Extracts from “The Silky Powder Road” Blog
Rusutsu, a bright white fluffy future
(Posted on February 6th, 2015)
Skilas met up with Paul Hanlon from Rusutsu’s Ski School and Marketing Department to talk about Rusutsu’s future development plans
I am sat in the Cricket Pub, a drinking establishment in the Rusutsu Hotel, listening to some ‘alternative’ Japanese live music. It has been another incredible day out on the mountain and the adrenalin is still pumping through my body. And nothing tastes better than a Sapporo Classic Beer after some crazy deep powder action (not sure the music helps the mood though)…
In come a group of young snow sport instructors hailing from New Zealand, Australia and the UK. It is evidently clear that they have just had a few hours of fun in the snow – all sporting maniacal beaming smiles and lit-up eyes. “Epic” and “Sick” are the words in fashion this season among the young shredding fraternity. When I ask them where they have been, they just point in unison up towards West Mountain in a grinning trance – still replaying the “sick” lines and “epic” descents in their snow-brainwashed minds. Aaaah, the West Mountain front gullies – still on Skilas’ bucket list…
Their silence is suddenly broken as one of them finally bursts out with “Yeah man, that gully was sick! Sick!!! I did the hike in 30 minutes I was so stoked. Epic man, epic!!” I tease them all by telling them about some lines I checked out on the bus a few days ago off the back of Mt Shiribetsu (the next mountain along from West; no lifts so a serious hike required)… “Hell yeah man, that looks like crazy sh*t, let’s do the back of Shiribetsu tomorrow, it’s gonna be epic!” His mate, in true OMRS (One More Run Syndrome) style, pipes up: “Come on dude, let’s head out now for some night ski and set up a sick kicker!” After downing their beers, they rushed back out to get to work on their new project. [* I discovered later that they had their ski passes confiscated for a week after being caught making a gigantically sick jump over a beginner trail through the trees]
That guy is right: the snow has started dumping outside once again, and the nightski lights were seriously tempting… But tonight I reluctantly have to abstain as I have a meeting with Paul Hanlon, a fellow Brit who has worked in Rusutsu for the past four seasons. So together we try to avoid looking outside at that enticing snow and instead sit down to chat about this magical winter wonderland…
Rusutsu is definitely going places. Overshadowed for many years by its imposing World-famous neighbour Niseko, this fantastic resort has only recently been properly discovered by powder lovers the World over. Two words best describe this magical place: POW and TREES – a perfect combination for all powder junkies!! It has certainly come a long way.
Seriously struggling 5 years ago, Rusutsu Resort’s balance sheet is now looking healthy with the resort’s hotels pretty much booked up from Christmas right through to Chinese New Year (mid-Feb). It is still a little way away from true stability; a 12% hike in Hokkaido electricity prices overnight a few months ago created top management emergency meetings and hard decisions to be made (this huge – and ageing – operation guzzles up an incredible amount of power).
However a massive influx of foreign tourists, predominantly from Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and SE Asia, has turned the place around. The challenge now is to satisfy the ever-diverse requirements of these multi-nationals.
The upsurge in popularity of this resort is due to a number of factors, the three main ones being:
1. Proximity to Niseko: Exponential hound overspill as punters from the nearby resort search for quieter shredding and fresher tracks (and who could blame them?). A large proportion of Aussies holidaying in Niseko now plan in at least one powder day in Rusutsu every trip.
2. Salomon Freeski: This pro ski team has almost single-handedly put Rusutsu on the map. Their last season’s double-whammy movies, Moment’s Notice and Rusutsu Supernatural, created a massive Worldwide marketing boost. Not surprising: any skier/boarder who watches these clips would be utterly mesmerized by the deep deep pow and incredibly massive features in the Side Country Park.
3. An increasingly tolerant approach to tree skiing: This season the Ruzzie powers that be have finally ceded to requests to officially open up the trees by creating the ‘Rusutsu Rules’ –modelled almost identically on the Niseko Rules that work so brilliantly. These show the ‘Uncontrolled Areas’ and ‘Out of Bounds Areas’ on a map to clarify where is OK to go (at your own risk – and own rescue expense should things turn nasty) and where it is very naughty to go. However – more to the point – it has mainly been put in place to finally concede the point that skiing through trees is acceptable here (bizarrely, but in true Japanese style, it was not obvious for the non-skiing management that foreign powder hounds ONLY come to Rusutsu for the tree skiing and NOT for the ‘perfectly groomed runs’).
On the slopes this trip, other than the usual Australians / Taiwanese / Hong Kong-nese / Singaporeans customers, I have met Scandies, Italians, French, Austrians, Russians, Mainland Chinese, Germans… All no doubt trying to emulate the feats they have watched and re-watched whilst glued to their TV screens pre-season…
Rusutsu is on the up for sure; there is a real buzz about the place. Significant but – sadly for this post – confidential development plans are in the pipeline, which would more than likely further strengthen Rusutsu’s position as one of the leading ski resorts in Japan. The hands-free lift pass system installed this year is the first (massive) step to modernizing this resort. The dated Highland and Travel Lodges (along with other parts of the main hotel building) are in need of a major facelift (staying there is like being transported back to the 1980’s). Other developments – that I am not at liberty to disclose here – have the potential to make things very exciting. Personally I would love to see a new lift opening up a whole new powder dreamland area (this hasn’t happened since 1997 in Isola mountain…)
So when I get frustrated with the increasing number of powder hound packs and the alarmingly rapid tracking-out of our popular routes (I still called these my secret stashes 3-4 years ago, but there are very few secrets left in the Ruzzie trees now; there are some but not many!!), I must remember that without these punters Rusutsu may not exist today… And therefore it’s credit to them that Rusutsu will remain one of Skilas’ favourite powder playgrounds for many years to come.
My thanks go to Paul for his time, kindness and Rusutsu insight! Also many thanks to Rodeo Drive – a cute Rusutsu whiskey bar with a great chilled atmosphere serving up excellent Western nosh – for serving up some memorable BBQ ribs following our chat!
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