Last time I was in Kiroro it didn’t go so well, with my binding breaking. But I was excited by the look of all the back country, so I was keen to get back with some working skis and explore some more. My buddy James works there, at the Kiroro Mountain Club, so I called him up and asked if he was keen to meet up for some back country turns.
“Sure.” He replied, “I’ll be on the clock though, and I’ve already got a guest who’s keen to come along, if you don’t mind.”
That’s fine by me, as I’m always up for skiing with some new people. The bus ticket from Niseko to Kiroro cost 4500 JPY which rounded out my budget for the week. Digging around in my pockets, I managed to locate a few hundred yen, enough to buy some delicious tuna and mayonnaise Onagiri from the local convenience store.
An hour later I arrived at Kiroro resort and made my way to the Mountain Club, which is situated upstairs. The club is operated by the resort and is closely linked with the ski patrol department. To really experience the best of Kiroro, I recommend paying them a visit and signing up. Submitting a free ‘climbing plan’, as they call it, is crucial to be allowed access to the off piste gates. And if you are inclined to spend a little extra, you can also get access to a members only area, which gets substantially less tracked out.
On this particular day, even though I was just going touring with a friend, because he was on the clock, I signed up for the ski touring orientation. This involves being shown around one of Kiroro’s many impressive looking back country zones. Our plan was to venture out into the base area, with a couple of guests in tow, in search of fresh turns. We headed out cautiously, because although it had snowed overnight, the day before had been pretty sketchy, with lots of shooting cracks and fracturing. Unfortunately my Niseko seasons pass is not valid here. So even though the entrance to the skin track is only 100m up the resort, I still had to buy a lift pass. Apparently the resort frowns upon you skinning the 100m, go figure.
The skin track was well established and there were a couple of groups ahead of us. But within about 20 minutes, we had overtaken them. It was now our turn to break trail. It had only snowed about 20cm, so I could still make out the previous days skin tracks. At every gully and ridge we came to, another skin track broke away. It was pretty cool to see how much terrain there was available. We however were headed deeper in, aiming for a nice long ridge, with less exposure and a mellower slope angle to suit the prevailing conditions. The other groups followed behind us, choosing to capitalize on the trail we were breaking for them.
James our group leader, carried a two way radio with him, tuned to the same channel as the ski patrol. The silence I normally enjoy in the back country, was constantly interrupted by the radio chatter. I had been out all the previous day skinning solo, and had had to break trail up to my knees. Consequently today my legs weren’t feeling so crash hot. But I pushed on, up above the group, mostly so I could take photos looking back. As I got to within 20m of the crest of the ridge, the trees thinned out and I began to instantly notice obvious fracturing within a very slight windslab. I decided not to continue, it really wasn’t worth it for one or two more turns. James agreed so we started to transition, as the other two caught up. Wijnand is a ski instructor from Kiroro and was keen to shoot some photos on the way down. Danny was an upbeat guy from the States, who just wanted to smash pow and talk gear, my kinda guy.
We leaped-frogged our way down the ridge, capturing the action on mine and Wijn’s cameras. “If you don’t get a photo of it, did you really get neck deep?” Well, as you can see, we definitely did. It was the second day in row of being rewarded with neck deep turns after putting in the work.
When we reached the bottom we were all high-fiving, huge grins on our faces that we couldn’t wipe off. Transitioning quickly, we were eager for another lap, when we heard, “Shit! I think I might be done lads.”
Danny’s skins weren’t sticking. It seemed like his glue had frozen and he didn’t have any tail clips on his setup making the glue that much more crucial. We pooled our ski straps and attempted to strap the skins on, still hoping for another lap. It was clear after one step that it wasn’t going to work. His day was done. As James was responsible for us, he couldn’t let Danny go back on his own, or let me and Wijn get lost attempting another lap on our own. Disappointing, sure. But it wasn’t really a big deal. As we say in Oz, “no worries, shit happens”. Luckily, the skin track was all down hill so we could get back to the resort pretty easily.
After Wijn and Danny took off, I still had a few hours to kill. So James and I skied a few laps in the resort, out through the gates and onto some steeper pitches which was great.
The Kiroro Mountain club offer some great services, mostly for free, for people who are keen to explore the area some more, and get a taste for the back country. However don’t expect them to take you into really dangerous terrain. If you really want to ski some of the gnarlier lines, such as AK face, I suggest you hire a qualified mountain guide to look after you on the more advanced slopes. Or you could tackle them on your own terms, when you have had appropriate training or gained more experience. What the Kiroro Mountain club do offer, is access to some of the best beginner and intermediate back country I’ve skied to date.
All in all it was a great day, certainly better than my last trip to Kiroro. I can’t wait to get back and explore some more terrain.