Japan: Bottomless Powder in the Land of the Rising Sun

Have you wanted to ski the bottomless powder of Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido? Eat sashimi, udon and tempura? Soak in the onsen after a day of touring through the shirakaba? Long time SMG guide Marc Hanselman has recently booked his tickets to Hokkaido again this winter and will be guiding a group as they explore the volcanic mountains in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Marc first visited Japan after college, where he taught Junior High English in a small town on the island of Honshu. Marc decided to extend his one year contract a second year because he was having so much fun learning about the culture and exploring Japan’s mountains. “Most people don’t realize that Japan is 80% mountains,” says Marc, “and there’s a long history of alpinism and skiing.” In fact, Japan boasts the most ski resorts of any other country in the world!

Since returning to Idaho after teaching in Japan, Marc has earned his IFMGA certification and begun guiding international trips. “I knew I always wanted to return to Japan and guiding is my passion, my profession, my life; so what better way then to combine the two? I can share with others my love of the mountains, snow and Japanese culture!” Marc guided his first trip to Hokkaido last winter and we asked him what is it that makes skiing in Japan so special?

“Japan is a country rich in tradition and culture, much of it thousands of years old. We have nothing like that in the US. To experience this is to see the world in a different light.” And the snow: “The snow in Hokkaido is some of the lightest snow on earth. Cold fronts roll off of Siberia, pick up moisture in the Sea of Japan and unload on any little pimple in the landscape. When we were there last year in February, there were no sun crusts and very few layers in the snow pack. It was just… powder! You know, Utah gets credited for the best snow on earth, which averages between 7-8% water content. Hokkaido’s snow averages around 3%! It’s incredibly light and incredibly deep! Then you have the fantastic deciduous trees called shirakaba, which are an enormous white birch. They have these great branches reaching out in all directions creating expressive shapes but also perfect spacing for tree skiing! And after a long day of face shots and snowflakes you get clean and soak those tired legs in the onsen. Onsens are developed natural hot springs, are everywhere and an integral part of the culture. There’s definitely a ritual in bathing with lots of do’s and don’ts but once you get the hang of it you’ll wish you had an onsen in your home town.”

For this winter’s trip Marc will start in the area of Niseko, Hokkaido’s largest resort. The group will spend a couple days skiing the side country in the area before culminating in an ascent of Mt Yotei. At 6227′ Mt Yotei is often called the Mt Fuji of Hokkaido. It’s a perfectly symmetrical volcano that stands alone with nearly 4000′ of vertical skiing on all sides. It’s even possible to make a run into the volcano’s crater! Next the group will transfer to the Daisetsuzan National Park, staying at the Kamihoro Lodge. Daisetsuzan National Park is home to the tallest peaks on the island. The Kamihoro Lodge is a traditional Japanese hotel built on natural hot springs. It’s perfectly situated for ski touring right out the door and then a relaxing soak in the onsen at the days end. After enjoying the culinary delights of the country, a round of sake, it’ll be time for bed so those tired bodies can rest up and do it all over again!

“A ski trip to Japan is really a complete experience. There’s the cultural experience and the ski experience. Skiing is great way to share something in common with the Japanese. It becomes this vehicle by which to experience the journey.”

If you have an interest in a ski trip to Japan, get in touch with us and put February of 2015 on your calendar!

Check out the photos from Marc’s 2013 trip: