Japan under Five Meters of Snow

hakkoda

The ocean in the background

As I drive to my destination, powder that we can normally only dream of is piling higher on the tall walls of snow lining the side of the road… welcome to one of the more isolated places in Japan and join me for a ski trip in Hakkoda, Northern Honshu. It was several years that I was keen to adventure into this corner of Nippon and I jumped at the opportunity as an aside to a trip to Tokyo.

hakkoda japan

Here we go the start of the hike

The north of Japan is under a cover of snow throughout winter as a result of annual average snowfall of 20 meters. During the night isolated roads are closed because of the large amounts of snowfall. In the Aomori region a few decades ago the countryside was completely isolated during the winter and then the snow plough arrived. This opened the roads and has allowed powder fans to enjoy Hakkoda, an off-piste ski paradise.

hakkoda japan

The famous snow monster

The area is a chain of sleeping volcanoes within a national park where we can find a gondola that every 20 minutes takes skiers rapidly into the depths of the mountain on their search for virgin snow. Hakkoda is not a traditional ski station with groomed slopes but offers routes that allow you to explore the whole mountain (if you are willing to walk a little!). And then there is the snow…a lot of snow, that is light and in such quantities that it is difficult to advance sometimes!

Hakkoda is also infamous in Japan for a drama that took place here way back in 1902. 210 soldiers were caught in a storm and got lost… most of them never made it out and in the end 199 perished. A book and then a film recounts the drama and the off-piste skiing route includes a memorial dedicated to the soldiers.

 

hakkoda japan

Hakkoda’s bus stop…. no comment!

For our ski adventure I reserved Simon, who is the only English speaking guide in the area, several months in advance and I eagerly anticipated all the snow I expected… and I wasn’t disappointed. The weather wasn’t great the first day but fresh snow awaited us and it still made for a fantastic day… despite some parts where it was hard to get enough momentum to get through all the powder on our boards! We enjoyed better weather the next two days and we could walk further towards the steeper parts, which allowed us to enjoy wonderful views of the ocean and walks between the snow monsters (trees fleshed out by thick coverings of snow). Three days of very memorable skiing and boarding.

 

hakkoda japan

Some more snow monsters

In Japan, skiiing is followed by a hot bath, an onsen. Onsens are fed by hot springs that are well appreciated in Japan for their healing and relaxing properties. Being situated on a volcano Hakkoda offers many onsens but the most famous is Sukayu. This is one of the oldest in Japan (300 years) – the bath is made of wood and can hold 1,000 bathers. This onsen remains a mixed onsen, which is the way it was elsewhere in Japan in the past, but don’t panic ladies, certain parts are reserved for females and then in the mixed area the steam is so intense that you can’t see much of anything anyway. The “su” in Sukayu signifies vinegar and you will understand why if you dip your lips in the water. After a day of skiing an onsen is the perfect way to unwind.

sukayu onsen hakkoda

Onsen manual at Sukayu Onsen

Hakkoda is not a Japanese destination well-known by foreigners, which means there isn’t a great deal of English information available. If you want more information beyond my tips below please contact me.

 

hakkoda japan

The only way to get back on the road is to jump…

If all you snow lovers have a bit more room to feel envious take a look at my Hakkoda photo gallery…

 

Voyagista’s Tips

  • It is necessary to have a guide to explore the mountain and Simon (an American) offers several years experience in the region. He keeps track of where the best snow is for his small groups, he rents out kit for the hiking and organises vehicles for drop off and pick up. Reserve well in advance!

  • The weather can be extreme and the gondola closes if the weather surpasses 90kmh (but skiers are relatively protected on the descent amongst the trees). I recommend staying at the Hakkoda Resort Hotel, the rooms are small but comfortable, the included dinner is good and you are only 2 minutes walk from the gondola station. To reserve the hotel in English go to the Japan Snow Accommodation site online.

  • Access to Hakkoda is through Aomori, which is accessible from Tokyo by Bullet Train or Plane. From Aomori you have the choice of bus (bus schedule) or taxi to get to accommodation in the Hakkoda area. Note that the road to Hakkoda is closed at 8pm.

  • Entrance to the Sukaya Onsen costs 600yen. Women can choose to bath in the main mixed area, or on the floor reserved for women but this bath is not as nice as the mixed bath. English information can be found here.

  • There is no daily ski pass for Hakkoda. You can buy a ticket for each ascent at 1,150 yen… or you can opt for a five-ride pass or a pass for the year. You can find the prices here.

 

hakkoda japan

Bus trip in the middle of the snow

 

Have you ever heard of Hakkoda? Have you ever seen so much snow?

Comments

  1. Wow, absolutely incredible! I’ve never seen so much snow before!

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