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Last week, I attended the Niseko Village Avalanche Control Operation Area Education Program for Mizuno no Sawa.

 

The program starts with a 20 minute safety lecture and then a educational tour through the Avalance Control Area in Mizuno no Sawa. The total length of the session is about one hour. Yu no Sawa and Haru no Taki remain strictly off limits. There are 2 lectures, one at 10 am with registration starting at 9:30 am, and one at 1 pm, with registration starting at 12:30 pm. The program is limited to advanced/expert skiers and snowboarders only.

 

Although the entire program is conducted in Japanese, there is an excellent English translation which actually contains more information than the PowerPoint presentation slides. At any time, if the person attending the lecture feels that he or she is not up to participating, they are free to drop out.

 

Each particpant is given a numbered bib, and is required to ski with the ski patrol guides. In the first group, there were about 5 skiers and 2 snowboarders.

 

The first time, we skied directly under the gondola off the knoll on skier's left. It was fantastic. We got knee to thigh deep powder on almost every run. The patroller led and stopped in a safe area, and then we were free to choose our own line and stop in the safe area. The patroller and first two skiers went straight down the fall line, but I chose to go towards skier's left near the gondola towers, getting deep powder that sprayed off my chest. Wow.

 

The ski patrol guides are there to point out the dangers of the area as well as to show what measures they are doing to make the area safer, such as ski cutting and compacting of the layers, i.e. avalanche prevention. They also showed areas people were killed in avalanches, and the reason why the slides occurred. While skiing, they gave us guidance on where to ski and what to avoid and why.

 

At the bottom of Mizuno no Sawa, we gave back the numbered bibs and got our completion cards.

 

Repeat particpants are not required to attend the safety lecture, but 2 morning particpants and myself arrived to the afternoon session at 1 pm to hear the lecture anyway and sign the required release form. Then we were divided into two groups, one for the first time attendees and our repeat group of 3 skiers and 2 guides, led by Sato-san, a professional skier/patroller, and Mr. Motomura of the Avalanche Control Team.

 

The afternoon proved more exciting. We went off the top of the knoll to skier's right. Due to the deep snow (chest high), I tumbled over and lost a ski.

 

Getting up, I noticed that one of the skiers in front of me had taken off his skis and was kneeling by a small tree. His partner had fallen into a crevasse!!! The guides worked to get the skier out. The crack was about 2 or 3 meters deep, and the skier was buried face up. Luckily, the skier was not injured, but lost the lens from the goggles, but they were equipped with a spare pair of goggles (as well as shovel, probe, beacon, etc. in their backpacks).

 

One additional lesson that we learned that day was to ski the backcountry without putting the pole straps over your wrists, or to use breakaway straps such as those on Leki poles. The crevasse was difficult to see, and once trapped, with pole straps, you would not be able to move your arms at all.

 

The next day, I knew that the session was going to be even more epic than the runs of the previous day. The mountain had gottan about a foot/30 cm. of fresh powder. I arrived at 10 am. There were two Japanese skiers from the previous day's morning session. We left without having to listen to the lecture. As we were going out the door, two foreigners arrived, just in time to sign the form, get their bibs and join us.

 

Mr. Motomura led the group with a patroller "Ginga-man" in back. While Motomura-san gave the explanations in Japanese, he asked me to interpret to the two Swedish skiers. First, we stopped on the knoll to look at the menacing crevasse. Then, we had a great time while switching up the order so that everyone could get fresh tracks. On one run, we were not only getting face shots on every turn, the one woman skier had snow flying over her head!

 

In summary, it was a great program, and I hope that more people take advantage of it. Since I was staying in Annupuri, I only found out about it after seeing a flyer in Niseko Village, and that was after 2 days of the upper mountain being closed, so I would not have been able to ski over to the patrol hut where the lecture room was. Also, after talking to another foreigner attending the lecture, it was difficult to obtain information in English when calling the number for ski patrol on the ski map.

 

Anyone else who has attended the program, please feel free to post more comments or additional details.

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Thanks for the feedback everyone!

 

On the first day, I did not even bring a camera and of course that morning it was spectacular and clear. Then on the second day, I took a few snapshots, but it was cloudy and low visibility. You know how it can be bright and sunny one minute and then cloudy and dark the next minute in Niseko.

 

Hope to get a few pics uploaded soon, maybe tomorrow.

 

BTW, almost ALL of the foreigners had beacons, most had full avy gear including probe, shovel, etc.

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Realy interesting read Dyna, thanks.

 

Were you required to demonstrate your ability level or did they just take you on face value? Also, why are the number of participants so low? I would thought people would be queing up for a go at something a bit different.

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The discussion of whether to carry gear inbounds or not is probably a separate topic for the avy forum. It really is a personal choice, especially considering that if your ski/board buddy does not have it, then what is the point?

 

Having said that, I was the only foreigner without backpack, beacon, probe. Only safety equipment was a whistle.

 

For the program, they do not expect for the participants to have any avy equipment. They also are not going to take you into any potentially dangerous areas which have not undergone avalanche control.

 

That being said, the best piece of equipment to use is that thing between your ears...

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Rag-Doll,

 

They took all comers, but there was some pretty decent expert terrain that we covered. Probably the weakest people in my group on the first day were the two female snowboarders, but they were advanced.

 

Actually, I was really surprised that there were not more participants. The first day that I went, I arrived at 9 am, expecting a packed program.

 

The patroller grinned and told me to come back after 9:30 am, and that it would not be a problem to attend.

 

I attribute that to lack of publicity, since they only have posters in the Niseko Village area. If they had posters in Hirafu, I am sure that there would be many more particpants. (I stayed on the Annupuri side and did not see many venturing into the backcountry via the gates, even the easy Ee no Sawa G7 gate, a huge difference from when I stayed on the Hirafu/Hanazono side.)

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I think they are purposely trying to keep it low key. This is the first season they've opened it and they want to ensure it's incident free as permission to open the area could very easily be taken away.

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Agreed, but the more people that participate in the program means that there are that many more educated skiers and snowboarders out there, and potentially less rope duckers.

 

By having good numbers in the program, it also signals that the public wants this area to be opened, whether by gates or the education system.

 

I have skied Niseko for the last 10+ years and am very happy to have been able to ski this area this time around. We had fresh, deep pow every time. Just think, your own personal playground, only 15-30 people per day are experiencing this.

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Originally Posted By: dyna8800
Soft Landings,

If you were there on Sunday morning, I was the guy passing out the chocolate before we left.

How did you like it?


I did the Sunday afternoon session...missed the choclate unfortunately.

Did you come back on monday morning, there was someone who came back to look for a lost ski in that session...was that you?
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Here are the pics. Enjoy!

 

dyna8800_2.JPG

 

Patroller Ginga-man

 

dyna8800_3.JPG

 

Motomura-san shows us the crevasse.

 

dyna8800_4.JPG

 

Hard to see from this photo, but the crack was about 2-3 meters deep.

 

dyna8800_5.JPG

 

Motomura-san gives some educational safety information and points out the hazards.

 

dyna8800_6.JPG

 

Powder, powder, and powder!

 

dyna8800_7.JPG

 

Our group, led by Motomura-san, the Swede (10) and couple from Tokyo (9) and (8), Ginga-man in the back.

 

dyna8800_8.JPG

 

Photo with the tall Swede (11)

 

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