International (Europe/Japan/NZ/Aus) Tohoku (Japan) - 2020 Trip Report

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Feb 9th – Shizukuishi Technique Day
After 3 days of continuous skiing (which was really fun!) my back was feeling in need of a rest so I had to take another day off. The guys weren’t feeling super energetic so they went out with Jeremy on the boards and worked on some technique.

Feb 10th – Geto Kogen
After a day of rest, I thought I was feeling pretty good again and we decided to hit the road and drive the 1.5 hours south to Geto Kogen. This is a mid-sized (for Tohoku) resort with 2 gondolas, 3 lifts and 14 runs. They have an active policy towards inbounds tree-skiing with several different tree runs and also backcountry access gates. The weather reports were calling for about 8cm’s of new snow but the GK Facebook page was reporting about 30cm’s of fresh. Sweet.

It’s a pretty easy drive (though long) on the express toll way. We arrived just after 9am and it was bluebird with hardly anyone on the slopes. That was a lot different to the last time we had been there, back in 2019. It was the weekend and it was very crowded. Mid-week was very different and we could only see a couple of people coming down the runs. We bought 4-hour tickets for about $35 and kitted up. Then we headed to the gondola which takes you to the top.

We headed out to the right and straight to one of the large tree runs called Shooter. It was untouched and knee deep. This was looking like being an excellent day! We found a nice treed ridgeline and took at down to an obvious traverse line out to the right. There were some bumps in there and a felt a bit of a twinge in my back when I hit one but all good though, I could keep going. We took the run out and made it onto the groomer and then headed back down to the gondola. We loaded up (skis have to come inside) and went back up for another.

Shooter still had plenty of untouched snow in it but we were on a mission to ski as much terrain as possible. Next up we headed to the other side of the ski area to go do a run down through another tree run called Beech. This was a lot tighter with the brush and harder to pick a clean line. It was definitely starting to warm up and the snow was getting heavier. I could feel my back getting sorer. The skiing was still nice but by about half-way down, my back was spasming and I could barely move. Grrrrr! That same muscle that had been seizing on me in my back gave out again.

I could barely move. The focus then was getting out safely and I could still bare some weight on my left leg, so I had to sideslip on my left side as much as possible. Grant took my pack for me (cheers mate) and I was able to ski out. That was my day over unfortunately. Dave was done too, after nearly a month of riding he was likely getting a little tired. He very nicely took my gear back to the van, thank you for that Dave. I found an onsen (in the resort) and went for a soak. That helped a lot and I could move again. We had some lunch together and hit the road by about 1:30pm. We were back by 3pm and I had a lie down and then a stretching session. I didn’t go to dinner that night and just took it as easy as possible.

Feb 11th – injured
I needed to take a day off from skiing but I was feeling a lot better than the day before, thankfully even though the muscle kept giving out, at least it would relax again quickly. No one wanted to ride so we got packed up and checked out of the hotel around 11am. We loaded up the van and made the 1-hour drive to Morioka city, where we would spend the last night in a hotel right next to the train station. We couldn’t check in to the hotel until 2pm, so when dropped our bags off at the hotel and then Jeremy and I dropped off the van. Then we walked across the road to the train station and headed to the JR ticket office to try and purchase our tickets for the next day’s travel to Tokyo.

Thankfully we could purchase our reserved seats the day before and also the NEX (Narita Express) tickets to the airport. It would take about 2 hours to get from Morioka to Tokyo Station and then another hour to get from Tokyo Station to Narita International Airport. All up, the total cost was close to $170 USD, so definitely not cheap! With our outbound travel reservations made, we could all relax a little. Then we had lunch in the underground mall and they had this awesome Gyoza restaurant that was super cheap. For $8, I ordered 12 gyoza, a bowl of plain rice, some karaage (fried chicken) and a bowl of chicken soup. That night, we headed out to Yakinuku (Japanese BBQ) to celebrate Grant’s birthday.

Feb 12th – Travel Back to US
It was our last day in Japan and this would be a big one. We checked out of the hotel at 10am and then walked to the station, dragging our bags with us (there are no baggage carts at train stations). The Tohoku Express train to Tokyo Station departed around 10:50am and we were there early so we could be first in line so we could get our bags onboard easier. Unfortunately, the luggage storage area was almost full (the train came from Aomori) so we had to put the ski bags in the overhead compartments (I don’t like taking up all the room up high but thankfully, most Japanese people using the train are much smarter than us and aren’t traveling with a lot of luggage, so there is normally room up – we didn’t have time to ship our bags either).

The train arrived at Tokyo Station around 1pm and then we had just over an hour to make it to our next ride on the Narita Express to the airport. That’s a non-stop, express service to the airport. It stops at Terminal 2/3 first and then 1, where most international flights go from. Again, luggage space is limited but we made it work. We were there by 3pm and I had 3 hours before my flight back to Denver was departing at 6pm. I was happy to see that I had free entrance to the United Club lounge with my Star Alliance Gold membership so we had a couple of beers and some food, before I had to say goodbye to Eric and Dave.

I had also been lucky enough to book a seat in the brand-new Premium Economy seats (normally I fly Economy Plus) which I’d one totally at random. I believe the class hasn’t officially been rolled out yet and it’s only just been added to some of the 787 Dreamliner’s servicing the Narita/Denver route. I think it was the first time some of the stewards had been on this plane as they didn’t know how the seats work. It’s a nice idea in concept (the seats are bigger with a larger TV screen in front and are in the 2-3-3 configuration) but there’s still not much extra legroom. When the seat in front came all the way back, my knees were jammed into the back of the seat. I certainly wouldn’t pay the extra $$’s to choose this seat again as I don’t get anymore comfort than the regular Economy Plus seats. Anyway, first world problems….

It was a pretty easy 10.5-hour flight. I watched several movies and stayed awake the whole time. I was pretty tired when I got back to Denver, but was very happy to finally be home. It had been an interesting time (almost 1 month) in Japan. All the time off through injury had been frustrating, but I’d had some great powder days to make up for it. Seeing low-tide conditions in Hokkaido was interesting, seeing how different it could be was eye-opening, but given how bad the conditions allegedly were (some people said it was the worst season for 60 years), our groups still skied powder and untouched lines almost every day.

Thankfully Tohoku really delivered the goods and we found a deeper base and more consistent snow there. I wished I had been able to ski more, but all in all, even though it was a poor season in Japan, we’d still had a great time. Hokkaido was great but Tohoku was even better. We’d found more new places to visit and have a better plan for our 2021 Tohoku program. Visiting Hakodate had been fun too plus taking the Shinkansen (Bullet train) under the ocean was great to tick off as well. The food was awesome as always and we met many friendly local people too. Bring on 2021!

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Japanese BBQ time!


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Great views of Mt. Iwate on the way to Geto Kogen. You can see Iwate Kogen in the middle and then Amahari Onsen to the left.

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Solid Majesty Skis representation at Geto Kogen.


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Lost in translation. I have no idea on what this poster means.



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Heading out towards the Beech tree run area.


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My untouched line in Beech.


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$8 for all of this at Morioka Station


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The view from my hotel window in Morika. Mt. Iwate in the middle and then Shizukuishi ski area (where we had been staying) to the left.


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Close up of Shizukuishi. The peak to the right is another abandoned part of the ski area and that is where they run the cat skiing.


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The Tohoku Shinakansen


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View from our platform as we wait for the train.


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This train has two sections; the green train and then this red train pulled up.


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That's the baggage storage compartment at the front of the cabin. Thankfully our ski bags fit in the overhead storage bins too.


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Tokyo view (Tokyo Tower) on the way to Narita from Tokyo Station.

- Matt
 
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My 2-week self-quarantine officially ends today. I'm happy to report no sickness of any kind after returning from our 2.5 hour trip to Munich on the 11th. That's nice to know but doesn't change anything; there's a shelter in place order in Denver and I have no desire to start getting out and about. I'd rather stay away from people and reduce my risk of getting the virus. So the self-quarantine will continue.

It's been shocking (and pretty frightening) seeing this pandemic take over the world. So much has changed in the last 2 weeks and I know much more is to come. Many countries are just seeing the start of the virus and it's grip on the US continues to take hold. It is what it is. I'm doing my best to not add to the statistics, I hope others are doing the same too.

In the meantime, I'll watch the news and try and stay informed. I'll come back to Facebook from time-to-time, but I think I will still keep limiting my time on social media as the time away has honestly done me some good.
I still have a ton of video to edit and post from Japan that I'd like to share, hopefully that can be a nice positive distraction for someone. Even though this was only filmed back at the start of February, it feels like an absolute world away.

So, we start with some skiing in Aomori Springs back on February 2nd. Aomori has quickly become one of our favorite resorts in Tohoku and has the best trees (in terms of spacing and ease of access) that I have found so far in Japan. This season we got shut down from hiking up higher to get the full run, but the lift-accessible trees at the side of the trail are great and they are no effort to get into at all.

I remember this was on the weekend (Sunday) and we still found untracked lines in the trees, right next to the chairlift, at mid-day. We were blown away. The coverage was better than we thought it would be given that Aomori Springs was only calling for about a 65cm base. There seems to be less bamboo up higher, so the trees ski better even with less snow. There was only a bit of brush sticking out and the skiing was great.
Unfortunately the weather didn't co-operate and the thunder and lightening, plus high winds, moved in on the Monday and shut us down from skinning. Still, this first day was awesome.


- Matt
 
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Continuing our adventures in Tohoku, Japow! Here's a run at the new resort we visited on the 6th February. This resort was an awesome find, only a 40 minute drive from our base and no other Westerners skiing there. We had heard that a group of Westerners had been there the day before, so we thought that it might have been pretty tracked up.

We were wrong, fresh lines were plentiful and easy to find. This first run is from a quick "hike," or about a 3 minute side-step and traverse. It was well worth it. The sun came out and the trees were majestic. I'll post a couple more video from this resort in the next couple of days. Thanks to MAJESTY SKIS America, Ridge Merino, BAIST Gloves, Xevo Optics, Glide Nano, Carv.


Hope everyone is well and staying safe. Stay strong people!

- Matt
 
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A couple more runs from the resort we found near Hachimantai on the 6th February. The first run was out of the resort and down to a road with an easy skate back to the resort. The turns at the top were great in an open field and then down into some tighter trees that were mellower.

The second run was a quick inbounds run that was pretty tracked but the snow was still nice. It's nice to ski an open face like that at a resort in Tohoku, there's not too many pitches like that that you can find easily.

That was it for this new resort. We'd had a great day skiing plenty of untouched laps with no one else to compete with for freshies. We'll definitely be hitting this resort up next winter. You roll the dice and sometimes it pays off. It definitely did in this case. Thanks to MAJESTY SKIS America, BAIST Gloves, Glide Nano, Ridge Merino, Xevo Optics, Carv.


- Matt
 
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Time for another escape from reality and more turns from Japan..... this time, we are in Shizukuishi, our last stop in Tohoku and we are quite far south in Iwate Prefecture. We had 5 nights in Shizukuishi and we have ski in ski out access. Shizukuishi is a great resort and hardly has any Westerners there. It's very easy to find untouched snow. I missed a few days due to my back playing up again, but by the Friday, I was jonesing for some more pow.

This video was from the 7th February. It was only forecast to snow a few centimeters overnight so my expectations were low. As is often the case, forecasted amounts often don't come true, in a good way. We found untouched, boot-top powder in the trees and we had many quality laps to ourselves as we were the only group skiing the trees. Around noon, a group of Kiwi's turned up and we had to compete with 3 more people for freshies. Tough day......

These first couple of runs are just runs in the trees, next to the ski runs. It seems like Shizukuishi has relaxed it's rules about skiing in the trees. This year we saw warning signs about going into the trees but the signs said go in at your own risk and you are responsible for self-rescue. Fine by us. We came out of the trees after one run, right in front of a ski patroller and he was totally fine. Looks like Shizukuishi got even better.

Thanks to MAJESTY SKIS America, BAIST Gloves, Xevo Optics, Ridge Merino, Glide Nano, Carv


Stay safe everyone.....

- Matt
 
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Finally somewhat settled at the new place in Granby. Still lot's of cleaning to be done and plenty of things need to be moved around. The internet is on now. It is a massive relief to be living away from the city. A lot of that stress is now gone. To be able to look out at the mountains everyday is a very comforting and calming sight. We feel very lucky to be here.

We are still in isolation apart from a trip to the grocery store every once in a while. The snow is starting to melt and then we should be able to mountain bike more and go for hikes. I'll start up fishing again this week just to get out of the house. Skiing is over for the season for me.

I had a little bit more time to put together some more footage from the Tohoku - Japan trip from back in February. That seems like such a long time ago and a different world away. Who knows what the seasons will bring, I have no idea if we will be heading down to South America this summer. If next winter's trips go ahead, then all should be well.

Until then, here's some more footage from the Shizukuishi resort on the 7th February. We'd been skiing inbounds tree runs next to the runs, all day and then in the afternoon, we took a couple of runs outside of the ski area. I had a little disagreement with a small sapling towards the end of the run, but other than that, another quality run.

Thanks as always to MAJESTY SKIS America, BAIST Gloves, Ridge Merino, Xevo Optics, Glide Nano and Carv for the generous support. I hope everyone reading this is staying safe and well. All the best for the future!


- Matt
 

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Thanks. I just found this thread and it has provided a nice distraction.

Glad you got to experience all of it before reality set in. Stay healthy, safe and sane.
 
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More video from Japan, only a few more clips to go. On Saturday the 8th February we visited Tazawako ski resort. This was a new resort for us, a bit of a drive from Shizukuishi but quite a scenic one (Lake Tazawako was really pretty). It was the weekend and it was quite busy, but again we only saw a handful of Westerners.

We went straight to the top of the mountain and up to the top double chair. They were only just opening the runs up top so there was plenty of powder so we did a quick lap close to the lift. A lot of people were doing the same and it got tracked up petty quickly. Then we did a few runs in the trees next to the lifts.

The trees up high were challenging. In places there would be some nice corridors (still pretty tight) but they wouldn't last long and you'd get stuck. We tried a few different stands of trees up high and found the same thing. Nothing was roped and people were skiing everywhere, at least the ski patrol weren't concerned about that and there was no ropes or signage to indicate that tree skiing wasn't allowed. We'd just have to keep looking..... Thanks as always to MAJESTY SKIS America, BAIST Gloves, Ridge Merino, Xevo Optics, Glide Nano, Carv.


- Matt
 
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Last video from Tazawako on February 8th.... I was getting a little despondent that all the trees we were finding up high, were pretty tight and inconsistent. The snow was nice, but spacing and length of run was not great. So we decided to poke around down lower. Off the side of a ridge, we found these great trees. It took us a couple of goes to find the optimal place to drop in, but once we found it, we had a nice section of open and consistent trees.

The entrance was somewhat hidden by tight-looking trees, but once you were in there, then you had plenty of room. Grant took some nice photos of Dave and I skiing (see earlier in the blog). Getting out was pretty easy too, just a quick little traverse, some ducking and weaving and one or two sidesteps and then we were back to the main runs. That definitely changed the nature of the skiing at Tazawako. This was more like it.

I would definitely go there again, but not on a weekend as it was quite busy. We also need to skin up higher and get into the alpine zone as that is where I think the best skiing is. If we'd have had the visibility (the cloud level was just above the trees and obscuring the alpine zone) then we'd have gone up there for sure. That's where the really good stuff is. Lake Tazawako on it's own, was worth the drive as the scenary was awesome and you had all the cultural elements with the shrine and the golden statue. So, until 2020 (hopefully), we'll need to do more exploring. One last video coming up!


- Matt
 
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February 10th, skiing at Geto Kogen resort. This was my last day of skiing and frustratingly my back only lasted 2 runs. That was the end of the skiing for me for Japan 2020...... We'd skied Geto Kogen the previous season. I'd spent most of my time in the backcountry outside of the resort. They had gates that you could legally leave the resort, which was nice. I was hoping we could get there again, but first we wanted to explore more of the inbounds gladed runs.

The Geto has several nice areas, all over the mountain, for legal tree skiing. Last time we were there it had been the weekend and this time it was mid-week and it was considerably quieter. Geto Kogen is in a zone that seems to get a lot of snow, more than resorts to the north. It is low in elevation (max about 3,500ft) and the vertical is about 1,400ft, but they do get a lot of snow. They had probably the deepest snowpack out of all the Iwate resorts.

Aspect is predominantly east-facing, so the snow can change quickly if it warms up. We definitely noticed that this day as it was quite sunny. The forecast had only called for 8cm's of new snow but when we got there it was 30cm's plus. The skiing was going to be good. We did our first run through Shooter, one of the glades and found boot-top deep untouched snow there. That was a nice surprise. It was still a little bushy in places and there are lots of creek beds, so it made for challenging skiing, but it was a lot of fun.

Then we headed further over to the skier's left into the Stream tree area. The snow was definitely getting heavier. Towards the bottom of that run, my back started to go out on me and I ended up having to take my pack off and slowly sideslip out. That was really frustrating as I wanted to keep skiing and exploring. Thankfully they have a hotel and an onsen back at the base area and I went for a medicinal soak and that really helped loosen me up. I could walk again. The crew skied for a little while longer and then we met up back in the restaurant. That was it for me. On to Morioka the next day and back to the US on the 12th.

Thanks to MAJESTY SKIS America, Ridge Merino, BAIST Gloves, Xevo Optics, Glide Nano, Carv.



Ironically, those turned out to be pretty much the last turns of the 2020 season for me. I skied half a day at Granby Ranch in late Feb and then got ready to go to Georgia, only to be shut down. I haven't skied since. It would be great to be able to ski again this summer, down in Chile, but I'm definitely not optimistic about then. Hopefully we can all resume skiing and boarding again in 2020/21. That would be awesome. All the best everyone and thanks for following this thread.

- Matt
 
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Some interesting news out of Japan today..... in response to Japan's massive decline in tourism in the last couple of months, the Japanese government is looking at a scheme to help encourage future tourism by subsidizing travel to the country to the tune of $12.5 billion, starting in July. That could be a big bonus for foreign skiers heading to Japan next winter..... if travel is allowed.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/21/national/foreign-travelers-japan-decline-record-low-just-2900-april/#.Xsh8JMBMFPb

- Matt
 

dbostedo

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Some interesting news out of Japan today..... in response to Japan's massive decline in tourism in the last couple of months, the Japanese government is looking at a scheme to help encourage future tourism by subsidizing travel to the country to the tune of $12.5 billion, starting in July. That could be a big bonus for foreign skiers heading to Japan next winter..... if travel is allowed.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/21/national/foreign-travelers-japan-decline-record-low-just-2900-april/#.Xsh8JMBMFPb

- Matt
Huh... airfare in January is well under $1000 now too.
 
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Huh... airfare in January is well under $1000 now too.
Yes, just looked them up, I'm seeing $770 return with Delta, Denver to Tokyo Narita in January...... that's pretty low. Hope the season does manage to go ahead.
 

Jim McDonald

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Great TR as always, Matt. I'll have to check out that secret place next season, looks like fun and the hotel there seems pretty ok with a nice onsen.
 
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