After spending the whole winter last year ticking off routes in the Niseko Range for the Niseko Backcountry map (buy on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.jp), this year I was really looking forward to spending much more time in the Daisetsuzan Range.
On the list were the Biei peaks – Biei-dake and Biei-fuji.
Tim had mentioned a huge Biei-dake and Biei-fuji link-up he’d done later last season, and we were keen to see it in more pow-like conditions. Along with us was Gavin, visiting from the UK.
We rolled up to the trailhead at the leisurely hour of 8am. Already, the end of the snow clearing was packed with cars. We drove up a side road and found a spot off to the side of the road where my long van would be more out of the way. We got geared up and set off.
Lucky for us, there was at least one other party ahead of us. They’d broken a nice trail along the flat road, which made progress at this early stage quick for us.
That party veered off the road much earlier than we had planned, so after about 500m, we had to start breaking trail ourselves.
It was deep. Good deep. Light, fresh snow.
It didn’t take long for us to find the summer trailhead. From there, we headed to the edge of the Karasawa Right Ridge (Ugan-one) and followed our noses through the gargantuan old karamatsu pine trees.
As we climbed, clearings in the woods became more frequent, allowing us glimpses of the alpine areas up ahead.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast was so far living up to its promises. Ahead in the distance, Biei-fuji’s peak was shrouded in cloud.
We’d been tentatively hopeful that we might be able to get most of the way to the peak. But it seemed that was unlikely today. Tim was, however, still hopeful that we might be able to check out a steep gully he’d hoped to ski, about half way up the peak.
As we moved above the treeline, however, the surface conditions were starting to show signs of the high winds of the preceding few days. In places, we could feel hard-pack scoured snow under a deep layer of new snow.
Soon we had to make a decision. Would we push on into the wind-scoured alpine, or ski some top-shelf powder into the gully to our right.
Considering we were still in mid-winter, it seemed a waste to spend time traipsing up ice when pow laps were beckoning us. So we decided to keep low and ski the gully.
Safety first though. Tim dug a pit so that we could at least have a sample of one to give us an idea of what the snowpack was doing.
The pit gave evidence of a very nicely right way up snow pack.
We ripped skins and dropped from the 1300m mark on the ridge down into the gully.
It wasn’t perfect. Airy, bottomless pow, about hip-deep, was sitting ever so daintily on wind-scoured sastrugi. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I headed further to the skier’s right -down the gully. I was hoping that even just a little loss in elevation might rid us of the concrete below the surface.
This paid off. Now we were really skiing bottomless pow, with just the right resistance as we jumped into our turns.
The only feasible way out of the gully was to climb back up the slope we’d just skied down. That set us a perfect skin track, so clearly at least one more lap was on the cards.
This time we started ever so slightly further down the ridge, and it was sublime from the very top to the very bottom.
With the uptrack set from the previous lap, getting back to the ridge was a piece of cake the second time around.
Time was getting on, however, so we forewent a third lap and started our ski back to the van.
The snow was so deep that it wasn’t possible to ski the super mellow ridge on anything but the skin track. So we hurtled down the uptrack squeezing as much speed as we could out of it until we hit the flat snowed-in road.
From there it was about 1km of poling and we were done.
This is such a remote-feeling area of the Tokachi Range. One day is certainly not enough. I’ll be back for sure.