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The Powder Kingdom of Tateyama

“Clack, clack, clack.” The echoes of our footsteps bounce back from the walls. The atmosphere of this place strangely brings to mind the tunnels made during World War II.

“Clack, clack, clack.”

The florescent light casts shadows and peers into the darkness in front of us and, as we proceed, suddenly a deep valley and the Kurobe Dam #4 nestled at the bottom appears before us.

With our snowboards tucked under our arms and our backpacks filled with boots, snowshoes and a change of clothes, our group made its way from Nagano to Tateyama’s Murodo. Upon crossing the bridge above the dam, we continued on to the Kurobeko cable car station.

The Kurobe Valley is referred to as one of the last unexplored areas of Japan, and it is where the Kurobe Dam #4 sits. With an impressive height of 186 meters, and stretching in length for some 492 meters, it is considered Japan’s largest arch-style dam.

Before its completion in 1963 downstream, the Kurobe Dam #3 was the setting for many tales. The existence of Dams #3 and #4 obviously implies there are also Kurobe Dams #1 and #2, each of which have taken advantage of Kurobe’s abundance of water and strong current operating as hydroelectric plants since the Taisho Period.

We departed by bus from the JR Shinkoidaicho Station situated in the city of Shindaicho, Nagano Prefecture, and upon reaching Ogisawa, we transferred to an electric-powered trolley-style bus, finally arriving at our current location.

The long road from here to Murodo would see us board a cable car, ropeway and another trolley-style bus. The trolley would also act as a rite of passage, as it is the nation’s only trolley to travel completely through tunnels.

The drops of water spouting up from the bottom of Dam #4 and fog and cold winds all bitterly took their toll on our group. The wind sometimes enveloped us in a tornado where one could neither proceed, nor see, ahead. The echoes of our steps in the darkened tunnel hastened us toward the entrance to the station where we were blessed with a heated room.

To Murodo and what awaits…

Upon reaching the last stop on the trolley and climbing the stairs from the Murodo terminal, our world outside was covered in white with not even an occasional tree to break the monotonous scenery. It was here where we met up with the North Face team and spent three days in the powder kingdom of Tateyama. Pro snowboarders Takeuchi, Komatsu and Toyota, were joined by Outdoor Japan writer Neil Hartmann.

We made our way to Japan’s oldest mountain villa, Murodo Villa, followed by our first run down the mountain.

The snowstorm raged and, without goggles, it would have been a struggle for us to even open our eyes. Then the fog set in, and it became difficult to see the person walking several meters in front of you, let alone the Tateyama Range’s majestic 3,000-meter peaks high above the tree line.

Each movement simply brought about a greater sense of the cold. However, the record-setting snowfall evoked no complaints—not even regarding the storm, fog and freezing temperatures.

After gingerly making our way down the mountain amid the snowstorm and haze, we felt our level of satisfaction grew, and we again returned to the Murodo Villa and its heated rooms, hot bath, warm food and cold beer. The night was spent under warm covers.

Murodo Villa’s roots are said to go back more than 300 years to 1695 (the 8tth year of the Genroku Period), with two existing buildings next to our hut having been rebuilt in 1726 to the north and 1771 to the south. This villa has been designated as an “Important National Cultural Property,” however the fact that it was lived in until some 10 to 20 years ago surprised us all.

Incidentally, the current Murodo Villa is comfortable enough to make one question the use of the term “hut.”

In my notes from the second day I penned, “Wind, fog, and cold—the same as yesterday.” I had hit the hay thinking the next day would certainly bring sunshine, however my prayers went unanswered as the hike up the mountain only reintroduced us to the bitter cold. Although we weren’t blessed with good weather, our spirits were still high.

On the third day the sun peaked out from behind the clouds and shone down on Tateyama, the oldest site in Japan’s ancient tradition of mountain worship. I’m sure you can already imagine just how good it was that day to carve down through the fresh, powder snow.

Useful Info

To get to Tateyama Murodo, take a 40-minute bus ride on JR’s Shinkoicho Line from Shinkoidaicho Station to Ogisawa on the Nagano side. From the Toyama side, take the Toyama local railway from Dentetsu Toyama Station, 60 minutes to Tateyama Station. With the connections, this trip should take about one and a half hours.

From Ogisawa take the trolley, cable car, ropeway and trolley again. From Tateyama Station take the cable car and then the high plains bus. Normal operations run from the middle of April through the end of November, as the place is otherwise covered with snow and hosts virtually no one. Also note there is no private transportation allowed past either Ogisawa or Tateyama Station, although parking is readily available on both sides.

For more information, visit Alpen-Route (Tateyama Kurobe Alpen Route: Information available in Japanese, English, Korean, Cantonese and Mandarin)

Special Thanks to The North Face

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