Pay the Piper

When you engage in certain activities, say snowboarding or mountain biking, you have to be willing to accept the consequences of your actions and decisions.  I’ve always been aware of this, but sometimes, something comes along and smacks you in the face to underscore it.  A couple of years ago, it was riding into a tree branch I didn’t see and busting my helmet and nose and splitting my goggle lens right down the center (Root was there for that one): This year, it was riding headlong off a triple-overhead drop.

With news of the 5-year record snowfall in my head, several continuous days of snow behind me, I headed out to Sapporo Kokusai ski-jou for some powder poaching.  I had no illusions of the bottomless fluff that I’ve experienced there before, as the snowfall had been consistent but not heavy, and a weekend of endusers had probably already cut up most of the easily-accessed ungroomed areas.  The morning had arrived with a few centimeters in town, which meant that there would be a little new coverage out at the resort, but it wasn’t enough to erase the sidecountry slash marks that squiggled down the visible faces.

Suiting up, getting my lift ticket, and heading up the gondola, I first pointed the Hovercraft down the Downhill course and took the left turnoff into the ungroomed powder area.  On the ride up, I could see that the center bowl was pretty ridden out, and the main line was all moguls.  I turned tight to the left and dropped into the secret trees below the Sky Cabin 6 lift tower and was able tpo find a little untracked area toward the top after making it through the saplings.  The bottom was pretty ridden out since the whole center bowl funnels down to that point.  On my second run down, I went toward the Sky Cabin 6 top station, but went down a ways along the Echo course before cutting over.  Before I could even think, “oh, shit,” I was up on the edge of a windlip and going off it.  All I could do was check to see that I was going to land on snow and not rocks or trees and spot the landing, but even if the LZ was awful, I was already in freefall and no amount of arm flapping was going to change any part of the outcome.  Luckily the landing was soft and I wasn’t on an edge going off, as I was able to land it square and immediately get on my heel edge, burn off the speed of the landing, and traverse off right (the slope cast off to the left).  The drop was about double overhead, but where I landed was another me-height down: It was like riding off the roof of a two-story building.  After a moment of reflection, I sortied out of the bowl on the deepest run of the day.  

I took another run into the center bowl from just to the right of the gondy station and put down first tracks in the trees to the right.  At the top, I saw a dude with a huge backcountry pack and a swallowtail powder board, so I took my time to check my binding straps so I could follow him.  I ghosted him down the Downhill.  Right after the slope dropped off, he went outside the rope and dropped the chop along the ropeline.  I went a bit wider into the unridden snow and watched the snow-explosion as he went out of control trying to duck back onto the course and totally went Bullwinkle and took out a course pole, augering his swallowtail to the rear binding.  He looked up at me a bit distraught as I rode past him.  In hindsight, I should have been a nice guy and asked him if he was OK and helped him put the pole back up.  I also should have known something was amiss when he put his back binding on first (see picture).  Leaving the well-funded, well-equipped flailer to his own devices, I continued down along the right and found a well-ridden entrance to a wide-open sidecountry area that fed down into the flat section in the middle of the run.  It was on the sun-facing side, so it was alternatively slushy and krunky, in addition to being all cut up.  Cutting across to the opposite side,  Iended up going a little too far left and ended up in the valley and had to traverse out to the Swing course.  That whole “sapling pinball” traverse on the toeside killed my quads. 

I took a lunch break on the easy side and sessioned the trees just to the side of the slow pair lift.  There was a little crest in the siding before the Rinkan course and the  Woody course merge.  Someone had jumped the upper part of it, but the lower half was untouched.  On one pass, I put it on the flat, plowed through the chop, and hit the jump.  There was the sudden course change as the board hit something hard and icy inside and I landed on my face right under the liftline.  I got no cheers as I flopped around like a fish trying to get upright – twice – and ride out with some semblance of dignity remaining intact.  There were two dudes watching from the merge.  They laughed a little when I rode past and said how weak my attempt was.  A couple of lifts later, there was another track up the takeoff face, and another almost identical crash mark on the landing side – it must have been one of those dudes.  It was on another one of these trips up the lift I saw another oddity (in addition to swallowtail backcountry guy) – a guy with snowshoes on his pack with no poles, riding a shorter rocker board with a centered stance ripping down the mountain.  I don’t get it.  I finished up the day in the trees along the left of the Echo course where only powder sticks dared attempt.  My second run was punctuated by pain from lactic acid buildup, so I called it quits and packed it in early.  I just missed getting the 15:00 bus, so I chilled in the daylodge with a pile of locals, an Australian family, and a group of yelling Chinese until the 16:00 bus arrived.

Now a day later, I’ve got whiplash and my back hurts down to the bottom of my ribcage from the cornice drop (I’m pretty sure my knees smacked my chest from the compression on impact), and my shoulder hurts from the ice nubbin jump.  The weather remained clear through laast night, so there was no new snowfall so it was just as well that I stayed home and rested today.  The suck thing is that there needs to be one good dump or a couple of nights of moderate snow to rebuild the powder, and it looks like at least another day of clear skies ahead of me.  As it is now, I can hear the sound of splashing as cars drive by outside in the streets wet with melting snow.  There were already signs of slumping yesterday out at Kokusai, so whatever today was like, tomorrow will be worse.  I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow…

More pictures here

0 Responses to “Pay the Piper”

Comments are currently closed.