High in the Southern Alps, a lonely road through Arthur’s Pass winds its way between collections of sharp mountains and along ice-cold braided rivers.
The high country here is starkly beautiful, the sort of place that’s breathtaking to drive through but doesn’t necessarily make you want to pack up and move there. Jagged peaks dominate the scene, the snow at their tops giving way to dry grasses, scree, and gnarled beeches covered in black lichen. A few sheep stations are tucked between the mountains, the sheep extra wooly and hardy looking. It’s all very epic.
Several ski fields occupy the Craigieburn Range, an eastern outlier from the core of the Alps. New Zealand’s club fields have a no-frills reputation, where big terrain and a lack of crowds supercede the need for plush amenities. Rope tows and t-bars are the only upward offerings, often with a walk to get to them. Surprisingly rough single-lane dirt access roads cling to the edges of the mountainsides, with just a few spindly bushes between you and an unpleasant drop should your tires stray from the road. It made our local Vermont benchmark for a crusty ski area— Mad River Glen— look like Vail.
We started off at Cragieburn Valley ski club, which is well known for abundant and steep terrain, looking for a single ride to the top to begin a day of out-of-bounds touring. Though we’d emailed to confirm the existence of the $15 ticket, a grumpy staff member was determined to turn us away, saying we weren’t “touring properly,” would “abuse the privilege,” and even insinuating that we’d steal their rope tow equipment. So, we tried out nearby Mt. Cheeseman, which had a huge array of backcountry options, friendly and accommodating staff, $10 single rides, and the exciting side bonus of many nickname opportunities.
After a t-bar ride to the summit, it was an easy ridgeline hike to the entrance of several long chutes and the snowy Tarn Basin. There was enough here to keep us occupied for days.
One chute in particular caught our eye. Spilling into a river valley off the sunny north side of the ski field, it quickly became our mission to ski it. We spent a day consulting with topo maps and the friendly ski patrol to determine the route out, and headed to the top the next morning.
The line was long, sufficiently steep, and held soft spring snow for 2,000 vertical feet. (more…)
Like their name suggests, the Japan Alps are massive— bigger and more extensive than any mountains I’ve ever seen. Steep, spired, and caked with snow at the top, they smooth into long open slopes with patches of beech, willow, birch and tamarack trees. From Alaskan-style steeps to some of the best tree skiing in the world, they hold a staggering variety of terrain— all within reach thanks to an extensive lift system and open backcountry gates.
The Japan Alps rise 7,000 feet above the valley floor and are right up there with some of the more impressive mountains ranges I’ve seen. Though the snow is wind-effected in spots, the forecast looks sunny and temperatures mild, so hopefully we can do some more exploring this week. Here are just a few quick pictures from a ski tour today with three fellow Americans at Hakuba Tsugaike. We were wearing t-shirts during the middle of the day, a nice respite from cold and blustery Hokkiado. (more…)
In thousands of places across Japan, rivers heated by volcanic activity spill into beautiful rock-lined hot springs, known as onsen.
Hakuginso Onsen is one of many located along the edges of Daisetsuzan National Park and the Tokachi mountain range, among the tallest peaks in Hokkaido. The picturesque lodge, built to house the onsen, also provides access to some of the best backcountry skiing on the island—literally right out the front door.
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.
Skiing in Japan is everything we expected it to be, and then some. Unbelievably deep snow, perfectly spaced birch trees, pillows, and no one here to ski it. This is a quick one teaser from our first day at Rusutsu…taken at 2pm.