story & pics Matt Hull
“All this is OK. Now, you drop!” said our guide, Araki San, as we perched on the side of a traverse track in the side country of the Seki Onsen ‘resort’ in Myoko, looking down at an untracked, deep, light powder field.
Seki Onsen is about 15 minutes from Akakura Kanko, the main Myoko Kogen resort, but unlike Akakura and all the surrounding resorts, Seki is family owned. It only has two lifts, and it’s all family and friends that work there.
Seki is 100% for skiers/boarders by skiers/boarders. There’s one building, through one window mum sells lift tickets, through the next you peer in to see a full lounge room set up – lazy boys, coffee table, TV, and a whole bunch of tea drinking and smoking going on. Turn your head to the left and there is the lift, a little two seater with no safety bar.
We arrived at Seki on a Saturday afternoon. Business card in hand, and rehearsing my best Japanese business lingo under my breath, I knock on the door, to be met by Araki San, the man I was supposed to meet, with a quick handshake and none of the normal business formalities. He leads me to the lounge room and points to a guy making tea, wearing a reindeer sweater with a smoke hanging out of his mouth.
“Owner” explains Araki San, then before I could even get out any pleasantries, he grabs me and says, “OK we go shred now, I show you.”
Not even 30 seconds later, without time to turn on my avi beacon or clip my pack on, I’m sitting next to Araki San on the little 2 seater heading up the mountain. He points to pretty much every section of the mountain and keeps repeating “All OK!”
Japan has incredible skiing, but they are usually quite strict on what areas you’re allowed to ride and which you’re not, which makes Seki very different.
A couple of minutes into the 5 minute lift ride I find out Araki San is a retired pro rider, featured in many snowboard movies and magazines, but he’s now given up the pro circuit to help run Seki. However he still holds his sponsorship with Burton, and instantly I became nervous, I haver to follow, er, keep up with this guy.
Without knowing our ability level, or if we could ski/board at all, Araki gets off the double lift and before the other boys got off behind us he was strapped in.
“OK, tree run, you follow.”
Frantically we strap in and boot off after the manic Japanese boarder. After some quick darting through trees, and a few branches tagging my hiking pack on the way through, we drop down under the next chair, which was so low to the snow I had to duck under it. The snow base at Seki is enormous, over 6m this day.
The second chair (yup they only need two) is a little single seater, what we call a ‘pizza box’. You get on and hang on to the bar for dear life.
On the way up I notice two avalanche barriers which we had ridden past on the way to the lift. I yell to Araki San on the chair in front of me, “Araki San, avi barrier, jump OK?”
“Yeah, jump is awesome, and there are two!”
I look back to see the boys laughing, never in the world have I been allowed to drop an avi barrier, let alone been encouraged by ‘management’.
At the top of the pizza box lift Araki unstraps and starts marching off up the hill with a quick, “OK we hike now”.
After a short one minute hike we’re met with a traverse line. Before the rest of the guys even catch up Araki is strapped in and off down. Again we frantically strap in and follow. I catch up to him stopped on the traverse line, smiling and looking down one of the nicest looking tree lines I’ve ever seen. He continues to smile and says, “All this OK, now you drop”.
He didn’t have to ask me twice, I drop in and get some incredible turns. All I can hear is the powder under my board and the other boys hooting the whole way down.
On the ride out of the gully Araki stops us a couple of times to point out some holes in the snow, and by holes I mean 4 to 6 metre deep tunnels to god knows where.
My time in Japan over the past three years has been awesome, but this is the first time I’ve really felt I’ve experienced a Japanese ski resort the way I imagined it. Ma and Pa operated, a couple of crappy lifts and a heap of incredible terrain that is covered in chest deep powder. Now all I have to do is work out how I can get back there again next season. – Matt Hull
[The Ticket] Seki
There’s not much at Seki itself – stay in Myoko, some useful links