downtown Revelstoke
downtown Revelstoke


so we did the other hike straight up
so we did the other hike straight up


a bit of tree on that ice?
a bit of tree on that ice?




For our last run of the day, I actually chanced the south facing run, which had melted just enough to be reasonable. No one had gone there, fresh snow, but not very deep:





The next morning, we went for a bit of morning skiing, not expecting much, and we didn't get much. Solid ice for the bottom 2/3rd, with no sun coming out. We hiked to the north side, got an ok enough run, then a few groomers, and called it an early day given that the conditions were only going to worsen:




More pictures of the city of Revelstoke here

2017/02/17 Visiting Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada
π 2017-02-17 00:00 in Trips
Arturo and I flew to Calgary, picked up a wretched Jeep Wrangler, one of the worst cars ever made on this god forsaken earth (and it still costs over $30,000). I owe Arturo again for driving us to Revelstoke (almost 5 hours). Despite the weather not being great for sightseeing, it was still a nice drive:





frozen lake
frozen lake


After skiing, we spent a bit of time in downtown and went to the city museum before doing dinner:






The next day since the snow was not great, we ended by noon and went to the rail museum:







the train cars were huge
the train cars were huge



and the steam engine was also gigantic
and the steam engine was also gigantic



And that was it for Revelstoke, nice little place to stop if you're driving the trans canadian highway 1, or you're there for skiing.

Of course, we were there to snowboard, more pictures here

2017/02/09 A Quick Day Through Sapporo
π 2017-02-09 00:00 in Japan, Japan2017, Trips

Since we were going to Sapporo for the snow and ice festival, we left early to visit what we could during the day. We started with Shiroi Koibito Park, a chocolate cookie factory that pretends to be the charlie chocolate factory with oompa loompas, and while it is touristic, it's funy and pretty :)










Next, we went to historic village of hokkaido, which was a mix of old and new buildings, which felt a bit weird to me. I'd say it's not an essential visit, but it was nice to see with the snow:






Next door was the historical museum of hokkaido, which I found much more interesting:


interesting that Hokkaido lies more south than Paris and gets so much more snow
interesting that Hokkaido lies more south than Paris and gets so much more snow


the Ainu people lived in Hokkaido for a long time before the Japanese came
the Ainu people lived in Hokkaido for a long time before the Japanese came





And eventually we got to our hotel in Sapporo and stored the car in the car elevator :)


many spots for many cars
many spots for many cars

We then headed to Odori Park and the TV tower for some views:





we then took the stairs down
we then took the stairs down

In the evening, we walked around town a little bit and went for more tower views:






and for fun we took the subway back to the hotel
and for fun we took the subway back to the hotel

Of course, the main reason for going to Sapporo was the Sapporo Snow Festival, which is on its own page

See more images for A Quick Day Through Sapporo
2017/02/09 Sapporo Snow Festival
π 2017-02-09 00:00 in Japan, Japan2017, Trips

Of course, we went to Sapporo for the snow and ice festival, so here are the pictures:











awesome lighting effects
awesome lighting effects












See more images for Sapporo Snow Festival
2017/02/08 Awesome Powder at Kiroro Snow World
π 2017-02-08 00:00 in Snow

For our last and 5th day in Niseko, we went to Kiroro Snow World, both because of the forecast of more than 20m of freshies, but also because we were going to the Otaru festival of lights that evening.
Kiroro is a bit far away (90mn by car), but it's a very nice resort with lots of off piste options. They have an interesting systme where you register in the morning with them and tell them which gates you are planning on taking and give them your contact info. You are then given a badge that allows you to leave the resort through side gates, and if you don't check in back by end of day, they know to go look for you (rescue will be at your expense of course).

they even have a nice map
they even have a nice map

as usual, the pricing was quite reasonable, less than $50 for a day without night skiing
as usual, the pricing was quite reasonable, less than $50 for a day without night skiing


ski patrol was by the gates to make sure you had filed for a permit to leave the resort, which we did
ski patrol was by the gates to make sure you had filed for a permit to leave the resort, which we did

snow didn't suck. Not super deep, but the lightest powder I had ever ridden in
snow didn't suck. Not super deep, but the lightest powder I had ever ridden in


Kiroro has 2 bigs peaks, after doing the gate on the left peak, we went for the right one. From there, we walked a fair amount in the snow away from the gate, until we kind of found a way to go down that wasn't very steep at the beginning, until we got to the edge, and fantastic snow there. We had a huge bowl filled with fantastic dry powder, until we got to a traverse path in unimproved terrain with big holes/rivers to avoid. But, it was worth it :)

walk up
walk up

poor regis working hard with his ski boots
poor regis working hard with his ski boots

finally down to an open slope, all you can eat pow
finally down to an open slope, all you can eat pow

The rest of the day, I rode the powder between the lift and trees on that side:



Needless to say that I really liked Kiroro.

Two nice powder runs (4K if you get them full screen)

2017/02/08 Otaru Snow Light Path
π 2017-02-08 00:00 in Japan, Japan2017, Trips
After Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, we still had to visit Otaru Snow Light Path, which was a short drive from Kiroro Snow World where we had a great day snowboarding.

We had a very quick look at Otaru while we still had a bit of daylight left, including the local (small) museum, mostly centered around trains:




cool to see snow all the way to the ocean
cool to see snow all the way to the ocean

We then went to see the Snow Light Path festival:





I love you too Arturo :)
I love you too Arturo :)












See more images for Otaru Snow Light Path
2017/02/07 A Windy Day at Rusutsu
π 2017-02-07 00:00 in Snow

Our 4th day in Niseko was very windy, and it was a perfect ay to go to the nearby Rusutsu which was more sheltered and ran its top lifts all day while other nearby resorts had to close them (Niseko being very segmented that day).
Rusutsu is not a huge resort, but had plenty of off piste terrain, and interestingly had a few slopes across the street although we didn't have time to go reach them (they seemed there only to cater to people from the hotel, while serious skiiers like us were across the street in the higher peaks).
It wasn't deep powder that way, but still plenty of good snow:





such a 'high' peak, 994 meters :)
such a 'high' peak, 994 meters :)

warning, 'less' snow... There was plenty for us...
warning, 'less' snow... There was plenty for us...

warning 33% degree slope. OMG, so steep ;-)
warning 33% degree slope. OMG, so steep ;-)


slopes across the street, where we didn't go
slopes across the street, where we didn't go

See more images for A Windy Day at Rusutsu
2017/02/05 Shimamaki Cat Skiing with Niseko Photography
π 2017-02-05 00:00 in Snow
After a nice powder day at Niseko, our next day was going to be a blue bird, and since I had booked a private guide with Niseko Photography, after chatting with them we agreed that our chances of getting fresh powder on the next day, weren't going to be very good. Elsie ended up offering to upgrade our guided tour to a private cat tour on nearby private land and with a partner they work with for such occasions. To be honest, it wasn't cheap, around $500 per person, or half the price of a heli skiing day where you get more vertical and steeper runs, but this was by far our best option for the day, and Niseko Photography provided good guides, one of which also took professional pictures of us, which were excellent (a very nice bonus)
>

If you're curious about slope and vertical, you can use this:


This shows we had 10 runs, one was a ride back down away from where we were on less steep terrain and the first few runs were short. The longest runs were 210m vertical and a total vertical of around 1500 meeters. For comparison, heli skiing usually costs $1000 for 10,000ft vertical in a day on typically steeper terrain. So no, we didn't get the best vertical deal ever, but there was no heli option available when we were there, and despite the limited vertical and slope, we still had a good time, the pictures being a great bonus.

The minus was that the snowcat was old and slow, and took a long time to painstakenly get around via a slope at low pitch it could barely climb (and our first cat overheated and died, and had to be replaced during the day).

That said, we had some good runs:


Jeff, a coworker, joined us for the trip
Jeff, a coworker, joined us for the trip


go, Arturo!
go, Arturo!


nearby Mt Yotei volcano
nearby Mt Yotei volcano

our guide photographer
our guide photographer

our tired little snowcat
our tired little snowcat

our new snowcat after the first one broke
our new snowcat after the first one broke

Some great pictures from our guide:


the powder was very nice, I could grab it on the way down
the powder was very nice, I could grab it on the way down

there also were a few natural ramps, great job getting this shot
there also were a few natural ramps, great job getting this shot



So, despite the cat failure, we got 10 runs (the first ones were a bit shorter) plus an extra one I got by climbing up a steep slope while waiting for the replacement snowcat to show up. Below are 3 different run videos (in 4K if you watch full screen):

Thanks to Niseko Photography for the day.

2017/02/04 Hokkaido's Niseko United
π 2017-02-04 00:00 in Snow

After a local train to Nagano, a Shinkansen to Tokyo, a JR train to an airport train to Haneda, a plane to New Chitose Airport, by Sapporo, and then an interesting drive at night in the snow, and a closed road where we had to turn back and drive a longer way around, we finally got to Niseko. Pfew! :)
Niseko United itself is a huge resort made of 4 smaller resorts linked with lifts. We stayed in the southmost one, Annupuri, due to its side country gates and nice open bowls that sometimes are reserved to people who stayed there if the winds close the top interconnecting lifts. Turns out the winds did actually cut off the resorts a few times while we were there, and on our 2nd day skiing there, we had to make a mad traverse from Grand Hirafu's top all the way back to Annupuri and barely made it across over the "do not cross" point while the lifts that help you get higher and make an easy cross, were already closed for wind.




Niseko nicely has side country gates and maps to help you navigate the terrain
Niseko nicely has side country gates and maps to help you navigate the terrain



single chair lifts, don't fall off :)
single chair lifts, don't fall off :)

we went all the way to Niseko Hanazono, used its side country gates, and I got to see kids towed on a life raft :)
we went all the way to Niseko Hanazono, used its side country gates, and I got to see kids towed on a life raft :)


pass observer, cute :)
pass observer, cute :)

many quad chairs had a bubble that would hit me over the head, try to throw me off the lift, and if it failed, kept us shielded from the wind
many quad chairs had a bubble that would hit me over the head, try to throw me off the lift, and if it failed, kept us shielded from the wind


another side country gate, gateway to more powder ;)
another side country gate, gateway to more powder ;)


A powder run via a side country gate:

See more images for Hokkaido's Niseko United
2017/02/04 Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
π 2017-02-04 00:00 in Japan, Japan2017, Trips
After our first day skiing in Niseko, I figured it would be a great idea for us to go to the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival since in weekends they would shoot fireworks in the evening. While the festival was fun and worth going to, going on a saturday night was a very dumb idea because many people did the same, and cars backed up in the only street to get there until there was an ever growing traffic jam for the last few miles of driving, which I guess was due to the parking lot having fully filled up.
Thankfully I was able to use openstreemap to see a side street getting into the town (google maps failed to show it) and talk a traffic guard into letting us take it. From there, we got to the festival within minutes when the normal road was not moving and probably backed up for another 30mn or more. Advise to others: don't go on weekends, the fireworkds were not exactly special and not worth the traffic jam at all. A weekday without traffic is likely a better idea.

The festival, though was fun and pretty, too bad it was almost a 4H drive (return) from Niseko, and the bad traffic jam...
















See more images for Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
2017/02/03 Jigokudani Yaen Koen: Yamanouchi's Monkey Park
π 2017-02-03 00:00 in Japan, Japan2017, Trips
Most people who go to Yudanaka/Yamanouchi do so only to see the moneky park. In our case we were there to go snowboarding, but it would have been a mistake not to go to the monkey park of course.

Our last morning in Yudanaka, after a nice breakfast at Ryokan Hakura, Onozawa-San nicely drove us to the park entrance and we got up there bright an early before everyone else, which is good considering how packed with tourists it got by 10:00 when we were about to leave. Thankfully it also opened 10mn early (08;50), giving us a bit of extra time. This also includes a 20-30mn hike on a snowy path from the winter entrance.

The monkeys are of course incredibly cute, and we found plenty of then in the natural onsen in the morning, as a way for them to warm up:



hot vent in the snow
hot vent in the snow



the onsen was full
the onsen was full






amazing it can stay in a branch like that
amazing it can stay in a branch like that

2017/02/03 Winter and Snow in Japan: Hokkaido's Niseko, Lake Shikotsu, Otaru, and Sapporo
π 2017-02-03 00:00 in Japan, Japan2017, Trips
After a good time in Yudanaka/Shiga-Kogen and seeing the monkey park, it was time for another longish trip: a small train to Nagano, Shinkansen to Tokyo Station, JR train to Kanazawa, airport train to Haneda, plane to New Chitose Airport not too far from Sapporo, shuttle to rental car, and then longish drive at night (thanks Arturo) to Niseko, with some roads closed on the way (no thanks to Google Maps for sending us on them):


Good Bye Nagano
Good Bye Nagano

Haneda
Haneda

Fuji-San, at sunset, lucky shot from the plane
Fuji-San, at sunset, lucky shot from the plane

Lots of driving in Sapporo to get some remote resorts (Rusutsu, Kiroro)
Lots of driving in Sapporo to get some remote resorts (Rusutsu, Kiroro)

Many deer walking on the road, our rental car had a deer anti collision device for night driving
Many deer walking on the road, our rental car had a deer anti collision device for night driving

Mt Yotei was a nice volcano visible from all around. Some people hike it up for back country skiing
Mt Yotei was a nice volcano visible from all around. Some people hike it up for back country skiing


We ended up driving a fair amount, the car came it quite handy:

Outside of Niseko, we went to:

  • Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
  • Otaru Snow Light Path
  • A Quick Day Through Sapporo
  • Sapporo Snow Festival
  • 2017/02/01 Nagano's Yamanouchi's Shiga Kogen Ski Range
    π 2017-02-01 00:00 in Snow

    After Hakuba, a bus and a local train, we arrived in Yudanaka, the gateway to Yamanouchi, and the Shiga Kogen mountain range, containing around 10 ski resorts, the northern part of which are linked via lifts, so you can go from one resort to the next, very cool...


    Early in the morning, we had to take a long-ish bus (1.5h) to the extreme north range of Shiga-Kogen, starting with Okushigakogen. which allows some off piste skiing. It apparently was closed the day before due to a storm, so we had 30cm of fresh snow off the trails, which was pretty awesome, except how I ended up in a low flat point twice, and had to hike back up to a main groomed slope, but damn, the snow was worth it :)


    be a nice snowboarder, and ski hearts around skiiers :)
    be a nice snowboarder, and ski hearts around skiiers :)



    such a pretty blue bird day
    such a pretty blue bird day

    'ropes are devices meant to keep fresh powder on the other side' :)
    'ropes are devices meant to keep fresh powder on the other side' :)

    fresh snow
    fresh snow

    after a great run, we ended up on top of a race course
    after a great run, we ended up on top of a race course

    after arriving at the next door Yakebitaiyama, and they had some 'unpressed snow', just what we needed :)
    after arriving at the next door Yakebitaiyama, and they had some 'unpressed snow', just what we needed :)

    yeah, this is unpressed, I'll take it :)
    yeah, this is unpressed, I'll take it :)



    The next day, another 30cm storm came by. We naively went to the southern most resort (Yokoteyama) to try the other biggest resort in the range, but sadly the wind shut down most top lifts that day. As a result we had to walk to the base to the nearby resort (Kumanoyu) which didn't go as high, and had some lifts running. Great snow, but not enough vertical or slope:

    it was super cold with frigid winds
    it was super cold with frigid winds

    Kymanoyu was a small-ish resort, but it will do, given that the rest was closed
    Kymanoyu was a small-ish resort, but it will do, given that the rest was closed

    I then had the "grand" idea that it would be a good idea to ski from the top of Kymanoyu (which was not that high) back to Yokoteyama instead of the longish walk on the road between the 2 resorts. Sadly, it was a pretty flat trail covered with snow, and took a lot of pushing with poles before we finally got to Yokoteyama. We took a half way up lift and honestly the conditions were poor: cold, whiteouts, and no off piste possible. Getting back down to the bottom was actually hard, despite the downhill we were barely moving and so barely got to the bottom in time to catch a shuttle bus back away from that south extreme of the resort.
    After loading lift opening reports, we figured out that there was nothing interesting we could ski in the south, so we had to take 2 busses to get back to the north extreme (sadly this burned 1.5 hours). Thankfully, when we go to Yakebitaiyama, the top gondola was running, and we scored some great powder runs until we had to leave to take a bus back:



    All in all, the Shiga Kogen range was quite interesting, and we got quite lucky with the snow there. Some other day with less snow, it may be fun to ski it from the northern most resort back down to Hasuike, the middle resort where busses connect to go north or south. Off piste skiing was possible in places, some even had gates, although some other resorts don't allow it or turn a blind eye to it at all. Despite the painful bus rides there and back, we had a really good time and enjoyed the snow there.

    Below is one of my best powder runs:


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