Pg. 092 Hokkaido Cats

Cat ski­ing on an­other level

Chill Factor - - Introduction - By Adam Kroe­nart Pho­tos by Boen Fer­gu­son

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.

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