The Snowiest Region On Earth
A two-week skiing trip in the mountains of Hokkaido.
Gear presented in this collection:
Furano, Hokkaido 7:40 pm.
We gather around the fireplace in the little cottage we have been calling home for the past couple of weeks. I take a sip of my tea, look into the fire and around my friends’ faces – a daily ritual we had created to reflect on the day’s occurrences and ponder what to do in the following morning. This evening ceremony has been the idyllic way to embed the culture of tea drinking (which we had come to love) into our coffee biased lives. But tonight things are slightly different – we are compelled to bring a bottle of sake out, after all, we are celebrating. Tomorrow is our last full day in Japan and our last opportunity for skiing Furano’s incredibly fresh powder. Although our trip is coming to an end, the fact that we have a couple of special treats planned for tomorrow keeps our spirits up, enticing us to finish the bottle of Japanese rice wine and have an early night.
Furano, Hokkaido 6:45 am.
It is difficult to get out of bed knowing that the outside temperature is far below zero. None of us appear to have a lot of energy, but we gather however much strength we do possess, pack up our bags, and hop on the van. We are on the way to Mount Asahi-Dake, one of the best back-country spots in Japan’s snowiest region. Cameras are charged, there are coffee and tea in the thermos, and plenty of chocolate in my foldable backpack, which I have been using on every single trip up the mountains. Slowly but surely we wake up, our eyes widening with the fairytale-like landscape of contrasting pine trees and the whitest snow we have ever seen. What brought this group of friends together in the first place was this mutual passion for being out in nature, especially when the difficulty of hiking up a steep face is overcome by the view you get from the top, and subsequently, the adrenaline provided by the descent.
So it is no surprise when I look around and see smiles on each of their faces – their inner child about to burst with excitement with the prospect of playing in the snow.
We reach Asahi-Dake Base Station about an hour later and head straight to the lifts. I take my ski pass out of my passport holder and scan it on the ratchet screen, inhaling the pure mountain air and already fantasizing about the way down. Since it is early in the morning, all of us manage to get into the same cable car together. Halfway up, someone produces a bottle of sake out of their backpack – the rest of us just can’t say no. Fortunately, weather conditions are perfect: the sun is shining and there is almost no wind. Once at the summit station, we get off track and hike for a while in the hope to find the slope some local snowboarder had told us about at a pub in Furano the other night.
There is something very powerful about being on the top of a mountain; a sheer sense of peace takes over and there seems to be no limit to our existence.
Just as we were about to accept we were lost, we find the [distinguishable] big rock the local guy had mentioned. I reach into my travel neck pouch and grab my action camera out – this last ride has to be registered somehow. We gather around for one more round of sake, sitting down for a while to appreciate the view. With boots locked in, we make our way down at full speed, hooting and screaming as a means to express our excitement.
Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido 2:45 pm.
After a morning of skiing, we jump back in the rental van and make our way towards Hakodate, stopping at the famous Lake Shikotsu on the way for a well deserved afternoon in an onsen (hot spring) overlooking Hokkaido’s largest lake. There is no better way to prepare for a long journey home – or to end an incredible trip for that matter – than soaking in the mineral-rich water, laughing about the good times, and remembering the incredible people we met in this past couple of weeks. Be it on a mountaintop, a local restaurant, or the lodge where we were staying, serenity floats in the air wherever you go in Japan and people’s genuinely welcoming spirit always makes you feel at home. As soon as our skin begins to wrinkle our stomachs start to grunt, calling for an emergency refill. I take that opportunity to grab my toiletry bag and make use of the hot spring’s facilities for what is probably going to be the last shower in the next few days.
We make our way to Hakodate in lightning speed, our empty stomachs leveling the gas pedal. We drop off the van at the car rental shop, grab some Yens out of our dual currency wallets so to purchase our ferry tickets, and run to one of the local restaurants to dive into a bowl of kaisen donburi – a traditional seafood dish in the Hokkaido region. For the first five minutes after the food arrives everyone is quiet. But then someone half-jokingly says that the only way to top such an ending of the trip would be to have some sake. Sure enough, in a matter of minutes, our glasses are clinking and our throats are burning – that warm, stingy sensation should linger at least until we reach Tokyo. Or perhaps it will stay with us forever.
Image credits: Easton Oliver (@oliver_visuals), Eddi Aguirre (@soloeddi), Fabian Mardi (@fabianmardi), Ian Pham (@lanipham).