fbpx
    • Spring
      • video

        Finding the Flow from Kansai to Kochi

        Shikoku’s many mountains, valleys and proximity to the ocean has made it a hidden gem for rafting, kayaking and canyoning enthusiasts willing to take a step or two further from the Golden Route of Kyoto and Osaka.

        Solace and Giant Salamanders in Akiota

        Just beyond Hiroshima City is a tranquil outdoor destination home to some of Japan's last remaining oosanshouo, the elusive giant salamander.
        Kyoto Oni Trail Outdoor Japanvideo

        The Oni Trail: Hiking Coastal Kyoto

        The mystical oni is prevalent in Japanese children’s stories, usually as a way to scare kids straight. Adventure Travel Kyoto is shedding a new light on this folklore and developing a new hiking route in the countryside of Kyoto.
    • Summer
      • the nomad pasche family

        The World is Our Playground

        The Pasche family has been cycling and living out of a tent in remote corners of the planet for the past 13 years on four continents spanning 50 countries.
        adventure travel world summit in hokkaido

        Adventure Travel World Summit in Hokkaido

        The ATTA will host their first Adventure Travel World Summit in Asia in Hokkaido, Japan. We caught up with ATTA Director Shannon Stowell to find out more about the adventure travel industry and how it continues to grow and evolve.
        mead brewing in japan

        The Sweet Secrets of Brewing Mead

        Wander into the world of mead brewing and find yourself immersed in a fascinating journey spanning centuries and continents.
        the knights in white lycra

        The Knights in White Lycra

        Each year a group of cyclists head to the deep north towards Tohoku’s vast rice fields and coastal trails to help transform the lives of neglected children.
        sea to table yamagata

        Sea to Table in Yamagata

        An unforgettable way to intimately explore the Shonai Region in Yamagata is a culinary experience bringing bounty of the sea straight to your table.
    • Autumn
    • Winter
      • video

        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
        shiretoko hokkaido outdoor japan

        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
        sayuri matsuhashi double role curling athlete japan outdoor

        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
        ainu tour daniel moore outdoor japan hokkaido

        Heritage Hunting in Hokkaido

        Travelers venturing beyond Hokkaido's popular winter resorts will discover a land with a rich cultural and natural history, a proud indigenous people and a community striving to preserve their heritage.
        shizukuishi skiing snowboarding outdoor japan

        Shizukuishi

        Northern Honshu’s Iwate Prefecture, known for heavy snowfall, features Shizukuishi—a powder-rich resort area with views of Mt. Iwate. Snow enthusiasts seeking lesser-known gems can enjoy exceptional snow quality and uncrowded resorts, including Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort, and Iwate Kogen Snow Park, offering affordability and traditional hospitality.
    • Near Tokyo
      • getting dirty in japan

        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • Near Kyoto
    • All Regions
    • Article Map
    • Ocean and Beach
      • getting dirty in japan

        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • River and Lake
      • ainu tour daniel moore outdoor japan hokkaido

        Heritage Hunting in Hokka...

        Travelers venturing beyond Hokkaido's popular winter resorts will discover a land with a rich cultural and natural history, a proud indigenous people and a community striving to preserve their heritage.
        getting dirty in japan

        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • Mountain and Land
    • Sky
      • getting dirty in japan

        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • Snow and Ice
      • video

        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
        shiretoko hokkaido outdoor japan

        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
        sayuri matsuhashi double role curling athlete japan outdoor

        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
        shizukuishi skiing snowboarding outdoor japan

        Shizukuishi

        Northern Honshu’s Iwate Prefecture, known for heavy snowfall, features Shizukuishi—a powder-rich resort area with views of Mt. Iwate. Snow enthusiasts seeking lesser-known gems can enjoy exceptional snow quality and uncrowded resorts, including Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort, and Iwate Kogen Snow Park, offering affordability and traditional hospitality.
        togari onsen outdoor japan

        Northern Shinshu’s Secret Stash

        A weak yen, revenge travel, and excellent ski conditions have led to high demand, booking out popular resorts like Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen this year. Fortunately, lesser-known gems like Togari Onsen, near Nozawa Onsen and Madarao, offer charming alternatives for powder seekers.
    • Travel
      • video

        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
        shiretoko hokkaido outdoor japan

        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
        sayuri matsuhashi double role curling athlete japan outdoor

        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
        ainu tour daniel moore outdoor japan hokkaido

        Heritage Hunting in Hokkaido

        Travelers venturing beyond Hokkaido's popular winter resorts will discover a land with a rich cultural and natural history, a proud indigenous people and a community striving to preserve their heritage.
        shizukuishi skiing snowboarding outdoor japan

        Shizukuishi

        Northern Honshu’s Iwate Prefecture, known for heavy snowfall, features Shizukuishi—a powder-rich resort area with views of Mt. Iwate. Snow enthusiasts seeking lesser-known gems can enjoy exceptional snow quality and uncrowded resorts, including Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort, and Iwate Kogen Snow Park, offering affordability and traditional hospitality.
    • Food and Drinks
      • video

        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
        shiretoko hokkaido outdoor japan

        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
        sayuri matsuhashi double role curling athlete japan outdoor

        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
        ainu tour daniel moore outdoor japan hokkaido

        Heritage Hunting in Hokkaido

        Travelers venturing beyond Hokkaido's popular winter resorts will discover a land with a rich cultural and natural history, a proud indigenous people and a community striving to preserve their heritage.
        shizukuishi skiing snowboarding outdoor japan

        Shizukuishi

        Northern Honshu’s Iwate Prefecture, known for heavy snowfall, features Shizukuishi—a powder-rich resort area with views of Mt. Iwate. Snow enthusiasts seeking lesser-known gems can enjoy exceptional snow quality and uncrowded resorts, including Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort, and Iwate Kogen Snow Park, offering affordability and traditional hospitality.
    • Races and Events
      • sayuri matsuhashi double role curling athlete japan outdoor

        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.

        Winter News and Notes

        Check out the latest news and winter events held at ski resorts all over Japan in 2024!
        dd4d brewing

        DD4D Brewing

        In nearly e...

Think Snow (Safety)

It’s the start of the season. You can’t wait for enough snow to either cover up the rocks (if you’re in alpine areas) or bend down the small trees and bury the grapevines in jungle-y places like Myoko Kogen. Powder fever is a dangerous thing. Too often, too many people charge out without really thinking about that shifting, fluid, beautiful and sometimes dangerous stuff known as snow.

Just strapping on an avalanche beacon, even as good as they are now, won’t make you safe. Making a decision based on data from digging a snowpit won’t ensure your safety either. Learning how to be safer out there in the snow is actually a lot of fun; teaching people how to think about their gear, the weather, the terrain and those around them is one of my favorite things to do in winter (next to actually skiing in the snow, of course).

Having a better awareness of the factors involved so you can safely enjoy the backcountry adds a lot to the whole experience of being out in nature. We can’t go over everything here in detail, but, perhaps, we can help you start thinking a bit more about what you’re doing when you are out in the backcountry.

Sidecountry is Backcountry
There’s something about proximity that gives people a false sense of security. If the ski area is close by, the snow must be safer, right? If you’re skiing sidecountry—straight from the lifts into the ungroomed, out-of-bounds areas—you’re in the backcountry. Most fatal sidecountry (AKA “slackcountry”) accidents have been right around resorts—someone hiking just a few hundred meters up, crossing a slope to get back to the resort, getting caught in a loose snow avalanche and then getting buried more than two meters down. Or a snowboarder just outside the resort crashing upside down in deep, unconsolidated new snow and not being able to get out. It happens every season.

I often thought about that last season as I did my daily snowpit check in back of our guide center. We do a foot penetration test—seeing how far one foot goes down when you step into the snow and put all your weight on it. Last year we had some epic snows, and doing the “foot pen” test often meant digging my way back out. The snow was so unsettled, so unconsolidated, so full of air it was seemingly bottomless as I’d go in up to my waist. That’s a hint that it might not be so smart to go out alone—or at all. Still, going sidecountry means you must have a transceiver, shovel and probe—and know how to use them.

Know thy Transceiver
Modern, digital, three-antenna avalanche beacons are amazing little units. All are compatible with each other, and, because they’re digital, many of them can have their firmware upgraded if an issue or improvement comes up. But the makers all approach things differently, so you have to know your device’s unique features. Many of them are full of special features—and I usually find that most people have no idea of how to use them.

Something like 85% of all avalanche accidents involve just one victim, but there’s always a chance that several people might get caught in a slide. You have to be quick in finding that one victim, but you also need to know how your transceiver handles multiple burials. The only way is to read those instructions and practice often. Bury one unit and see how quickly you can find it. Bury it in different positions so the signals vary; put more than one unit in the snow. Practice enough so you can consistently find the beacons in seconds, not minutes.

Do the Dig
Shoveling is hard. If you practice well, your transceiver should get you to a victim quickly. Probing (there’s a pattern to probing) won’t take long. Shoveling is the most time-consuming, horrific, sweat-inducing part of the rescue. Practice this, too; look up strategic shoveling, and discover smart ways of efficiently moving a lot of snow, saving the diggers’ strength and successfully extracting and treating a victim. Then get a team together, put a probe down two meters and practice speed digging.

Know the World Around You
Just knowing yesterday’s weather isn’t enough in assessing today’s danger. You need to know what’s been happening over days or even weeks. Wind, sun, snowfall, temperature all play a part in creating potential weak layers in the snow. Knowing something that happened days ago, which could mean a problem in the snow, is important intel to have. Again, doing a daily study plot has been very helpful for my operations—what we see at the base usually translates to things we can predict on the hill.

Having that background on the current snowpack is extremely helpful in deciding if you should even go out. If you have no information and just head up the slope to dig a pit for a compression test, you might discover what I did once early on in my backcountry days—that you’re in the middle of a steep slope and the test shows the snow is ready to slide at any second. Now you’re trying to figure how to get off the hill without getting yourself buried.

Get out and check the terrain a lot, too. Every year I see someone climbing up a valley underneath huge overhanging cornices. This takes some studying, too, but ask the locals as well—if someone asks me about terrain and safety, I’m not going to hold back on the information (ask me the best place to ride, though, and you might get some disinformation).

Reject Peer Pressure
During two rescues here in the Myoko backcountry last winter, there was one common theme: people had a schedule. And the schedule was more important than the conditions. A rainy, windy day with terrible visibility, and a woman went off the back of a ridge. High winds and cold weather resulted in a huge, weak cornice that the guy went out onto, then tumbled to the bottom of the valley when it collapsed.

You have to be able to say “no” when the conditions just aren’t right. Most often there’s a lower, flatter slope where you can still have fun—a nice powdery, but safe, ride through the trees. Maybe it’s just goofing around on the groomers (and you really could improve those turns, right?). Group pressure can be a terrible thing, either from an over-ambitious leader (so many accidents year-round in Japan are because of this) or a noisy, aggressive group member, who’s usually not very technically proficient, seems to be the rule. It’s hard to be the naysayer, but it’s better to see another day than to pay for the rescue efforts, which are not cheap in Japan—or something even worse.

The powder will come again, and there will always be an almost-perfect day to enjoy it.

Bill Ross is CAA Level 1 certified, a BCA Pro Advisory Guide, K2 Japan Guide Team rider and a founding member and Vice-Chairman of the Myoko search and rescue organization. He guides and provides snow safety instruction, including for the Freeride World Tour, from his base in Myoko. He and his teams also regularly hold training sessions and guide in the mountains around Myoko Kogen. To learn more, visit dancingsnow.com

[novo-map id=2 individual=”yes”]

Outdoor Japan logo tree

Related

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest posts

CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madara...

Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.

New Horizons in Shiretoko...

During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.

Silent Resilience

Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.

Categories