Wrapping up Hokkaido: snow and food again

I can’t write three blogs about skiing in Hokkaido without commenting a little more about the snow.  Before coming I had really wanted to experience the deep fluffy powder that Hokkaido is famous for.  We definitely found it right at the beginning of our trip.  I think it was on our first day of skiing that I said I had never skied in so much powder before.  Then it was even deeper the second day.  I’d seen videos of skiers in steep and deep powder where their skis cause a wave of snow to form a couple meters in front of the skier.  Well, that was us, plus snow billowing up over our heads so we couldn’t see.  Combine that with the great food, and I couldn’t get the goofy smile off my face for the entire first week we were there.

The snow was incredibly light and fluffy.  It snowed almost constantly during our first four days of skiing, but somehow nothing got wet.  As I joked then, “there’s no moisture in the snow in Hokkaido.  It’s just air.”  Todd would scoop up piles of snow into his hands, blow on it, and laugh as every flake blew away.  In addition to snowing a lot, it also snowed really hard.  Sometimes it’d be snowing so hard that you could hardly see through the wall of snow, and this happened over and over.  I remember watching a Hokkaido powder skiing video years ago.  It was a white winter wonderland and snowed during the entire video.  That’s real.

After two weeks of skiing from the onsens, it was time to take Amy, Todd, and Galen to the airport in Asahikawa.  Amy went to Kyoto to visit her brother, Todd to his family in Alaska, and Galen to visit friends in Tokyo.  Galen’s flight was later so she had time for some lunch and a visit to the Asahikawa Snow and Ice Festival with Peter and me.

Dropping Amy and Todd at the Asahikawa Airport by bryandkeith on flickr
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Hokkaido onsen: stay, soak, ski, and eat

Food is a great reason to travel to Japan.  When I was talking to Peter about this trip deciding whether to come, one thing I really liked was their decision to stay in onsen (hot springs resorts) where breakfast and dinner were included.  Peter described the evening meals at these mountain retreats as “awesome multi-course experiences designed for the discerning Japanese tourist.”  Some foreigners come to Hokkaido just to ski, camping in the snow, staying in their van, whatever.  I’m not such a gung-ho skier, but skiing, exquisite Japanese meals, and hot springs every day, that’s a pretty great combination.

I even found a decent meal at the Chitose Airport in my jet-lagged stupor:

My first meal in Hokkaido -- at the Chitose Airport by bryandkeith on flickr

One of our evening meals at Goshiki Onsen looked this:
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A low snow year in Hokkaido

Skiing in Hokkaido, finally!  About 15 years ago in Boulder, Kurt introduced me to Keiichi, a visiting astrophysicist from Japan.  We skied together that season in the Colorado backcountry on horrible snow.  Keiichi was the best telemark skier I had ever skied with and talked about the great conditions for backcountry skiing in Hokkaido.  “If you like powder skiing, you need to come to Hokkaido,” he said.  “It snows every day in January,” he said.

Surely, he’s exaggerating, I thought.  Then I checked weather averages for Sapporo.  Indeed, for January the average high temperature is -2°C, and the average number of days with precipitation in January is 30.  It really does snow every day in January!  I could hardly say no when Peter offered for me to join their trip to Hokkaido this year.

One thing that I hear a lot traveling is that you should have been here yesterday.  Usually I don’t buy it, but it’s probably the case for skiing in Hokkaido.  For one thing, this year we got into some of the unusual/extreme global-warming weather.  Seems like we’re going to have to start considering extreme weather normal at some point.  It had rained in Hokkaido just before we arrived, leaving an icy layer in the snowpack, and this year there was less snow and more wind than normal.  The wind meant that everything above treeline was pretty scoured.  Some years you can ski above treeline.  We never did.  “Less snow” for Hokkaido, however, was still more snow than I’ve ever seen!!

Another reason that I sort of wish I had skied Hokkaido years ago was that it’s now a very popular destination internationally.  When Keiichi used to fly from Tokyo for weekends, it was only Japanese on the mountains.  Now we had crowded days in the backcountry where we didn’t see a single Japanese skier.  Prices have gone up, there’s pretty intense competition for fresh tracks in the backcountry, and now 90% of the skiers in the Niseko area are foreigners.  Locals are “not comfortable” with this or even “annoyed” or worse.  I totally understand this, but the world is becoming a village, and Japan cannot stay isolated.

In addition to the incredible powder skiing, I wanted to come back to Japan for the food and for the onsen (public baths).  The baths are the best in the world — clean, with lots of tubs of hot water, cold water, bubbles, various minerals.  There was usually an outside section where we’d sit and soak with the snow falling on us.  The rules are quite strict but easy to follow.  You change in one room and enter the bath area naked with only an onsen towel.  In the first bath area you wash yourself thoroughly, soap and shampoo, before going to the communal tubs which was kept quite clean.  I was very annoyed in one onsen to see foreigners with beers in the baths.  It’s that kind of disrespect that must really anger the Japanese.

Anyway, here are some photos from our first week in Japan when we skied in the Niseko area (Annupuri, Iwaonupuri, Nitonupuri, and Mt. Yotei).  We stayed four nights at Goshiki Onsen and two nights at Ezofuji Hut near Kutchan.  It snowed 40cm our first day, 40cm our second day, 10cm/day after that for a few days.  Indeed we had been in Japan a full 10 days by the time there was a night when it didn’t snow at all.  24 hours without snow?  In three weeks I think that happened, but I can’t remember for sure.  And this year was a low snow year!

Peter, messing around with the GPS at the trailhead by bryandkeith on flickr
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Karaman to Antalya, hunting for beautiful mountain scenery

Certainly one of the highlights of this three-week tour from Kayseri to Antalya was the fairly flat section called the Karaman Plateau.  It was rolling hills with great views of mountains to the north and south.  I thought the section coming in to the city of Karaman was pretty nice, but the days after leaving Karaman were even better.

DSC09851 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Tarsus to Karaman, the Roman ruin tour

Three days after her crash, I said goodbye to Ferda at the Tarsus bus station, and we waved with sad smiles as she started the 12 hour trip to Antalya.  It would end up taking me two weeks by bicycle.  Unencumbered by the group ride plans, I put together a great itinerary largely avoiding highways that were as big as the ones we took to get from Kayseri to Tarsus.  I started, however, with one flat highway day along the coast to get to the road that I wanted into the mountains.

Part of the flat section involved riding through the rather large and spread out provincial capital of Mersin, something I imagined would be a mess of traffic for 30km.  Well, that turned out to be completely wrong.  The road was closed to traffic NE of the port because of construction, but I was able to get through on a bike.  Then, after the port (heading SW), I cycled through the entire city along the coast on a boardwalk-type path for cyclists and pedestrians.  It was great, and at one point I even stumbled upon the colonnaded road of Soloi-Pompeiopolis!

DSC09413 by bryandkeith on flickr
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