Christmas in the Backcountry

If you have lived in Japan for a while, you know Christmas here passes over the heads of adults without much notice. In fact, you wouldn’t know it was Christmas if it wasn’t for the shops with all their razzle and dazzle. However, there is a group of adults who have a nice way of celebrating this merry time of year.

For years, I’ve been snowshoeing or skiing up to a mountain hut just outside Sapporo to celebrate Christmas with the Zenbako Backcountry Ski Club. Last year I decided to take two friends, Tom and Rowen, with me.

The Zenbako Backcountry Ski Club is a group of mainly retirees with a passion for backcountry skiing and having a good time. They are a tight bunch of friends who have known each other since the days of wooden skis, which a few of them are still using. They know, even in the back hills of Sapporo, you can get some great backcountry powder if you know where to go, and we weren’t just going for the party; we also wanted to get some sweet runs.

The hut is a kind of two-story lodge accommodating about 60 people. It’s been there a while. It’s got a rustic character and a great big iron fire place to keep you warm on those cold Hokkaido winter nights.

The trek to the hut took about three hours with two of us on skis and one on snowshoes. When we got there, two Japanese guys wearing red Santa hats suddenly started calling out, “Merry Christmas” as they skied down the backcountry slope next to the hut.

When we entered the hut, we were greeted by 20 people sitting around large tables singing Christmas songs and having a great old time. Sad to say there was no turkey, and it was probably the first time my friends had eaten noodles for Christmas dinner, but no one was complaining.

The next morning our heads weren’t feeling the best, making the trek to the top of the ski slope a bit harder, but the great conditions made it worth it. My backcountry skiing isn’t pretty, but my friends on telemark skis were in total heaven. For years I was snowshoeing up to the hut, spending days snowshoeing around the hills and backcountry, which I now know like the back of my hand.

My friends from the Zenbako Backcountry Ski Club gave me a hard time, saying snowshoes were a waste on such beautiful powder. I finally took up backcountry skiing. But, after seeing the way I go down the mountain, they’re probably thinking I should go back to snowshoes, and they could be right.

I’ll definitely be doing a trip up there again this year. So, if you want to join the Christmas party, shoot The Pig an e-mail at hokkaido@japan-adventures.com.