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  1. Appi Kogen, Iwate Visited Appi Kogen for the first time. Late March, following a snowfall; the weather changed during our stay from from winter to pure spring conditions. The ski area is mostly arrayed around the peak of Maemoriyama. The main base area is at the bottom of the Central Gelaende, with the Sailer Gelaende to looker's left of that, and the Second Gelaende to the left of Sailer. To looker's right of the Central Gelaende is a single lift going up the adjacent Nishimoriyama. One feature of this ski area is a skier-only zone between the Central Gelaende and the Nishimori Gelaende. A skier-only T-bar and chair lift serve a couple of skier-only trails. The first day we just had the afternoon on-hill, after a 6-hour drive, so just tried to get the lay of the land. Up the gondola to the top, and down the easy Yamabato course to the bottom. The Nishimori lift, reachable from that course, was running, but we didn't go up it. Also parallel to the main gondola are a series of chair lifts. The runs grow gradually steeper from the bottom to the top, maxing out in the low 30s degrees at the top. The next day, The Kid wanted to take lessons all day, which gave me a chance to roam a bit more freely. I started off by heading over the Second Gelaende side from the top, and worked my around. Up top, some powder was still being blown around in the wind in the morning. Over on the Second Gelaende side was some sun-softened corduroy runs, and a soft-snow mogul run. Off the bottom of the mogul run is a closed run with new trees growing in it, that used to lead down to what seems to be an abandoned lift at the bottom, in an area that must have originally been planned to be a major secondary base area. Now the only lift running on this side of the mountain is a quad running from above the abandoned bunny slope, to 2/3 of the way up the Second Gelaende side. Did a couple laps of the mogul run and subsequent corduroy, then decided to head over the the Sailer area, taking the lower renraku course over. Only to discover that the Sailer gondola was not running! Nor were any of the other chairs in that area except for the mid-mountain pair lift, a very slow romance lift. Riding that lift up, I decided to head back to the Central area, and explore in the other direction. The Nishimori lift was closed that day due to mechanical problems, so I decided to check out the skier-only areas. Taking the main gondola back to the top of the mountain, the drop-in to that area is the top of the Ootaka course, a hard-mogul course with wind-blown powder drifts. Quite nice, actually. Then over to the skier-only Kitsutsuki and Kakkou courses, which start at the top of the T-bar. To be honest, I couldn't see what was so special about them, except that they still had fresh corduroy patches mid-afternoon. The more notable feature of the skier-only areas is the T-bar. I hadn't ridden a T-bar in probably 40 years. Natsukashii! In addition to the t-bar, there is also a Poma lift, though it was not running while were there. Who the heck runs T-bars and Poma lifts in this day and age?? Actually, I have to admit that the T-bar became one of my favorite lifts later, giving access to the upper reaches of the Ootaka course when the upper chair lift (Chair 4 of the Central area) was closed. (Though of course I could only ride it when my snowboarding kid was not in tow.) Near the end of the day I dropped back into the Sailer side to try the steepest course on the mountain, the 34-degree mogul course. Hard-frozen, bulletproof, huge ice moguls in the top part of the course. I would say my favorite mogul course that day was upper Ootaka, followed by the Second side course, with the Sailer course following in distant third. On the bright side, at the bottom of the Sailer ice-mogul bahn was a corduroy runout, almost untouched still at 3:00 in the afternoon. Not many people running that course that day, it would seem. The third day was warm and windy. So windy that the top of the mountain was never accessible. The kid wanted to practice boarding lessons from the previous day, so we mostly looped on the #3 chair lift on the Central side, serving the intermediate section of the Hayabusa and Ootaka courses. We did try to visit the Sailer side once via the Sailer renraku lift, and immediately regretted going to lower elevations where the snow quickly turned to glue. The order of the day was to stay as high as possible on the mountain as possible to avoid the glue-like lower conditions. Unfortunately, around lunch time the #3 chair lift was closed due to wind, so we were driven to the base area for lunch. Long lunch, and the kid decided to save what could be saved of the day by taking a 1-hour beginner's park lesson, which started at 2:00. At which time also the rain started... but the kid was determined to go through with it. So, off I went to loop the t-bar for the next hour, while the kid studied guratori. Fortunately, the rain only lasted about 15 minutes, and by the time the kid's lesson was over, the #3 chair was open again, so we finished out the day by looping that chair again. It was getting pretty windy up there again, and I almost felt that they should have shut that lift, but were keeping it running out of sympathy for those of us who had stuck through the day. The fourth day was warm again, but there was no wind, and all lifts were running. Perfect spring conditions in the upper half of the mountain, impassable glue on the lower half of the mountain. Fortunately, by this time, the kid was feeling confident enough to hit the topmost Hayabusa course (30 degrees), so we spent most of the day looping the topmost, #4 lift to the peak. Good soft, but not slushy, spring skiing conditions up there. At one point I broke away to hit the Nishimori lift, since it was finally running and accessible. Unfortunately the snow in the lower half of the Nishomori Gelaende was sticky glue... but I could see that on a powder day this slope would have nice terrain and on-course treed areas. We also tried going down the Sailer side, intending to ride the Sailer gondola back up, but the snow started turning to glue halfway down, so we abandoned that plan and took the Sailer quad back to the top. Following that, we looped the top couple of chairs on the Central side until our legs gave out, then hit the road for the 6-hour drive home. Impressions: It is a big, conical, bubble-era resort, with a large, well-connected area. Not the most imaginative of layouts, to be honest, but enough there to keep one amused for a few days. In winter, when it is all in good condition, it should be a great place to go touring around. In the less-than-ideal spring conditions while we were there, I did notice that they seem to work pretty hard to keep as much of the terrain going as possible. We (almost) always found some good bits to hit even on the challenging-weather days. I should add that I was quite happy with the progress my kid made as a result of snowboarding lessons there, as of course was the kid. The instructors seem to be pretty good there. One other thing I noticed: foreigners! I saw at least one or two other foreigners each day were were there. First day was a family from Misawa air base. The second day some ALTs from Aomori. The third day a couple of guys from I don't know where, and the 4th day a nice couple from Melbourne. Niseko it may not be, but seeing other foreigners apparently there as a matter of course (even if only a couple per day) was kind of a novel experience. Even had one of the resort staff try to speak English to me. We stayed at Pension Mutti while there, a very nice pension run by a former ski instructor who apparently also spent some time in Austria. Importantly for us, it is pet-friendly – dogs are even welcome to accompany their families in the dining hall. At the end of our stay, our dog was given a custom “Mutti” dog biscuit as an edible souvenir. From top looking towards Nishimori slope: Second Gelaende side, looking down mogul course to permanently-closed course:
  2. Finally got a backup date on going to Hakkoda, which is this Friday. I'm going with a local friend who skis and has been to Hakkoda a few times. Beyond telling me to "dress warm" he didn't include any other gear that may be required. I'm under the impression that I need to have an avi beacon with me when I go out, but I don't remember where I read that. I think they rent them at the base but want to know what to expect before hand. In a perfect world, I'd bring snowshoes and poles among other gear, but I don't think I can get them last minute, and we aren't going to do any off piste my first day there. Was looking for some insight from others who have been there to know what to expect. He's timed this trip in line with watching the weather forecasts, but you know how mountains can surprise you in the end.
  3. Finally getting around to putting a seasonal trip report out for me and Kamafuseyama. I'll putting up daily reports (as I go) and visits to the surrounding area. Lets get things started with a freshly minted review! ----------------------------------------------- Kamafuseyama Ski Resort The most northern ski slope in Honshu, Mount Kamafuse is a minimalistic ski resort that doesn’t warrant a special pilgrimage to visit, but if you are local to the area, it can become an excellent daily escape from the business of life. View from sea level Lodge walking up from Parking Lot #2 Kamafuse is considered a family resort for the people of Mutsu but offers little in the ways of accomidation that you’d expect from larger resorts. Despite it’s small size, there are several chatlets for overnight stays and a few restaurants at base level to include a cafeteria in the lodge. Ski rentals are available across from the ticket office. There are 5 parking lots staircased in the mountain on the road up, but the most I’ve ever seen full was the first two (furthest up) There is also parking available in front of the tennis court that is not in use during the winter. Across from the second parking lot (again second from the top, and are numbered as such) there is a childrens sledding area. I have not explored this area in great depth because it is seperate from the rest of the mountain and I have no children but every day I go there is a good crowd of mothers and their children with plastic sleds. There is also what seems to be a seperate lodge beside it to rest, eat and use the bathroom. After a short or long hike up (depending how far down you parked) you’ll find the ticket office on the left side of the road as a separate building from the lodge, but right next to it. A sign is to the right of the ticket office with prices and a map of the mountain. Hiking up to the ticket office (seen on the left with red roof) Many options are available, more than I have seen at other resorts. A 1 time ticket,, 2, 4 and 8 hour tickets are all available as well as a season pass of course. Map of Mountain The main lodge, called センターハウス (Center House) by the vinyls on the window faces the mountain and surprisingly offers everything except a water fountain. There is seating for 120 people as well as vending machines, lockers, bathrooms, changing rooms, and a fire place, which I have yet to see in use. The cafeteria is currently not in use this season according to a sign, but a frozen food vending machine was set in place in lieu of, offering gyoza, rice and a few other decently filling foods for about 300Y. Once making a choice, it spits it into the microwave and heats it up for you. Itadakimasu! View from inside the lodge In front of the lodge proper are racks for your gear and on a busy day they will be completely full and you may have to stick them in the snow along the fence. Gear Rack Once you’re ready to head up, the first lift (Technically the second lift according to the map) is about 20m from the equipment racks and sports a nifty automatic gate and conveyor that is slightly awkward to get used to. Bottom Lift (Not the yellow restaurant in the background) When you’re cleared to enter, the arms open and you slide down and onto the treadmill. It’ll run you forward until the next lift scoops you up. The lift takes about 7 minutes to reach the top and offers a good preview of the first slopes layout Video of first lift ride http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtreaqlPHMQ On the far right, a snow park can be seen, although it leaves much to be desired. Sporting two box rails and two kickers, it manages to give those park rats a taste without traveling too far from home. First Box Rail Back of first box Approaching Jump Back of first jump On the left closest to the lifts you’ll catch the chatlets and the old decomissioned ski jump. Would that it was still in use! A 40m ramp and huge landing pad, but it has vines and rust growing all over it and a big do not enter sign on it. At the top of the first lift (Second) the, second lift (first) is a short 20m away and will take you to the top of the mountain. While the bottom lift, is a two seater, the top lift is a precarious one seat lift. If you brave the climb, its another 7 minutes until exit. If you have a long snowboard, be sure to pay attention to the lift posts as my 166cm came precariously close to hitting one. View from first lift Right side course (Groomed) Left Side Course (Powder) Second/Top Lift As you go up, you’ll have a great view of the other two courses. The one to the left and closes to the lift remains ungroomed for the length of the season due to the natural contours of the mountain. This side I tend to call the powder side due to the great accumulation it gets. If you go down to far, you’ll miss the cut through to hit the lift again, but I have seen some skiers shoot to the bottom and trek back up. If you’re a snowboarder, I wouldn't risk it., and just be sure to dart over when you need to. Video of Second Lift Ride http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvni-nrgcYg The right side course remains groomed and I would consider it the most difficult course based on the angle of the slope. You can stick to the side near the trees (going down the slope on the left) or dip into the bowl which is not groomed. Both come together at the bottom where you can hop back on the top lift or ride the rest of the way down the mountain. At the exit of the top lift, there is no ramp, only a flat platform, so you need to be sure to get out of the way before the seat takes you out. There is plenty of room for a few people to strap in, then go down the shoot that puts you on the slope. The chute has little room for error, so you need to be careful or you’ll fall off the slope and it’s a pain to get yourself back over. Strapping in at the Top Lift Exit The best part of the entire resort in my opinion is the amazing view of Mutsu Bay. Because of the location (this is a southern facing slope) you get a beautiful scene of the bay and the "axe handle" of Shimokita. On a good clear day you can make out the wind turbines of Mutsu Yokohama as well as Cape Shiriyazaki. Tsugaru Strait is barely visible and I think I can see the shadow of Hokkaido as well. More often than not you'll be looking at the bay or will have it in your eyeline on the ride down. While not the same as a big mountain range, it's very relaxing and unique to the area View from the top-Mutsu City on the Left View from the top- Ominato Self Defense Harbor The beginner slope, or main slope is very wide and there are many contours and ways down and even on a busy day it’s incredibly spacious, short of at the top where people mingle. I've been visiting Kamafuse since opening week and although the weather across Japan hasn’t been great this winter, the base cover has been good and enjoy spending a few hours every other day here. If you ever find yourself this far north in mainland Japan (highly unlikely!) and visit Shimokita Penninsula in the winter, then Kamafuse is a great (and the only!) snow resort to enjoy.
  4. Hi there We are thinking of going to some places in Tohoku next season and one idea is to split the skiing/boarding time between Zao and Appi and Shizukuishi. Anyone done that kind of combination before? Sounds like a good plan? Ta! Jay
  5. Hey Snow Japan community! Hope you all can help me spread the word on a project we have started to help raise funds to send a Sendai orphan to university. We have met with Masaya (the young man) and the orphanage director several times, and I must say Masaya is a GREAT kid and has so much potential. If you can please take a look at our Scholarship proposal below and PLEASE pass it along to anyone who may be able to help us! We could definitely use all the help we can get Much love, Paul (akitapow) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi my name is Paul Yoo, Co-founder of volunteerAKITA and The Fruit Tree Project (www.volunteerakita.org). Along with our on-going activities, we are also involved in the “Smiles & Dreams:Tohoku Kids Project” led by Living Dreams/SmileKidsJapan. Right now, we are working as Home Communication Managers (HCMs) to two orphanages in the Sendai area. Our role is to act as contacts for the orphanages, and relay any needs they may have. What we need right now: A boy, in his 3rd year of high school (his final year), at one of the orphanages we are in contact with, has become the first orphan there to ever express interest in going to college. He wants to attend Yamaguchi Hukushi Bunka Daigaku (University of Human Welfare and Culture) and study hoiku ka (child care). It is a four year program and the university will cover tuition for the first 2 years of the program, along with 50% of the 3rd and 4th years. Our goal is to raise¥1,154,000 which includes ¥970,000 in tuition costs for the 3rd and 4th years, along with an ¥184,000 mandatory insurance cost over 4 years. We are currently accepting donations for the scholarship fund we have set up. After collecting the sufficient funds, we will then transfer the money to an account that will be handled by the orphanage. We welcome any grants, scholarships, or personal donations to get this young man to college, and most importantly doing it without leaving him in debt after he finishes school, since in most cases, once an orphan has finished high school, he is on his own. It is truly inspiring that he plans to go to college and is the first from his orphanage to show interest in doing so. Successfully sending him to college would be such an amazing gift, and would inspire other orphans to follow in his footsteps, knowing that they too can receive a college education, and strive to become whatever they want to be in the future. If you have any questions regarding this proposal or can help us out, please contact me. Much Love, Paul Yoo and Minami Ishikawa

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