Pīku & paudā

February 25, 2023: it was with quite some trepidation that I boarded my ANA flight to Japan. After three years of closed borders I was not sure what bureaucratic hurdles I would have to face upon arrival. I shouldn’t have worried. The vaccination checks and immigration procedures at Haneda airport/Tokyo were easy as always. What politeness! I arrived at Hokkaido’s Chitose airport after more than a day’s travel in the middle of night, my luggage complete, with skis hand-delivered by white-gloved porters. Hiro Ishizaka, my Japanese guide and travel companion for two decades, was waiting in front of the airport with his old Toyota nine-seater, engine running. The temperature was minus 24C, the roads were all snow covered and it silently rained confetti of thick, plump snowflakes. “Change of plans,” Hiro announced. “No ferry tonight. We stay here on Hokkaido. I just came from Furano. They have the best snow I have seen in years.” Off we went, driving three hours through the wintery night. We checked in at Dormy Hotel in Furano City at 5am. I tried to restore myself after 36 hours of travel: a quick plunge in the hotel’s hot bath on the ninth floor, showering, shaving and then getting my gear ready. Two hours later – it was still dark outside – we were on the road again to Tokachi Dake, a sulphur-belching volcano 25km north-east of Furano. It proved to be a short skiing day. We set off through snow-steeped forests, climbing on our skins to the flanks of the volcano. There was a lone track of two skiers ahead of us. We soon overtook them, hiking under a cobalt sky, with shreds of white cloud racing over the ridges. After two hours fog started to obscure the ridges, soon engulfing us completely. There was still enough visibility to ski safely to a lone ski hut, which was buried… Continue Reading