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As a lucky recipient of one of the Hanazono Powder Guides “First Tracks Backcountry Tour” giveaway, recently offered by Snow Japan, I herewith gratefully submit my review of the experience-


As a bit of preamble to provide some context and a background report on my trip in general, I was boarding with a group of friends in Niseko from February 10th ~ 19th, my second time visiting this region and once again staying in the Niseko Village area of the resort.


We landed on snow mid way through an unusually dry spell which had hit this part of Hokkaido. We experienced some spectacular bluebird days which although quite nice, unfortunately brought only minimal dustings of snow occasionally interrupting the generally clear skies – let’s face it if you want sunshine on your snow holiday then Niseko is probably the last place you would choose to go. This weather meant that the resort conditions were packed snow, with a well developed sun/wind crust formed on the exposed areas, moguls on the ungroomed runs, and any remaining powder amongst the trees fairly well shredded to bits by the lack of any recent fresh top-ups.


By day 4 we had an improvement in the snow situation - the avalanche report stating 20cm of fresh snow overnight at the base, the day brought sunny skies with only moderate wind. This was good, allowing the top lifts to open and although the wind had scoured a lot of the new snow off the exposed areas, there were some deeper pockets to be found in gullies and amongst the trees.


Knowing that my days on snow were limited, and after a taste of a little pow I had to make the call to HPG to book in my guided tour.


Weather watch can sometimes be like a kind of torture - short range forecasts were fairly ambiguous, often contradicting and/or changing their tune with regard to the upcoming conditions. It was clear that there was a low pressure system trying to set up for a decent dump, but just when the storm would hit and for how long the wind would shut down the upper mountain was not clear.

I took a punt and booked the tour for my second last day, crossing fingers and praying to snow gods that the storm would deliver the goods and then the weather would clear up so I would get to score lovely fresh deep powder and access to the peak gates.


Two days before my tour date the storm hit, generating blizzard conditions and delivering 20cm overnight. The strong wind meant that the top lifts closed at all resorts and Niseko Village & Annupuri Gondolas also shut down. Had some good riding down low, with the wind moving so much snow around that there were plenty of fresh tracks found in the more protected areas.


The day before my tour the relentless wind continued to batter the area savagely The blizzard conditions had shut down the top of the mountain once again, winds were strong enough that at both Annupuri and Hanazono only the very lowest lifts were able to open. Visibility was atrocious at times – to be able to go anywhere you really needed a guide dog who grew up on the mountain and also possessed some kind of high-tech sonar/radar gear and a GPS device - the lights came on at 1pm over at Annupuri, but they did absolutely nothing to improve the situation!! Still, the snow was quite good, and I was amping for my tour tomorrow morning.


On the morning of my tour the harsh weather had not abated. I called HPG, and was told that the tour was postponed due to wind closing the top lifts and avalanche hazard shutting all but the lowest gates. I was advised that it would be possible to do a tour in 2 days once the weather cleared, however as I would be flying out by then I asked if I could do the tour in whatever terrain was available in Hanazono on the day – even if that was only Strawberry / Blueberry fields. The tour operator Joe agreed that if I was happy with this, then it could be done – this meant that I was lucky enough to be the only guest going out that day with the guide :D


Joe jumped in his car and picked me up shortly after 7am, stopping to collect my guide Matt on the way over to Hanazono.

Once we arrived at Hanazono I was given a backpack with poles, shovel & avalanche beacon, shown how to switch into search mode and follow a signal should Matt be caught in a slide. Joe stressed that I should only attempt a rescue if it was safe to do so without further endangering myself – if in doubt I was advised to get ski patrol on the scene post-haste !! Although unlikely to be used due to the areas we were able to access, it was nevertheless reassuring to know we had the gear if needed.


Matt & Joe were in constant radio contact with ski patrol and the resort lifties, who updated them on the conditions, lifts and gates opening situation. The first tracks tour allows you to ride the lifts from as early as 7:30am, an hour before the general public - giving guaranteed freshies with no crowds competing for the goodness!!


With another 30cm fresh snow overnight to add to the previous 2 days of snowfall I was super pumped to ride whatever was on offer - Hanazono #3 was definitely not going to open due to wind, however they were working on getting Hanazono #2 open shortly which would open up a bit more of the mountain.


We got onto the base lift just before 8am as the staff were still loading chairs and did our first run through Strawberry Fields – It was wind scoured at the top but once we got amongst the trees the snow was fantastic - fresh lines all the way, knee to thigh deep and great powder conditions. Floating on the almost soundless cushion of powder snow after the abrasive noise of the crust on the ridge area was absolute bliss. This is exactly what started my addiction to Hokkaido snow riding – the effortless delight of weightless powder, coupled with experiencing nature - I love being out in the bush and it was particularly sublime to be there with only one other person riding in these conditions. Truly privileged.


Some pics ( with many apologies to all of the good photographers out there ! )


At the entrance to Strawberry Fields:





Upper Strawberry Fields:




Traversing across to find the sweet, sweet pow:




Lower Strawberries - Plenty of freshies !!!!







More superb runs in Strawberries then Blueberries followed, with fresh tracks each time. Once the Hanazono #2 lift opened we headed up for a run out of Gate 9. Immediately out the gate there was a short hike across a forested plateau through thigh to waist deep snow ( initially Matt broke a trail and I tried to follow him on my board using the poles provided – but as the poles were sinking all the way down in the fresh snow I was making slow progress so I elected to unstrap and slog it on foot ) Although somewhat exhausting (Note to self – more training is required for next season!!), the effort was well worth it as Matt had lead us to a drop in point at the start of a great run down a wide open slope of deep powder which resulted in yet more fresh tracks and face-shots-a-plenty before winding our way down through the trees and joining the piste again.


By now there were more punters at the bottom lift line, but Matt kept ahead of the pack by taking us through different tree runs, sometimes traversing further to get fresh lines and we rarely saw another skier. After we had gone through an area once, on the next run he would pull up at the top of a slope, discuss lines, show me our exit point and say “Plenty of room to move, some good deep snow over there – go for it mate” giving me miles of fresh untracked snow.


Although we were in generally mellow terrain due to not having access to the peak gates, it was great to have a guide to lead me through the tree runs, sniff out the best powder and easily find the piste again without hitting any flat spots resulting in unnecessary walking out, or coming upon any of the nasty surprises which can happen if you are in unfamiliar terrain ( EG cliff drops, open creeks or glide cracks ). On one run we pulled up to check out a potential line near the edge of a drop in to find a newly formed cornice which had partially collapsed, Matt who pulled up first spotted it and warned me to stay back, and chose another safer entry point away from the cornice area.


In all it was a great experience, I am very grateful to Snow Japan and Hanazono Powder Guides for giving me the chance to explore the great snow conditions with them.


I will definitely be booking with HPG next year and hoping that the weather co-operates and allows access to the upper mountain!


Thanks again for the awesome prize !!!!!!!!


:sj-lol: :sj-lol: :sj-lol: :sj-lol: :sj-lol:

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No probs Seemore!

My only regret is that I didn't get any decent footage as I left my camera charging the night before while I went out to dinner - but my PC went into sleep mode & it stopped charging up... oh well, there's plenty of good memories for now, will try next year for good footage!!

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Enjoyed the read as well. How steep would you call that terrain in the photos ?

Cheers GVM,


As to the pitch, up the top at the entrance to strawberry fields ( first photo) is fairly flat, then it rolls over into an average of maybe 20 - 25 deg, as you traverse across it gets progressively steeper ( photo 3 )


We came across a couple of spots that were maybe 35 deg at a guess. In places there are short pitches which are quite steep ( for me anyway )


You can get a bit of an idea of the pitch from this photo - using the tree in the foreground as a bit of a point of reference. The steepness & amount of trees in some areas kept me on my toes that's for sure.



The last two photos in my review are at the bottom of Strawberry Fields where it is very mellow ( maybe 10-15 deg ) as you exit the area and rejoin the piste.

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Here is my report for yesterday.


Joe from Hanazono picked me up from the hostel in Hirafu at 7am. There were three other Australian skiers and a couple of Japanese snowboarders in the group. We got to Hanazono and filled in the forms and then were shown how to use the beacons, shovels and probes. We were provided with a good backpack.




I took off with Joe as my guide, whilst the Aussies went with Mark and the two Japanese snowboarders went with a Japanese guide. We went up Hanazono #1 lift at about a quarter to eight and went into Strawberry Fields. At the top it was pretty wind-packed but as we got down the slope it got really nice. I guess we had got about twenty centimeters of fresh snow overnight.


After that, we went down the Legend of Shinya piste, which was well covered but still a bit bumpy. Then down Blueberry Fields and another couple of runs down Strawberry Fields.




The fog was pretty intense so we did not head up to Hanazono #3 lift. You could hardly see anything.

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HPG Giveaway Part 2.


Saturday morning I got picked up at 7am. The wind was blowing really hard and it was snowing as well.



Hirafu at 7am


I got my beacon and had it checked and we headed to the chairlift at about 7:40. The visibility was appalling and the wind was gusting really strongly.



Hanazono #1 Chair


We did a few runs down Strawberry Fields. It was great - about knee deep snow and not too heavy. A few more runs here and there and then we headed up Hano #2 lift and climbed up the hill a bit and down into Gate 9, which was fantastic. Another run to gate 9 via the Swinging Monkey and that was it. Another great morning with HPG. Thank you very much to SnowJapan and Hanazono Powder Guides.



Bottom of Hirafu Gondola.

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  • 4 weeks later...

If I read things right did you get to go on two of the HPG tours Kokodoko?


no just one but i split it into two mornings.. coz the top was closed.. wind, avy danger. etc..

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