All posts by Snowriders Australia

When skiing turns nasty: my $2K ambulance ride

Back in 2007, I was a hot skiier. Fresh off the back of a season (90 days straight skiing), I knew every bump, every crack and every obstacle on the mountain. I had one gear: fast.

Enter my cryptonite: first trip away with my new girlfriend (GF), combined with an excruciatingly painful afternoon on the bunny slope. There on the left of the bunny slope was a temptation too great for any mortal overly confident skiier, and completely irresistible to any man spending the afternoon on the bunny slope with his GF – yes, a terrain park – (a) it was a chance to show off and (b) it was a chance to momentarily end the boredom.

Continue reading When skiing turns nasty: my $2K ambulance ride

Don’t be a bogan in Japan this winter

Bogan, n. An unfashionable, uncouth, or unsophisticated person, esp. regarded as being of low social status (Oxford English Dictionary).

Ok, so maybe ‘bogan’ is a bit strong. But with increasing levels of ill-feeling toward Australians abroad, and a noticeable increase in the Aussie ‘bogan’ element in some of the Japanese ski fields, we thought we’d do our civil service and offer a few tips on how to conduct your self when visiting Japan.

Continue reading Don’t be a bogan in Japan this winter

2015: worst start to the ski season ever?

Because we are over the media speculation about the status of the Australian snow season, we at Snowriders WA decided to take a closer look. Every year, normally around the June school holidays, we are subjected to media speculation about the present snow cover and the extent to which it translates into (a) the beginning of a bumper season or (b) the ‘worst’ start in years, decades, or living memory. Clearly this is no more scientific than the prediction made by ‘Chuck’, the Groundhog in the movie of the same name! Want to read more? Click here!

Review: Park City & Alta, USA

By our roving reporter,  Andrew Spittle

February 2016: Leaving the rest of the Snowriders WA team in Hokkaido, Japan (see review here), our roving reported, Andrew ‘Spitty’ Spittle, jumped on a plane and traveled due-east across the date-line to Salt Lake City, Utah USA. Located in western USA, the great state of Utah is defined by its vast expanses of desert and the Wasatch Range mountains. While Utah does have its fair share of desert terrain, and rocky outcrops, there is so much more going on in the busy “beehive” state, with a raft of outdoor adventure activities topping the list, including snow sports…..in fact Utah boosts 7 skiing areas and 14 resorts, some of which are exclusively for skiiers (no snowboarders allowed, as draconian as that sounds!!). Our intrepid reported Spitty provided the following account in his own words….. Want to read more? Click here!

Shiga Kogen (Shiga Heights)

Area Review (by A Spittle):

The Japanese ski resort Shiga Kogen lies on the main island of Honshu and is the largest and highest ski resort in the country. Shiga Kogen has a whopping 54 lifts over 21 different ski areas that cover 607 hectares of Japanese skiing heaven.

Although Shiga Kogan only gets around 10 metres of snow per season, its 2300m elevation it means that the snow quality on its upper slopes is generally better than other lower ski resorts in the Nagano prefecture. .This also ensures that Shiga Kogen has a comparatively long season that runs between late November to early May.

All of this adds up to a top rate resort with a good range of terrain and ski conditions, which is what attracted the organisers of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics to base their Alpine Slalom and Giant Slalom on the mountain. I can verify that these runs were both challenging and awesome fun!

One of the quirks about Shiga Kogen is that three of the runs are off limits to snowboarders (Okushiga Kogen, Kumanoyu, and Yokoteyama). So depending on how you view the bans, it can be a feature, or a pain in the butt. But there is so much terrain on the mountain, you would be lucky to come across these areas, in fact as it is such a massive mountain, the main challenge is not getting lost!

This leads me onto my next point, if this is your first visit to Japan or even Shiga Kogen, I would suggest hiring a ski guide for at least your first day. I booked a day with Nagano local Kaz Sekiya from Ski Nagano, a born and raised ex Japanese ski racer, who took me straight to the best runs on the mountain, and ensured I made the most of my visit.

Kaz also found many of the powder stashes in amongst the trees and runs to test my powder skills (which were lacking!). Now that the off piste skiing rules at Shiga Kogen have been relaxed a bit, the already massive ski area is that much bigger again.

Rating: 8/10:  Terrain: You can find a run to suit any ski level. We were only there for a day, but on that day snow quality was better on the upper slopes, and bit sloppy (relatively) on the lower levels.  We enjoyed the Yakebitaiyama area (as a whole), and particularly enjoyed the Nagano Olympic runs. Fast and fun.
Accessibility: (9/10): 50km north East of Nagano, which is 250km from Tokyo Regular bullet trains or Shinkansen’s run daily from Tokyo, then buses service the mountain with the trip up the mountain taking around 1 hour and 25 minutes. Alternatively you can drive from Tokyo in 5 hours.
Food: (8/10): There is no village in Shiga Kogen, accommodation is provided by three large hotels with various restaurants, which have very nice Japanese food available.

Review: Par’s Powder Paradise, Hokkaido, Japan

Following our popular post, ‘CAT skiing at Iwanai, Hokkaido’, we are pleased to bring you a review of an alternative CAT skiing option, also based in Hokkaido.
CAT skiing is becoming increasingly popular in Hokkaido, especially in the Niseko area, where more and more people are looking for new and exciting adventures, free from the hustle and bustle of the main resort area. Par Powder Paradise (PPP) tours operates out of Niseko and has been in operation for 6 years. Unlike other CAT skiing operations, PPP don’t use tracked over-snow vehicles. Riders are instead towed up the hill behind a small snowmobile, with the skiiers and boarders trawling behind water ski style. Want to read more? Click here!

Iwanai, Hokkaido – Cat Skiing

With untracked powder becoming more difficult to find (especially inbounds), many of us are being forced to seek out untracked lines beyond resort boundaries. For those of us with little to no experience skiing in the back-country, arranging your first adventure can be daunting, even foolhardy – especially if you are ill prepared, or unaware of the risks.  Hiring a guide under these circumstances is recommended.
On a recent tour to Hokkaido, Japan, Snowriders WA discovered a fantastic option for those wanting to experience deep powder for the first time.  It is a safe an easy option and no trekking is required.  All runs are accessed via over-snow transport, a ‘cat’.  For an honest account of our experience, read on…

Iwanai cat skiing – the experience

February 2013.  We are at Iwanai, a small seaside and now disused ski resort about 45 min drive north-east of Niseko United, Hokkaido. Our hosts for the day are the crew from NOASC, a cat-skiing adventure tour group based in Hirafu, Niseko. The group caters for small groups (max 9) of intermediate to advanced skiers. Tours leave Hirafu in the morning and return late afternoon. Powder skis (the ‘fattest’ you can find) are a must and can be hired from NOASC, or you can bring your own (along with a snorkel).
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Caption: Clare from Melbourne, Australia, ecstatic after her first run
The great thing about Iwanai is that is now a largely abandoned ski field.  While one of the lifts was operating for school children at the bottom of the resort, none of the upper lifts were running, leaving 95% of the resort untracked.   What was once a series of intermediate ‘groomers’, is now a powder highway, 3-4 lanes wide with no trees, crevices or any great risk of avalanche.  This made for superb easy skiing, irrespective of ability level.
Our group consisted of three skiiers and one snowboarder, ranging from intermediate to advanced / expert level.  No one in our group experienced any great difficulty on the day, and everyone enjoyed the experience. For first time powder skiiers, the relative freedom to make wider turns (at slower speeds) was really comforting, and free from the intimidation that comes with skiing steeper terrain in the back-country.  The most troublesome aspect of the day was extracting ourselves from the near 70 cm of powder snow after a tumble.  Luckily our guides were always on hand to help.
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Caption: The author (Perth) in serious need of a snorkel

Options for more advanced riders

Tours can be customised to suit all levels of skier from intermediate to advanced.  On our visit, for example, some of our groups were able to sample some of the more difficult terrain.  The somewhat terrifying aspect of this, our last run for the day, was we were required to ski a derelict lift line. The most worrisome part, as pointed out by our guides, were the steel support cables stretching-at a 45 degree angle-from the top of the lift towers to the base of the ski run (some 4-5m under the snow!). These were clearly a ‘decapitation’ risk, and we were all advised to ski with caution, and stay with our guides.  With a delicious mix of fear and excitement, we pushed on.
We dropped in tentatively, first traversing and then emerging at the top (and slightly left) of the old lift line.  From here, we looked over the most delectable selection of lines. Fear dissipated as we dropped in, this time bouncing gently from one pillow of snow, to the next, across and into the next line. The feeling of weightlessness through those few turns is difficult to describe in words.  Although relatively short, the 10-15 turns I made were easily the best of my life and their were several ‘involuntary and very audible ‘whoops”, as we descended. The steel cables were safely negotiated thanks to our helpful guides who rode ahead and warned us of the cable locations, allowing us to glide past without any real concern or risk (despite my suspenseful introduction :-)).
The images below were captured on the main pistes.

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Caption: Paul (POS), Melbourne, Victoria, carves his snowboard through some of Iwanai’s finest

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Caption: one of our American friends, also on the tour

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Caption: The author (Perth, WA) emerging from the waste deep albeit for just a second

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Caption: Corey, Melbourne, Australia, knee to waste deep.

Other details

NOAC cat-skiing runs from Late December to early March. As the name suggest, access to the top of the mountain is via snow-cat (actually a converted Kassbohrer). Distant zoo-cart-memories (ala retro Hotham style) came flooding back as we climbed the ladder (always fun in ski boots) and sat in the open air in a series of bench seats.

 

Safety

The tour was run impeccably well. The guides were professional and highly safety conscious. All tour participants received avalanche beacons (and training). Guides stayed with the group at all times, and were ready to assist when the most innocuous stack resulted in almost complete under-snow burial. The biggest risk to tour participants was lack of fitness. Deep powder is hard work, and despite only skiing 6 runs for the day (3 before lunch and 3 after), we were all well and truly stuffed.Our  advice for those contemplating the tour is make sure you (a) ski/board at at least strong intermediate level and (b) have several days of on-snow conditioning prior to tackling it – especially after heavy snow falls.

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Caption: our chariot for the day.

Food

Costs for the day include lunch – a fantastic all you can eat Japanese buffet: Traditional ramens, several types of protein and rice (with ice-cream for dessert). Like the majority of Japanese food in the region, everything was delicious.

 

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Gulmarg – a powder paradise in the most unlikely of places

The resort

Gulmarg resort is situated in the far northern reaches of India, immediately east of the Pakistani border. Interestingly, it lies in the disputed territory of Kashmir, an area over which India and Pakistan have fought three wars, the latest in 1999. However, with the skirmishes now over (for now), Kashmir is once again quiet….

Gulmarg literally means “Meadow of Flowers”, named for the lush greenery, flowers, fruit and nut orchards that are scattered throughout the highlands during the warmer months. During the snowy season, those visiting Gulmarg for the first time will be immediately struck by its size. You’ll also be struck by its altitude. Maxing out at close to 4,000m (the highest lifted point), the resort opens up to stupefying amounts of vertical; some of the bowls off the summit, for example, have a straight 1,200 metres of thigh-destroying vertical descent (refer to Powderhounds website)….

According to Powderhounds, ‘the amount of Gulmarg ski terrain is virtually unlimited and includes alpine bowls, chutes, cornices, glade skiing amongst ancient pines, and glacier skiing without the glacier(!). That’s not to mention the epic ski journeys down to some of the local shrines and villages which add a whole new dimension to the terrain”.

The charm of Gulmarg lies in the fact that the riding terrain and the ski resort itself remains relatively undeveloped and is therefore serene, lacking the après ski facilities, bars, shops, restaurants and tourist sites that define many Western resorts. Gulmarg is some of nature’s best work – take a few steps away from the hotel and you will soon be lost in an endless white landscape where it will feel like you are the only person around….lost in an eerie white calm, where the silence is almost certainly deafening.

You’ll need an experienced guide

Gulmarg while beautiful, is not for the faint hearted. The terrain is deceptively difficult, some of the exits are complex and avalanches are common. An experienced guide is highly recommended even for very experienced riders. There are many different guides available in Gulmarg and they include Australians, Americans, British, New Zealanders and local Kashmiris. Most offer a variety of packages which in addition to guiding services tend to include all local transfers, accommodation, and most meals.

K-Line

Australian company, K-Line, is a boutique adventure travel company focusing on ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ type skiing and boarding adventures. K-Line has been running quality specialist tours out of Gulmarg since 2009. K-line is run by a professional and highly trained team and only employ highly experienced guides. They have a safety record that is second-to-none and will take you some of the most mind-blowing secret locations on the mountain.

K-Line is a great choice because they keep tour numbers to a minimum making for an intimate experience, but more importantly, a small guide to skiier ratio – which in turn improves safety. As a testament to its impeccable safety practices, K-Line recently established K-Rescue, Gulmarg’s only comprehensive search & rescue service. K-Line is also working with local authorities to secure a decree which will give the area national Park status, thus securing its ecological values for future generations.

Accommodation

K-Line has been in Kashmir since 2008 and in that time has sampled most of the accommodation in the area. Gulmarg has a range of accommodation options ranging from luxury 5 star hotels to more modestly appointed backpacker style accommodation, with 3 and 4 start options in between. K-Line has done the hard work for you and narrowed the options down to a sub-set consisting of the Khyber (5 star), Heevan (4 star) and Alpine Ridge (3 star) hotels, all of which provide direct ski access to the Gondola from the front door.

For more information on Gulmarg, feel free to contact us at shiello72@gmail.com

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