The forecast for the day called for blustery conditions towards midday from the northwest. Given that sort of forecast, it wasn’t likely we’d get far into the alpine today. The avalanche bulletin had us a little spooked too, calling for elevated risk of slab avalanches on southern aspects – the suncrust from a few weeks back was still causing issues in some places in the greater Niseko region.
Given all that, Greg and I opted for a bit of a stab at the lower western reaches of Niseko Annupuri. It was a zone we’d both not skied before, but it had long been on my radar. In my mind, it was often relegated to the To-Do pile, as the western face of Niseko Annuuri had always come across as a rather wind-swept face. Its reputation was for crusty scoured slopes.
In reality, though, such a reputation is misguided. While spurs and ridgelines are regularly pummelled by high winds, there are terrain features that hold the snow well. We put our sights on two such features and set off from the parking area.
It was a dull, flat sort of a day. At the carpark, however, there was hardly a breath of wind. Given the forecast for a stiff northwester, I wasn’t confident it would stay that way as we climbed higher, but it felt good nonetheless to stretch the legs.
We followed the well-trodden skin-track northeast along Route 58 for about 50m before veering off into deep snow to start the climb up the west face of Niseko Annupuri. And it was deep. Along the short flat section, we chatted, but as the gradient steepened, we saved our breath for the climb.
We pushed on without a break right to just below the lower southwestern ridge of Niseko Annupuri. It was windy up here. And we weren’t even on the ridge proper. It was clear we wouldn’t be climbing higher today. It was a laps day, so there was no need for any heroics. Visibility came and went.
At around 1050m, we arrived at a small thicket of shrubs near the ridge, and decided to call the climb good. We ripped skins and prepared for the descent. It was so cold and windy up there, that we both just skied to about half way down the slope. There, I carried on down to the flatlands and got the camera and long lens ready to capture some shots of Gregs descent. As always, the powder didn’t stand a chance with the man. A short but quality 100m vertical descent.
Better yet, for just a moment, mother nature turned on the lights, with the spotlight firmly on Greg.
We quickly donned the skins again for a climb back up the skintrack. On the way the first time, we’d noticed some surface windslab forming, so we opted to only go half as high on the return. By now the wind had picked up even more. Pea soup was incoming.
We ripped skins this time at around 1000m, and this time we just hoofed it all the to the carpark.
Somewhere along the way we lost our own skin track and ended up on someone else’s. This led us a bit further down Route 58 than we intended. We contemplated struggling along the flat above the road to get back to the end of the snow clearing. In the end, we just shimmied down the 2m high snow wall to the road below.
All in a day’s work in Niseko, the land of continuous, unabated, endless snow.