Saturday, March 29, 2014

Distances are not always that small in Europe: From Geneva to Tromsø

This winter snowchasing season wasn’t like any previous one.
My girlfriend having a training period that was supposed to start in march in Grenoble, I ended up working way more than any winter in the past 9 years...

We were welcome by some friends in France from where we started to shop around for car, apartment and to sort things out to settle down.

French administration is certainly not the most straight forward and some administrative paper work delay the start of my girlfriend training period. Since I had already planned to leave to go to Norway with one of my friend with our common car, we figured she would be better to join us rather than to stay and cry on the couch!

As north americans, I've always figure that everything is close in Europe...
Well Tromsø was about 4000km from Grenoble.
Since Etienne didn't want to join for the full car ride from France, I settled down for a plan that would need to pick him up half way up in Stockholm (that’s about 2000km from Grenoble). We eventually struggled to find a car that suited us and finally bought one only 2 days before the agreed date that I was supposed to pick him up!

After a bit of maintenance and regular check up, I started to build a bed in the car.
Not being the most talented carpenter, it took me a little longer to make everything works out! As I was working on it, Amelie went grocery shopping and pack most of the stuff.
We eventually took off at 9Pm only 18 hours before Etienne was supposed to land.
We took turn at the wheel to drive non-stop.
Germany went by pretty fast. With most of the highway not having any speed limit, we certainly enjoyed settling the cruise control at 140km/h! Driving at night is pretty neat since we were able to see quite in advance the Porsches and Mercedes that were coming at 200km/h!
We were thinking about maybe jumping on a ferry to save some driving in Denmark, but the timing wasn’t right and we ended up driving through it...
Even if stopped only twice in 18 hours, we kept getting delayed by detours, accidents and traffic jam.
We made it to Sweden about the same time as Etienne was landing but we were still about 600km from Stockholm... We tried to get some wifi on the way to let him know that we would be late but since we didn’t want to waist to much time looking around, we left him not knowing what was happening with us!
When we eventually rolled to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, he was a pretty happy camper! He was starting to try to look for a cheap hotel (which are nearly non-existent) after his most expensive spaghetti ever at the airport restaurant!
We got him to a not so much expensive room at the back of the car and keep driving since we were nothing but close from our final destination.
I’ve always hated the second night of a non-stop roadtrip. Everyone was a bit tired (Etienne was jetlag and Amelie and I haven’t properly slept in 24 hours). We took shorter lap driving and tried to only have one driving at a time to keep the driver entertained.
Everything got easier when the sun eventually rose.
Good thing since the highway changed to a more twisting road that started to ice up.

I’m quite use to big open wilderness so, I can’t really say that I was that excited about the northern scenery we passed...
Of course we saw a few reindeers here and there, some frozen lake and some snowy hills, but we just kept driving since we were all stoke to get to our final destination!
We eventually rolled in Tromsø around 5-6PM after a grueling 45 hours marathon!
From what we saw on the side of the road, it looks like we got here just after a warm period that triggered a lot of natural wet slide activity...
After all that driving, I can’t wait to ride the fjords!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Niseko, Hokkaido's busiest resort, for a great ending

It was kind of a problem to find some cheap accomodation in Niseko, so we slept one more night in Otaru and drove in the morning.

We left the uncrowded mom and pops ski hill to the always fairly buzy Niseko.
I kinda have a lof/hate relationship with Hokkaido’s (if not Japan’s) buziest ski resort. It is quite packed, most of the time with Australians or other westerners, it is more expensive, you don’t really get close to the japanese culture, the place is growing and growing and getting more western at every of my visit. 
On the other hand, I’ve had only a handfull of not-really-awesome-day here, so it is hard not to come back. It would have also been quite a shame for my sister not to ski it on her first trip on Hokkaido.

Niseko’s backcountry gates haven’t been open for a few days the morning we showed up. With some high wind forecast high up, we weren’t too sure that they would open either. We made it to Annapuri’s main lift (as fare as possible from the too buzy Niseko Hirafu) and lucky enough the gates open just as we got there!
After the usual high traverse to the backbowl passing most skiers without any avy gear, we were quickly rewarded with some countless faceshots. After a few runs where I was to hype to take any picture, I finally took the time to take it out to gather a few memories.
Everyone was carving deep turns on the way down and leaving a high powderly smoke cloud on their tails.
We just kept lapping furiously the backbowl moving always a bit further and always hitting great snow.
Problem with the backbowl is that it seems that australians (main crowd here) haven’t quite understant the concept of ski-down-the-fall-line. That leave some pretty nice openings totally fucked by some stupid traverse. I guess the mountain there don’t run from top to bottom, but from right to left...
Unfortunately, they eventually close the top gate... We then started to ride the resort. The weather even eventually cleared up a bit at the end of the day.
With just little more snow overnight, we debated for some times if it would not be a best idea to hit Niseko Moiwa the following day. This resort, since it is not part of Niseko United (Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Niseko Hirafu), is never really crowded.

Heads or tail finally settled back for Niseko Annupuri.
.... and it was another great day
.... and we had countless faceshots
.... and it was awesome!!!
I could certainly use more days like this during a season!!

We got back to our room that we found through Yoshi (brandzuki (at) hotmail (dot) com, -the guy who rented us the car). Located at the top of a staff accomodation building, it was quite a good deal. We were able to cook our own and the room was confortable enough. I haven't been able to convince my dad to sleep in the car, but he wasn't hard to settle down for non-state-of-the-art-accomodation.
We woke up to a clear blue sky! So we decided.... to go back to Annupuri.   
Annupuri is probably the best place resort to hit the backbowl. You don’t have to wait as much as Niseko Hirafu and you can access the backbowl with an Annupuri only lift ticket (You need a more expensive Niseko United lift ticket to ride the backbowls from Niseko Village). The downside of Annupuri is that the terrain is not as nice as Niseko Village if the backbowls don’t open.
After a mandatory lap down the backbowl, we saw some tracks that were coming from Hirafu. After a nice short hike with Mt Yotei in the background, we made it to the top of the run. 
Thanks to the habits of skiers following others, we were able to find a great opening that was kept untouched and that was waiting for us.
We couldn’t really have ask to a better way to end our trip.

Great pow,
Great weather,
Great memories!
I just can highly recommend to try it to see it for yourself! I will certainly find a way to surprise you!
See you next time Japan!