Furano Resort (Hokkaido) Review
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Topic: Furano Resort (Hokkaido) Review
Posted: Feb/10/2011 at 8:24pm
Where: Smack bang in the middle of Hokkaido Japan, its pretty easy to access. If youre arriving at New chitose Airport you can find a bus easy. And same at Sapporo JR. I took the bus from Sapporo. Its about 3 hours if i remember right, and theyre pretty regular (theres usually one every hour or so up until 7pm). It cost 2200 yen. The train takes an hour less, but requires a transfer midway, and costs about 1000 yen more. So my advice, just grab the bus unless its really urgent. Plus you get to see the massive buddha statue at ashibetsu :)
When: 9 days from January 27th to February 4th. The HEART of peak snow season.
Who: 4 years riding: love slackcountry, hate exercise.
Cost: Day pass is 4200 yen, but my accommodation (alpine backpackers) sells you a day pass for 3500. You can also get a 4 hour pass for 3000, 3 hours for 2500 and 2 hour for 2000 which is nice. Food as well is pretty damn cheap too by the way.
About the Snow: Yeah, well probably get to that.
Resort Conditions: All open and running. Lifts are great and well planned.
Resort Facilities: Pretty small scale fare at the kitanomine side. Didnt spend much time at the other side, so cant really comment all that much.
Other Info: The resort is very much split in half with a link lift connecting them. The kitanomine side does more of the accommodation options, with the furano side being built around the main hotel. The center of town is about a thirty minute walk from kitanomine or a 1200 yen taxi ride. The town has a few things you might like, but its not the "city" you might have been led to believe.
Shops are scattered about and the shuttle bus system is massively annoying as well as being pretty infrequent. Dont expect to use it very often.
About Furano City: Coming from niseko late at night i was charmed by its seeming tranquility and sleepy nature. Its a nice place with a nice hill, and because i needed some stuff anyway, I decided to take the day off to go and explore the city a bit. The city is, as i say, a bit of a small town. Theres not much in the way of amenities, possibly because furano is not all about its mountain.
Indeed the place is MUCH more famous for its summer season when the fields turn lavender and families come from all over japan to admire the scenery and get away from the humidity of honshu. So understand this, the industry of furano is not exactly geared to its winter season. Its a living city, and people work and farm this area. Winter tourism is not its bread and butter by a long stretch. If you need gears spend some time in sapporo because chances are you wont find it here. :)
As for the city, theres a few decent supermarkets, a couple of mom and pop sports shop, lots of drinking/eating places, and a few standard stores dotted about. Its not much to write home about in truth but its kinda nice to amble around it for a day or two. They also have lots of touristy things you can do like visit refineries or cheese factories and the like. Indeed, i reckon the summer season would be a blast if you wanted to go somewhere to get away from it all. The hiking i can only assume would be extraordinarily beautiful. So as i say, thats probably why the area is much more about its summer season. Just to give you a bit of an idea what that looks like: http://www.farm-tomita.co.jp/en/index.html
But enough about that... the Review:
Lets get the bad out of the way first. Nine days... in hokkaido... in late january/early february. And not a flake of fresh snow?
I mean if it was 3 or 4 days, i can live with that, but nine seems deliberate! >:(
So understand this before you immediately start booking flights to asahikawa. Furano gets less snow than niseko. MUCH less snow. Apparently the clouds scoot to niseko, drop their load and then fly away. They dont make it over the range there. Dont be like me and assume that because its deeper in hokkaido the snow will be heavier. You merely show you have no meteorological understanding at all and that is just embarrassing for everyone.
Here, let me explain: I left niseko on the 27th after three or four days of bluebirds. Two days later a storm dropped 2 meters of snow in 48 hours. In furano we got... er, nothing. :( In the 9 days i was there, furano received about 15cm total, and lost probably double that due to melting. Indeed by my last day the mountain was coming through in several spots on the groomers which was a real cheery sight :/
Apparently it boasts a 3.3m AVERAGE covering. We were sitting on "110cms" from day one of my arrival right through to day 9 as the snow was clearly thinning. I dare say even muju had more snow.
So yeah, its going to be hard to come back from that and make this a positive review.
So i wont.
Other things that annoyed me:
1. Ski patrol are back out shouting at people and stopping them ducking ropes. After two seasons of a 'turn the blind eye' policy its back to the apparently bad old days of confiscated passes and ropes everywhere. And yes, the ropes are numerous. They dont rope off everything... but that brings me to point 2.
2. They dont have to. No snow means the trees are a cluttered mess. The scrub still pokes through in an environment thats already pretty tightly packed with trees anyway making a nice natural barrier to off piste shenanigans. Aside one or two designated zones (the premier zone at kitanomine for example), if there are nice lines in amongst the trees, expect ropes.
But enough of the negativity, lets damn this place with feint praise instead :)
Well firstly, even on the last day when the mountain was showing through the snow on the groomers, there was still fresh powder to be found under a couple of the lifts. Indeed, there was a LOT of pow to still be had under the ropes, but most of it was really sluggish and heavy. I spent the afternoon just riding under the link lift though and had a blast. Because its sheltered it was still cool, light and fluffy. And no one but me was hitting it. So er, get in! If youre up for a hunt, theres fresh lines. Its not totally snow starved or anything, its just requires a bit of a mission to find it is all.
Also theres a couple of really fun looking faces along the ridge connecting the furano side to the kitanomine side. The problem being of course that you WILL be spotted hiking them unless you scoot along the back edge of them. Apparently lots of people were hiking those lines and that might have been one of the reasons the policy changed back. Still if off piste is your thing, that ridge seems to be the place to go.
Anyway lets pretend not everyone is me and wants only slack country. For those folks get yourself some skis/shoes, get on the bus to tokachidake and enjoy fresh lines all day long (PS. theres an onsen around teh middle of tokachidake according to a couple of alaskans who rode it you can stay at for a ludicrous 2700 yen per night, so if pow and fresh lines are your thing, and you dont mind a spot of hiking, skip the resort and head there).
So lets imagine that there are people that like just riding the resort and they're happy with this. How is it?
No seriously. It actually is. I went up four times in my entire stay, and i promise you, i never came away from the mountain without a smile on my face.
Aside the little hidden pow dumps, you also have to mention the actual mountain and two very big things.
1. The lifts are almost made redundant by the ropeway over at furano side, and the gondola at kitanomine side. The ropeway is about 8 minutes and gets you almost to the top accessing almost all the runs (one more short lift takes you to the top). The Gondola on the other hand takes you right to the top of the kitanomine side where you can access every run. Aside the link lift i never bothered using another lift. That is just how things should be as far as im concerned!
2. The runs have no gaps in them. Theres only one unclipping moment on the mountain and thats to scoot to the connecting run. And once you reach that run, congrats, youre on one of the fastest courses ive been on since the Nozawa skyline. Not only is that run scare the pants off you fast, but its filled with rollers giving the more adventurous out there some proper air time. I mean its not hair raising steep or anything, its just a really consistent and long 30+ degree pitch so you will be bombing it as you arrive at kitanomine side. It was one of the highlights of the resort for me.
A couple of things worth mentioning. Skiers left is a straight-forward run down the mountain. Its fun, and theres a nice touch when you can skip the one and only mogul field (which only takes up a short part of the top) and follow a little path round it. It then brings you out at the giant course which is a nice little steep to get your speed back up, and onto a slew of green runs. Honestly, for an intermediate rider starting to carve and learning to handle a bit of speed, this is some seriously fun terrain. It leads to a stack of green runs that beginners will be lapping up :) Nice and open, not too steep, decently long, but not too shallow. Perfect in fact for people earning their first turns!
The skiers right side of kitanomine though is where the fun is (supposed to be). You could see very clearly that if you score first lines up here on a powder day its going to rock your world. Nice and steep, sheltered from the wind, and swimming in powder, i guarantee you'd be spending most of the day just playing in the premium zone, but for me it was just a tracked out, cut up, half crusty semi mogul field mess. Fun to play on though mind you, but could definitely have done with some powder to liven it up a bit. The fun thing is this run leads directly into a couple of nasty little drops which, on a powder day, would have you throwing out your best spins on. But on a non powder day its like dropping into a wall of very hard lumpy concrete :)
For the less adventurous you can just follow the more scenic and mellow path to the link lift which forms those drops. Its a fun little area overall, and definitely could be a blast in the right conditions.
Anyway, once you pass the link lift you're brought into a nice sheltered run between the trees (not a tree run). Its pretty shallow, but has some nice little rollers to bounce off. You're now hitting the bottom of the mountain and if you cut to the path on skiers left, you'll be back at the gondola.
Overall kitanomine is a pretty fun little mountain. If you just want to hit a resort and do lots of stuff id have no trouble recommending it, and if the weather is in your favor, it's the kind of place that would have some seriously fun rides on. And aside ski schools i saw very few people even during the chinese new year, so its almost all yours.
I didn't spend as much time at the furano side in truth. It was alright, but didnt really seem entirely worth the effort. The top lift is great, but ultimately incredibly short so its not going to keep you entertained for all that long. Still, if you're after powder, under this chair might be one of your few genuine options even when the rest of the mountain looks barren. I consistently scored nice untracked lines here every time i turned up.
At this point the mountain divides into three parts. The far skiers right side is just a big long wide open run that will appeal to everyone. Lots of space to just do your thing, be that blast it or just scoot down with the kids. Nothing too much to say about it. The red run in the middle is tighter, with a faster more technical line, but ultimately still just an elaborate green run. Theres a few dips and drops here and there, but nothing that will pose much of a challenge. Incidentally, part of the middle is supposed to be one of the ungroomed centerpiece runs, but honestly it was hard to tell. It just felt as icy as the groomers.
This leaves only the inside line that is the challenge course. This course is a twisty turny bit of fun. Youll go from steeps to paths, to moguls, to powder in literally a minute. Its definitely the best course at the resort, and well worth a few runs on. Again, like everything else its not THAT steep, but there are parts that will have you flying. Whats more, there are plenty of places you can drop into the trees around here which gives you a few more things to play with.
All of these will bring you back down to the ropeway which leaves on the tens (1.10, 1.20, 1.30 etc).
Anyways, picture time:
Kitanomine from the main road:
The view of Tokachidake (the one with billowing smoke). The big mountain in this range (due to perspective) is furano. I believe tokachidake is slightly bigger in actuality.
Right! thats enough of the scenery!
A little path and a tree sample:
Might be the premium run, or in fact just one of those open faces thats roped off:
More fun on the link run:
Ridge line between furano and kitanomine:
And a bit of a double take so you get it:
The back of the resort:
One more time:
The back of the resort (180 degrees):
I was too scared to drop into it because i didnt know anything about it. Sorry lads and lasses, but i wisdh i could tell you whats behind there. Believe me, in the interests of science i really wanted to. :)
Concluding remarks: I wish i scored just one powder day so i could balance this review a bit more. It seems unfair and a bit whiny to be honest and maybe needs a bit of balance. I feel in my heart that furano has awesome potential as a mountain, and it IS still some decent fun regardless, but with powder im sure it would be awesome fun.
I got unlucky. Two days after leaving it started snowing again and things started popping back to life according to the people who were still there. Suddenly lines were opening up again and people who couldnt be bothered getting out of bed were getting up at 7am again for first tracks.
But then i remember the Japanese woman who chatted to me about her trip. She was up for only two days from tokyo. I asked her why furano, and she said "hokkaido powder of course!" and the look on her face when i said it hadnt snowed here in a week and a half was really sad.
I genuinely dont want to travel all the way to hokkaido for what are nagano level odds on conditions. If im coming to hokkaido in the middle of peak snow season i expect a maximum of about 4 or 5 days of continual bluebirds. And after that i expect a serious dump to make up for it. Well, we got the first part, and then it dumped about ten cm. This was followed by the bizarre sight 2 days later of snow melting on the slopes as we hit positive temperatures for two days straight.
Its odd talking about the weather in a resort review and it seems a little unfair, but honestly its the defining feature of this place. If you come to hokkaido its because of the snow. If i wanted to take my chances id sit around in hakuba and hope for the best, but i dont. I want powder, and frankly theres no guarantee at all that furano is going to deliver it.
Id summarise furano like this: a fun mountain, maybe a few days of good times, but dont expect powder... indeed, because the powder is being dumped before it gets there, probably even LESS guarantee of powder than youd get in nagano. We might even be talking nozawa levels of powder here :)
The best thing about furano is this though: Youre in easy reach of some fun and not at all difficult backcountry at Tokachidake (as well as the other mountains in that range including, oddly, Mt furano (which isnt the resort). You also get to snowboard on an active volcano which is nice. Its also a nice gateway to places like Kamui, Tomamu, and asahidake. Finally, its kinda cheap :) You cant really complain about the prices here. Theyre definitely a nice change of pace from niseko.
I guess i should also add that freshish soft fluffy powder can still be hit 2 weeks after the last snow so long as youre willing to duck a rope or two :)
Overall though i came away from this place kinda bored and out of ideas. The riding was fun and all, but it was a bit unchallenging and mainly consisted of just pointing the board downhill and charging a lot. We all like a bit of speed, just a pity that was all it seemed to be offering. Well, that and cut to crap, semi-hard-packed chop/moguls.
Its really a shame as well since it was starting to gain a bit of traction with the NOT NISEKO!!!! crowd. I have a feeling that this season has probably set them back a couple of years in that regard.
Mi Jamaican Bredren Norris
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|Posted: Feb/10/2011 at 10:05pm|
Looks great, Japan is one of many places i would love to go
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|Posted: Feb/11/2011 at 1:04am|
sweet report Ipp...
I so badly want to get back to Japan; however, you make it very difficult on the decision process. You can make shish sound like fondue...
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