Myoko Backcountry Ski School (MBSS) began with a bunch of locals who simply liked going into the mountains. It is now in its 22nd year after being the first accredited “freeheel” ski school in Japan.
“Most of us owned pensions, so we had free time each spring,” says Tatsuo Ogasawara, owner of pension Yours Inn and the main man behind MBSS today. “There’s still a lot of snow here in the mountains in spring, and we wanted to get up there and ski it.”
Some tried cross country skis, then a magazine article turned them on to telemark skis. “We bought leather boots and skinny skis—and we had absolutely no idea of how to use them,” Ogasawara says.
So with much patience—including liberal referencing of the early instructional book Cross Country Downhill by Steve Barnett—they slowly became adept at the bent-knee style of skiing and got into the backcountry as soon as they could.
They became good enough, in fact, that the group worked with the young Telemark Association of Japan (TAJ), just six years older than MBSS, to establish the first telemark school. “We keep the tradition today,” Ogasawara says. “We’re still passionate about the beauty and elegance of the telemark turn, and we still go up the hills around here as often as we can.”
Lessons are based on 40-minute sessions with students able to take as many sessions, at whatever skill level, they like. Myoko’s heavy snow means instruction for skiing powder is available on the ski runs. Just wait a few hours, and the morning groomed corduroy can be knee-high in fresh snow. Head instructor for on-piste lessons is Ogasawara’s son, Hisataka, a former World Cup racer, along with former head instructor Masahiko Motomiya.
“Myoko has great backcountry terrain,” Ogasawara adds. “We’re really lucky to have places we can bring people just gaining confidence, as well as some challenging terrain and long runs. Our philosophy hasn’t changed; we don’t just head into the backcountry. We look at the conditions, the people, their interests and skills, and then decide if we stick to plans or change the destination. We don’t take chances when we’re touring.”
He knows a bit about this. A serious climber, Ogasawara will be missing part of the season for a springtime attempt at Mt. Everest, his sixth of the Seven Summits. Both he and head guide Bill Ross are official mountain guides for Myoko City; all the guides have advanced avalanche, first aid and rescue training.
“We really know the mountains here,” he says. “It’s easy to get lost in all the valleys and hills, especially in the fog that’s common here. We know where to go.”
MBSS telemark lessons are ¥3,000 per session. Backcountry tours available every Saturday and Sunday. Most tours involve riding lifts to about 1,500 meters, then roughly a two-hour hike to lunch at the peak before skiing down. One-day tours start at ¥15,000 per person, with discounts from two persons. Multi-day spring tours or private tours are available to Mt. Hiuchi, Tateyama, Oze and other destinations. While MBSS is a telemark school, tours are open to alpine skiers and boarders as well.
Myoko Backcountry Ski School
Tel: (Japanese) (0255) 87-2392; English: 090-1433-1247
Fax: (0255) 87-2975