Japan — Kurodake High Alpine


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 6, 2015      

After a few days staying in Asahikawa and skiing in that area, we decided to head over to Kurodake, a small village a few hours away. The village isn’t specifically targeted toward skiers, but has an aerial tram that accesses excellent ski terrain. The tram is intended mainly for sightseers, but has one “run” that goes back to the village, and lots of touring terrain above the tram.

We arrived from Asahikawa late in the morning to bluebird skies, and decided to head up the tram to explore the area. The tram was nearly deserted, perhaps due to the sub-optimal snow conditions. The place had been hit hard by wind and breakable crust persisted on most aspects. However the weather was bluebird, and summitting the small peak above the tram promised beautiful views so we decided to go for it.

The views from the tram showed some awesome alpine terrain. This place could be rad if you had the rare combo of good weather and good snow.

The views from the tram showed awesome alpine terrain. This place could be rad if you had the rare combo of good weather and good snow.

Above the tram is a short lift, that services about 100 vert of terrain. It had been shut down for at least a few weeks, and it was unique hiking next to the snow-covered chairs.

Above the tram is a short lift, that services about 100 vert of terrain. It had been shut down for at least a few weeks.

The hike up was icy and windy; it's no mystery where the breakable wind-crust came from.

The hike up was icy and windy. It’s no mystery where the breakable crust came from.

From the summit we could see even more alpine terrain.  Cool!

From the summit we could see even more alpine terrain. Cool!

Although the peak looked close, it proved to be much farther than we thought, perhaps due to the difficult skinning conditions. After a few hours we switched to boots, and quickly made it through breakable crust and frozen bushes to the top. The views were beautiful. From the top the alpine peaks of Daisetsuzan national park could be seen. The area is popular with hiking in the summer, and there are several summer only huts in the area. Mako pointed out the one that he manages in the summer, which looked like just a short skin away. It would be pretty cool if the huts were open in the winter as well. But, our sunny, calm weather was unusual, so perhaps in a more normal winter it would be difficult to reach them much of the time.

After enjoying the views for a while, we clipped in and headed down. The top consisted of straight-lining on snow strips between bushes, but then turned into consistent breakable crust. We successfully made it down to the top of the tram (although not without a few crashes), and skied the much easier run all the way to the base.

Mako making his way through the frozen bushes off the summit.

Mako making his way through the frozen bushes off the summit.

The views from the top were incredible. In the far distance I believe we could even see the ocean.

The views from the top were incredible. In the far distance I believe we could even see the ocean.

Down in the trees we even found a bit of pow, although we mostly had to stick to the narrow luge-track that lead to the base of the tram.

Down in the trees we even found a bit of pow, although we mostly had to stick to the narrow luge track that led to the base of the tram.

Mako ripping down through the low trees.

Mako ripping down through the low trees.

There are shinto shrines all over the place in Japan, an intriguing part of the local culture.

There are shinto shrines all over the place in Japan, an intriguing part of the local culture.

Awesome fireworks over the ice castle in Kurodake. I was one of about 500 Japanese people taking photos.

Awesome fireworks over the ice castle in Kurodake. I was among hundreds taking photos.

Afterwards we checked out the town’s ice festival. Although the more famous ice festival in Sapporo features intricate sculptures made from ice and snow, this one instead had a massive ice castle. The castle was created from a rough wood frame that had been sprayed with water in the frigid temperatures, creating a castle, complete with ramparts, walls, and interior rooms.

With our trip drawing to an end, and with only a few more days to ski, we decided to abandon the wind-ravaged snow above Kurodake, and head back south, toward the skiing around Sapporo.



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Comments

12 Responses to “Japan — Kurodake High Alpine”

  1. Sven March 6th, 2015 12:05 pm

    What are those skis that Mako is wearing?

  2. aaron_b March 7th, 2015 12:10 pm

    How were the avy conditions? Also, what I remember most about my Navy time in Japan were the noodle houses. How did you like the local grazing spots? How about navigating from the airport to the hill? If this is covered in previous reports just point. I would assume it’s high speed rail from the airport and then local transport.

  3. Louie III March 7th, 2015 6:02 pm

    Mako’s skis are made by a small japanese company, he designed them himself, and I’m not sure they are actually manufactured. I forget the name of the company, I’ll ask him though. They seemed like sweet skis, very stiff, very light, and almost entirely made out of wood (sidewalls, core, etc), with only a thin topsheet, and plastic tips and tails. Cool skis.

    Avy conditions were for the most part very stable. The noodle places were amazing! For me the food was possibly even better than the skiing, probably the best aspect of a trip to japan, in my opinion.

    I’m planning on writing a sort of “travel tips” post on japan, where i’ll cover transportation and stuff, so stay tuned! Long story short, however, is that public transportation to big hubs is very well set up, but to smaller areas (most skiing areas), it is difficult. If you want to go to more than a few spots, it’s essential to have some sort of car, as far as i know.

  4. DavidB March 8th, 2015 9:32 pm

    Whoa Louie, i missed this year in japan, the first in many many years. Looks like I missed the right year.

    I have never seen Kurodake that bare in 15 years.

    Did they have the ice sculptures in the Sounkyo Onsen river, this year? They’re usually brightly coloured & floodlit at night. Quite amazing.

  5. DavidB March 8th, 2015 9:34 pm

    ha ha, my computer didn’t show your last picture until I posted my comment. So that would be a yes on the ice sculptures.

  6. butakun March 8th, 2015 11:11 pm

    The skis Mako’s using are by a company called Avantgarde, as you can see on his ski top sheets, not from Hokkaido, but from Hachinohe in Aomori, the northern tip of the mainland Japan. They make skis/snowboards/splitboards to each customer’s specification. They don’t have much of a presence on the net but here’s the site in Japanese FYI.

    http://www.naturestime.com/avantgarde.html

  7. Louie III March 9th, 2015 12:55 pm

    Thank’s Butakun, that’s right. Avantgarde seems like a cool company, the skis looked really nice.

  8. Sam March 17th, 2015 7:11 pm

    Hi Louie,

    Really interested to see your travel tips post when you do it! I’m heading off in a week to go spring skiing in Hakuba.

    There’s plenty of knowledge and advice for resort skiers around (at least in Australia where it’s been a destination for a long time, hilarious to see Aussies now complaining about hordes of north americans and europeans in the last few years as they “discover” it).

    So I’m really interested to see more advice for backcountry skiers, like food and fuel for overnight trips, using huts, onsens and pensions, rescue issues, and avalanche, mapping and gps advice.

  9. Mick McLennan March 29th, 2015 1:52 pm

    Does anyone have information about skiing touring Mt Fuji or other peaks on Honshu if Fuji is not realistic? April 18 is my target.
    Thank you.

  10. Sam April 6th, 2015 4:11 am

    I’m back from my own trip and managed to answer some of my own questions!

    Japanese customs allowed me to bring in freeze-dried hiking meals. Officially meat is not allowed but they let mine through.

    Yes gas canisters are available. In Hakuba go to a shop called Rapies.

    Huts in the mountains are for summer hiking and usually locked until late in spring.

    Rescue issues: don’t get rescued! From what I learned talking to expat locals, if you can even get a helicopter to come for you (and this is difficult and rare) it’s very expensive and even many alpine clubs offering “global rescue insurance” will want nothing to do with you. However, medical care itself is not to expensive if you do need to go to a hospital.

    Maps: go here http://maps.gsi.go.jp/ to print maps or download a Garmin GPS contour and street map from here http://tmz.skr.jp/data/gmap.html

    Limited and inexperienced avalanche bulletins are available from http://nadare.jp/

    Onsens: incredible. Remember to sit down when washing yourself in the shower room beforehand. Take advantage of the foot onsens found at many resort bases. I got no blisters and I give full credit to a regular soak at the foot onsens!

  11. Lou Dawson 2 April 6th, 2015 6:06 am

    Thanks Sam!

  12. Lisa Dawson April 6th, 2015 5:57 pm

    Sam, glad you had a good trip and so much for the info.

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