Skiing on ‘Japow’ in Hokkaido; Backcountry, Sidecountry and the Fluffiest Snow Around

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Backcountry skiers walk in the mountain looking for the best powdery snow in Akaigawa, Hokkaido, on Jan. 29.

SAPPORO — Backcountry skiing is a way to ski off-piste or in the mountains. Challenging the wilderness with just your body and a pair of skis is a true adventure.

Hokkaido’s fine powder snow is known overseas as “Japow,” and backcountry skiing can be enjoyed even in the outskirts of Sapporo.

In late January, I joined a tour led by Wataru Nara, 51, a backcountry skiing guide. Nara is a veteran from Sapporo who also served as a guide of the Antarctic wintering party at Showa Station from 2011 to 2013.

There were five participants: Swiss Philippe Fatzer, 63, his son Patrick, 31, two regulars from Kanagawa Prefecture, and me. Philippe said he has been to Hokkaido five times and asks Nara to guide him whenever he visits. Patrick was there for the first time.

We departed central Sapporo at 7 a.m. The skiing spot for the day was an area around the 1,488-meter-high Mt. Yoichi. We took a gondola from Kiroro Resort Snow World in Akaigawa to the Asari Peak, with an altitude of 1,180 meters, where we started skiing at around 10 a.m.

It was snowing and visibility was poor. We skied through the trees, down the side of the slope, or “sidecountry,” and then took the lift back to Asari Peak.

As weather conditions improved and the summit of Mt. Yoichi came into view, we finally headed to the backcountry skiing area. We put on anti-slip sheets on our skis and stepped out onto the fresh snow through the gate at the slope boundary.

After a 50-minute walk along the gentle ridge, we climbed up the steep slope to Mt. Yoichi’s summit. When we reached the 1,300-meter elevation point, the weather worsened. We had to stop climbing and ski down from there.

From the point where we began skiing, with a vertical drop of about 150 meters in front of us, there was nothing to block our view. We removed the anti-slip sheets and started skiing into the valley, kicking up the powdery snow as we traced our way through it. Our fatigue from climbing the mountain was blown away. Everyone looked happy and said, “It was the best!”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Philippe Fatzer skies down a slope.

We kept climbing up and skiing back down until we descended for the final time in the evening.

Philippe, who has gone skiing in Europe, North America and the Himalayas, praised Nara for taking him to the best Japow points every time he comes to Japan. He said that Nara is an incredibly reliable guide.