Trip Report

Looking for Powder at Haruka-yama

Posted on Jan 27, 2019
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Posted on Jan 27, 2019

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Reading time: 5 min

“Nothing here is within our comfort zones,” said Grant, an otherwise experienced skier and farmer from New Zealand’s north island. He was talking to his brother-in-law Luke, an equally experienced snowboarder from Wellington. I’d invited them up to Ginreiso Hut on Haruka-yama, just out of Sapporo City, as their very first sojourn into the Hokkaido backcountry. Straight off the plane from New Zealand the night before, it was a baptism of fire (or should that be powder?), both culturally and physically.

Also along for the trip was none other than Dominika Gan herself (Instagram), the graphic design genius artist behind the look, feel, layout, color-scheme, logo, and graphics of the Hokkaido Wilds. She had worked hard to convince her partner and friends to come to Hokkaido too, despite Poland’s “best snowfall in decades” (their words). This group of five Polish skiers included some associated with the Polish freeride magazine Pure Powder, such as Piotr, pictured in the featured image on this post. Before coming on this Haruka-yama trip, they’d already been skiing for a week near Kiroro, driving and staying in a DoCamper campervan. I asked if they regretted leaving Poland for Hokkaido. “No way!” exclaimed Piotr. “This is next level!”

Also on the trip was Rick, and Ian Meggit. Ian and I have exchanged messages on multiple occasions when he has been here in Hokkaido for ski trips, and finally, the stars aligned for him to join us on a trip.

Backing up less than 12 hours prior to the Haruka-yama trip, Luke and Grant were just getting off the plane at New Chitose Airport after a more than 15 hour journey from New Zealand. They hardly skipped a beat earlier in the week at the prospect of tramping up to a hut for 3 hours with skis and/or boards on their backs, very soon after getting to Hokkaido. The reality on the ground seemed no less daunting – they were still up for the challenge.

At the trailhead I asked Grant if he’d ever put snowshoes on before. “Uh, no,” he said.

“Where’s your poles?” I asked Luke, the snowboarder. “I don’t have any poles. Do I need them?” he replied.

Green would be an understatement, I thought. But still, if you’re going to be thrown in the deep end in terms of experiencing a good solid Hokkaido powder hike, Haruka-yama is a good place to do it. Indeed, Haruka-yama was my first ever backcountry ski trip way back in 2012 (I made a film about it). 

On the trail, however, Luke and Grant held their own against the more backcountry-experienced others. It was a relatively warm start to the hike, with everyone shedding layers. Personally, this was my 5th time to the Ginreiso Hut, so the route up was more familiar than it has ever been. These Sapporo hills are starting to feel more and more like my ‘back yard’.

The 2.5 hours or so to the hut passed quickly. The hutkeeper greeted us in with his usual great fanfare, making sure that we all had the snow well scrubbed off our packs, boots, skis, and clothes. “The hut is old, and when snow melts into the floor, it can rot the wood,” he explained.

We only stopped at the hut for enough time to get our sleeping bags lined up in the rooms, and to have a quick coffee or tea. We were then out again for two laps of the upper slope behind the hut from the top of the Haruka-yama summit. We were glad we did – the snow was the best I’ve seen up there. A moderately deep layer of light powder snow covered a good base. Even then, however, the hut keeper mentioned to me afterwards at the hut “I’ve not been up to the summit this season yet. The snow hasn’t been good enough to bother.” I guess when you live in snow as good as that all day every day, your standards change!

On the menu that night was the normal hut fare – Japanese hotpot nabe. We had two types on this trip: a quasi-vegetarian kimchi-nabe (kimchi has a small amount of krill extract in it) and a shabu-shabu inspired pork nabe. Both went down very well after the climb up to the hut plus the two laps we did from the hut to the summit and back.

The next day we were surprised to wake to about 20cm of fresh snow. After a very quick breakfast of either bread snacks or, in the case of the Polish crew, delicious-looking freeze-dried breakfast meals from Poland, we dragged ourselves out of the warm, safe confines of the hut and into the land of fresh tracks.

With such benign weather and keen companions, Rick and I both set personal records in terms of how many laps we’ve done of the upper slope in one visit to Haruka-yama. “That’s 6 laps in total,” beamed Rick. Szymon even got some time to launch his drone for some aerial shots…we’ll be watching his Instagram very closely to see what he comes up with.

As always, it was tough to leave the warmth of the Ginreiso Hut after an apres-ski second breakfast, but at around 11:30am, it was time to leave the hutkeeper in peace. Further demonstrating his heart of gold, he offered to grab a snap of us all in front of the hut. A perfect accent to another perfect night in the hut in the hills which Ian aptly called “the ginger-bread house”.

Postscript: Luke and Grant are now shredding the resorts of Hokkaido for a week!

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