There is something special about traveling to see see different cultures to the one you were immersed in growing up. No matter how many times I visit Japan, I always take something new away. I also have a deep love of back country snowboarding. It's this combination which is perhaps why I have frequented Japan so often over the past decade. A particularly special place is Asahi-dake , the tallest mountain on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido.
There is no ski resort there, rather just a small onsen (hot spring) and a ropeway into Daisetsuzan National Park which was primarily built for summer hiking. The mountain receives a crazy amount of powder snow with an average of about 14 metres (46 ft) per year. In winter the ropeway runs every 20 minutes to allow a small group of people access the mountain for some backcountry skiing and boarding. Located right in the center of the island away from the coast, the snow quality here could be considered a combination of the massive quantities of famous Hokkaido powder you get in Niseko, with the dryness of the champagne powder you might expect in the southern Rockies of mainland USA.
As the cable car is in a National Park, rather than a commercial ski hill, the mountain is not swept by a ski patrol with the exception of the main access trail. So it's defiantly not a ski area for casual skiers and and anywhere on the mountain should be treated as back country. The 46 feet of champagne powder snow create significant risks to asphyxiation in tree wells, also known as snow immersion suffocation (SIS) . With this in mind it's best to snowboard with an avalung, which is a device that allows you to breath into the snow pack though a mouth piece. On some parts of the mountain there is also an elevated risk of avalanche. This is due to huge volumes of snow, thermal variations of the underlying volcano, and the absence of any formal avalanche control such as you might see in a ski resort. So it's important to know the condition of the snow pack and slope angles to avoid. Riding with a partner with standard avalanche gear (beacon, shovel and probe) is a necessity. In short consider it the same terrain risks you might have cat or heli skiing.
Why would you put up with all those risks ? Because it's some of the best ultra deep snow tree skiing/boarding in the world. You will feel like your floating on cloud nine as you bounce down the hill though shoulder deep powder. It's a completely surreal experience, and it comes without the expense of heli skiing.
Accommodation can be found at Asahidake Onsen not far below the ropeway. It's a very small village with a couple of hotels and a hostel. The village itself sits 1100m (3600 ft) above sea level, and is the perfect place for some peaceful reflection while soaking your sore muscles after a day boarding. Asahidake Onsen, Taisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaidō, Japan.
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All images in this post were taken by and remain the Copyright of Robert Downie - http://www.robertdowniephotography.com