Pg. 092 Hokkaido Cats
Cat skiing on another level
These days Niseko is tracked out by 11am, but there are still plenty of options for a day of deep pow with no one around
Trying to tell the difference between Nattō and Tuna Mayonnaise sushi triangles at seven in the morning can be a dangerous game, but there is no better place to meet for a big day of backcountry cat skiing than at a local Japanese convenience store. While stocking up on snacks to keep us going for the day, the next challenge is convincing ourselves that early morning is not the time for fried chicken.
Skiing in a resort can get pretty crazy sometimes, so we jumped in the minivan excited to escape the hustle and bustle of Niseko and find some empty powder-filled terrain. Half an hour later we arrived at a small shed off a side road and met our driver, Lincoln. At first sight I would have put my money on Lincoln being an ex-Russian soldier who had seen hand-to-hand combat, furry hat and all. Just as well I am not a gambling man as Lincoln is an Australian, albeit one who might scare you if you met him in dark alley at night. But put him in control of a snow cat and you quickly feel that he can handle anything, and knows how to get you to the best zones.
Lincoln dug his 1985 Sno-Cat out of the snow and started her up. “Strap your skis on good, I’m not stopping.”
“Yes, Sir.” We all made do with the weather-affected elastics that were tied onto the cat, and jumped in. Lincoln is as close to a local at Niseko as an Aussie bloke can be, living there year-round. While we were in awe of the snow that just kept on coming, he was telling us that in summer the cat track we were on is a massive river where he regularly goes kayaking. We bashed through the snow for another half hour before we arrived at our first zone of the day. The snow was so deep around the cat that we could hardly reach our skis to get them out of the rack. Yep, this was going to be one of those day of days.
The day had been organised by Oyuki Gloves, and with us was one of their local Japanese team riders – Yohei Sasaki. Yohei is one of those people you hear of when talking to friends about their trips OS. One of those locals who just absolutely sends it off anything. When Yohei scoped out one feature from the top, the group of us at the bottom thought he would roll off and hit the pillow line. But no. He said, “Yeah, I think I will just go over the trees,” and of course he went to
the moon. Skiing with people like Yohei is one of the reasons I love this sport so much. You’ve never heard of them before but then you go out and ski with them and send it like the guys in the movies. When you find people who love skiing and the mountains as much as someone like Yohei does, it’s pretty amazing. There are so many hidden gems in a sport like ours, there are so many different categories under the one roof of skiing, it is truly yours to interpret as you like.
The next five hours were full of endless pillow lines and bottomless powder, and we agreed we had all never been more excited to ski. It was a day where we 100 per cent experienced what Japan powder can deliver.
Yes, heading to Hokkaido for the northern winter may seem stereotypical, but you really cannot beat it. If you are going to spend the money on heading overseas in search of deep snow, or as the Japanese say it, Oyuki (big snow), your gamble on Japan gives you the best odds possible. The Japanese culture is almost as good as the skiing, and you get to experience so much more out of your holiday.
That’s why I keep heading back there. I can never justify going anywhere else.
The combination of deep soft snow and natural takeoffs allowed Harrison Mcinnes plenty of airtime.
Adam Kroenart takes another face shot as he drops into a steeper zone.