Powder and Pocky
If we had to describe Rusutsu in one word it would most definitely be “snowy.” It seemed to fall almost constantly here—big fat flakes, tiny wind-driven needles, fluffy swirling snow. In fact, there were probably only a few hours in each day when it didn’t snow.
It all piled up to about a foot of fresh snow every 24 hours, filling in all the tracks from the day before and creating yet another morning of snow removal for the residents of Rusutsu. Needless to say, the skiing was phenomenal. The snow and varied terrain more than made up for a lack of sustained vertical, and perfect birch glades, steep ridges and gullies, and countless pillow lines definitely kept us entertained. To top it off, lift lines were nonexistent, and there was no need for the usual frenzy for first tracks, since you could find them all day. If you’re not jealous yet, here are some framegrabs from video we’ve shot:
The town of Rusutsu itself is a bit odd, just a scattered collection of ski lifts, hotels, convenience stores, and a buried amusement park. All of this is strewn alongside a busy road frequented by buses and trucks that speed along the slick snow-coated roads as if they are perfectly dry.
The two large resort hotels suffer from a case of schizophrenia. We would walk though a classy lobby and dining room, only to pass through a hallway and be confronted by an inexplicable mechanical dog band, carnival ride, and a fountain/lightshow timed to gratuitous music. One night we went to the pool, which seemed suspiciously shallow until, minutes later, artificial waves began crashing from one end to the other, battering small children on their way. The water slide, which we were told swings outside the hotel into the cold winter air, was, sadly, closed for repair.
We stayed at Pension Yamada, a simple but lovely pension (like a hostel and bed and breakfast rolled into one) right near the bottom of the gondola. The rooms are all Japanese-style, meaning there is no bed or furniture, just mats on the floor. The owners, who spoke just a bit of English, seem to have perfected the art of hosting skiers from all over the world. Over the course of our five-day stay, people from Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Canada and Japan all passed through the doors of the bright yellow house.
After the extremely sweet older lady at Pension Yamada made a killer breakfast every morning, her husband would shuttle visitors to the ski lifts— quite quickly— in his van. Then, everyone would return in the evening for a home cooked meal. For a grand finale on our last night, we were treated to a Japanese hot pot for dinner: a platter of raw vegetables, noodles, tofu, thin strips of beef, and eggs, which we proceeded to dump into a boiling pot of some sort of delicious sauce. So good! Although there has been a distinct lack of sushi intake, our other meals have been satisfied by the healthful delights we discovered at the two convenience stores—Asahi beer, dinner rolls with butter filling, many boxes of Pocky, and 7-11 meat pies.
This morning we woke up to yet another fresh coating of snow and packed up our bags. Although we are sad to leave the pension, we are ready to ski some new terrain and see more of Hokkaido. Our memories of Rusutsu will be a blur of powder, steaming ramen bowls, early bedtimes, and sore legs. Today a bus takes us to Furano, a larger town in the center of the island, known for less snow but more sunshine. Our mission: ski, eat sushi.