Japanuary Ski Touring in Hokkaido
A dream realized with two weeks spent exploring Japan's famed backcountry
Ever since I first laid eyes on Japan’s bottomless powder in ski movie segments as a middle school student, the land of the rising sun has perpetually occupied the top spot on my to-do list. As I grew older, I befriended others who were similarly enchanted, and with enough careful planning and a healthy dash of luck, this past January suddenly found us the proud owners of tickets to the pow promised land.
We chose to focus on the island of Hokkaido for self-guided backcountry adventures, primarily exploring areas around Rusutsu and the looming volcanic glory of Mt. Yōtei.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of the wind whispering softly across the snow, muted sighs of barren branches swaying in the golden afternoon sunlight, cotton-candy clouds dancing lazily overhead, me banging on my bindings with a damn mallet for half an hour at the top and growling intermittently while friends fashioned emergency bindings made of ski straps and duct tape that they hoped would get them down to the van.
It was everything we’d dreamed of, and more. Everything we had seen in ski movies growing up materialized–avalanche barriers, backcountry booters, wide open bowls, fairy-tale forests, and sunset ridgelines with volcanoes looming in the distance. We skied it all.
Days blurred together, becoming a never-ending parade of skin tracks up through bamboo fields, deep turns down through stands of tumbleweed-like trees, skies of impossibly rich hues, steaming onsens waiting for the inevitable post-ski soak, mouthwatering ramen, and never-ending dry beers ready to cap off another day in paradise.