Nowhere is more pronounced than the seasonal shifts at Asahidake and those who come to experience it. In Autumn, the alpine foliage turns a combination of bright orange and reds and the tram is filled with a mix of people, who have all come to see its autumnal grandeur, from high heeled ladies to seasoned hikers.
As the colors descend in to the valley, there are occasional flurries in the alpine that precede the full blown snow storms that seem to swallow the landscape, turning everything in to a white hue. It heralds the arrival of expert skiers from all around the world and the start of the powder season.
It is one of the smaller ski areas in Hokkaido. I call it a ‘ski area’ as it doesn’t have the safety and conveniences of a regular resort. First, it is unpatrolled and grooming is limited to two cat tracks which snake down the short 500 meters of vertical. Hotels can be found at the bottom. The apre-ski is the hotel hot spring and there is no night life.
There are two types of weather conditions at Asahidake, clear or stormy. When it is clear, you can see the magnificence of the volcano, surrounded by multiple smoking fumaroles. Although, frequent precipitation means that there is a greater likelihood of skiing Asahidake during a storm, when visibility is minimal. Certainly my more memorable days have been under these conditions. On a deep day, you can’t see from the face-shots anyway. Visibility is overrated.
If the visibility is often limited, so too is the terrain. On the days when you are groping around in the vertigo inducing veil of white on white, I will use the cables of the tram to guide me down. On clear days, skiers farm the terrain by fanning out further and further left or
right from the tram. A typical run will involve a boot-pack, then ski, and then a traverse back to the cat track. Prepare to work for some of your turns.
I never talk up the terrain to clients. The tram wasn’t put in for the skiers, but for people to access the alpine area in the warm months, even in high heels. The locals who ride the terrain in winter, know how to link the short descents together and carry speed over the flat
sections. Fall in one of these areas at your own peril, as a walk out from the waist deep snow can leave you wet from perspiration.
The terrain isn’t exactly snowboard friendly, but the locals do bring long powder boards to mitigate the flat sections. It’s not an uncommon site to see a 160 cm Japanese guy dwarfed by his 180 cm powder board, and a 180 cm western guy with a short 160 cm board standing next to each other.
The weather can be severe and the alpine area is very exposed. Up until about six years ago, the tram would go on hold when winds got to to 14 meters per second. Now it is 17 meters per second, which is only about 60 km/hr. But at these wind speeds, it can swing quite
close to the pylons.
So what it is about Asahidake? With limited terrain and exposure to harsh weather conditions, why do people come here from all over the world? Without doubt, it is the snow. When conditions are at their best, it is some of the deepest and lightest powder you will ever experience. And for me personally, I have had some of my best ski days of my life there.