Tak­ing Flight

THE BACK­COUN­TRY TER­RAIN NEAR RUSUTSU IS ES­PE­CIALLY INVIT­ING WHEN A HE­LI­COPTER IS IN­VOLVED.

SKI - - CLINIC -

Look­ing up from the Rusutsu Ho­tel and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter to­wards the West Moun­tain on a clear day, it’s easy for a skier’s vi­sion to be pulled to­wards the wide, clean chutes spilling from the sum­mit of Mt. Shiri­betsu. Lack­ing vis­i­ble ski tracks, the un­touched avalanche paths are ex­actly what skiers imag­ine ski­ing in Ja­pan is like, and it’s hard to be­lieve they are right there in front of you.

Ac­cess­ing the ter­rain from the ski area is off-lim­its, but the lines vis­i­ble from the ho­tel—as well as a num­ber of runs that wrap around all of Mt. Shiri­betsu—are ac­ces­si­ble via a heli-ski­ing op­er­a­tion. Thanks to an agree­ment with the Hokkaido Back­coun­try Club, Rusutsu of­fers day­long heli trips that in­clude six runs on Shiri­betsu’s per­fect aprons and glades, which are caked in pow­der for most of the win­ter. The day also in­cludes ren­tal avy gear, lunch, and trans­porta­tion from Niseko if you’re stay­ing there, all for 160,000 Ja­panese yen, which is roughly equal to $1,400 USD.

Con­sid­er­ing the 2,000- to 2,500-ver­ti­cal-feet runs con­sist of per­fectly spaced trees and wide-open paths of vir­gin pow­der, it’s hard to be­lieve that Rusutsu’s heli op­er­a­tion isn’t the most sought-af­ter ex­pe­ri­ence for skiers on Hokkaido. If you have the means, it’s an ab­so­lute must.

Char­lie Cohn in the he­li­op­er­ated ter­rain out­side of Rusutsu’s ski area bound­aries.

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