This winter we decided to leave the main Island of Japan, Honchu for the north Island of Japan, Hokkaido. This promised us new terrain and even more snow. Can this be possible?
Mid January I was scheduled to tail guide for the Hokkaido Backcountry Club’s cat skiing operation. This operation is located out of a small fisherman's town located on the west coast of Hokkaido, called Shimamaki. With the town being right on the Japanese sea everything is about the fishing. There are two onsen hotels, and two local restaurants where in one of them all the fisherman come in to weigh there fish. Which get’s photographed and hung on the wall, a nice decoration. Sea urchins are the biggest market, they get sold expensively to China. In winter the town is calm and empty, not many fisherman are able to go out, since the sea gets wild and stormy.
These same storms make for crazy amount of snowfalls, and an insane snowpack. Every morning we drive from the coast 15minutes into the mountains where we change onto a so called ‘cat’. Also known as a piste bully, with a box built on top of it fitted for 12 powder seeking guests and their ski gear.
We drive another 40minutes in the cat to reach to feet of the mountains we wanna be skiing that day and than get the cat to drive us up there, and we get let loose to chase the blower pow on the way down. Over and over again. A big ridge offers us some alpine like turns while on stormy days we ride through the perfectly spaced Japanese silver birch trees.
Two weeks in a row I found myself blown away by the quality and stability of the snowpack, not even mentioned the daily reset of +-20cm we got….
To finish the day up in style we would make our ways back to the onsen hotels, go for a hot soak in the onsen and grill the widest variety of fresh seafood on a table grill.
Only in Japan.