Our next destination was the Daisetsuzan National Park (another link)and the Ryounkaku Onsen. (Some info on Onsen generally). Ryounkaku is located at the end of a road up into the mountains that are the center of the Park. We were told it is the highest point in Japan that is accessible by car. At 2267.64 square kilometers, Daisetsuzan is the largest national park in Japan. The name means Great Snowy Mountain(s), and is a very apt description. There are 15 peaks over 2000 meters that, in summer, offer some of the most rugged hiking in Japan. The Ainu name for Daisetsuzan, kamui-mintara, translates to "playground of the gods".
After a five hour van ride there, we awoke the next day to more snow and wind. Basically you are in a simple but comfortable lodge at the end of the road and can hike or skin up to whatever you want to ski. No lifts, no patrol, no ropes, no boundaries. The snow pack is quite consistent as the temperature stays low and real sunny days are few and far between. What they do get is continuous light snow and a lot of it. The storms roll off of Siberia and cross the sea of Japan, picking up more moisture. It is almost like a giant lake effect. The main driver for any avalanche activity is wind and wind loading.
On our first morning there, it had been quite windy the night before and there was a pretty good wind slab and some deposition of snow in lee areas. We skied directly from the lodge that day. It is definitely cool to walk out the front door and put your gear on. We hit the main skin track and did one big lap to the top of the more northerly area. We had to stay below the tree line as visibility that day was an issue. The snow up high was deep, but definitely wind affected. Good skiing, but definitely back country conditions. After one big lap, several of our party peeled off at the start finish zone. Only Ross, MJ, Toshi and I went back up for another go. The intent was really just to get some more exercise, but we managed to find some better snow. Some good powder turns, but definitely harsh conditions (i.e. strong wind, snow and wind affected surface).
Based on this, I don't have too many pictures from this day, but here they are:
First morning we woke up to these views out of our two windows. The first is looking straight west or down:
This second one is looking north. We skied mostly to the northwest of Ryounkaku.
On our first lap we had some decent snow, but it was relatively aggressive snow and weather, so I didn't get many shots. Here are some of our tracks though and hopefully you can see the snow depth. Remember to click the pictures for much larger views. This also gives a good idea of the terrain. Pretty gradual pitch through nicely spaced trees and deep snow. Just super fun skiing.After our group split up, only Toshi, Ross, MJ and I took the second lap. At the end of the day you emerge at a trail head across the road from "The Baden" Onsen. This looks like it would be another nice place to stay and has almost better proximity to the main skiinning/sking area. My three companions at day's end:
Smiles all around. Toshi is a Hokkaido native, and Certified Canadian Mountain Guide, and a really great dude generally. He is also one of the strongest, smoothest tele skiers I have ever had the privilege to ski with. He is also very heavily involved with the TAJ. All that and his English is perfect, which is super handy for us tourists
You then get ski lift Ryounkaku style. You call up to Ryounkakau and they send down the dump truck. You all load in the back and ride back to the top for onsen and dinner.Finally, after dinner, a couple of Classics and a hot soak, it is bedtime. Our room at Ryounkaku:
Dont' know what it means, but I think I agree.