I’m quite partial to YoYo-Laps “just above the car” to be honest. If the skiing’s in deep, dry, fluffy snow through old growth deciduous trees; if the après involves a soak in one of Japan’s most traditional onsen, no more than 50m away; and if I’m powder-turning pretty well every vertical meter than I’m uphill-earning then it’s the recipe for a great day.
This was Day 1 of our January 2020 (Chinese New Year holiday) trip to the Tohoku (東北地方) region in the north of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Our crew of four had rendezvoused at the Hachinohe Comfort Inn early that morning and driven straight through to the Hakkoda Mountains (八甲田山). I’d flown up from Melbourne where I’d been working that week, Andy and Katie had come from Detroit for their third year in a row and Rob, bless him, arrived at 0445 with the van from Hokkaido. We were all a little tired but there’s no rest on a powder day.
We’d done a run of the Hakkoda Ropeway in the morning, but given that Rob doesn’t do ‘lifts’ and I certainly don’t do ‘lift lines’, we’d decided to earn our turns for the afternoon. We were well rewarded for our efforts.
The plan had been to drop the car at the onsen and then tour off the top of the ropeway down. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you look at the end result) the logistics got the better of us. We thought we’d be able to get a taxi (rather than waiting for the 1pm bus) from the onsen back down to the ropeway (about 4km) once we’d dropped the car. The hotel front desk advised us that getting a taxi there was fine, but, that it’d have to drive the 45 minutes or so up from Aomori city. We decided that sort of move make me about as popular as I was when I tried to pay for my ramen using my horde of ¥1 coins.
Andy and Katie had done another lap of the ropeway and so we whipped back down in the van, raised them on the 2-way radios, and loaded everyone back to the onsen car park. Our guidebook influenced plan had us climbing up and along a fairly flat plateau towards the Sennintai Refuge (仙人岱避難小屋). We tucked up and around behind the onsen and found a pretty nice skin track already set, weaving through large old growth trees. You can gain good elevation almost immediately and we made note that there were good turns to be had on the way down.
We weren’t far onto the plateau when we made the call to turn around. The winds that Hakkoda is famous for has been in and stripped and packed the surface and we knew the skiing was going to be a bit shit if we continued. Turning tail, we skied back down our skin track to setup above the pitch behind the hotel. The skiing was nothing short of sublime. We were scoring untracked deep powder turns not more than 200m for the car… parked in the carpark of a fairly substantial ryokoan (旅館)
The first couple of laps through the trees directly behind the onsen were enough to put paid to any concerns about snow conditions. We’d been watching the weather models all week and knew that the first couple of days would be some of the best of the trip.
On the second lap we were joined by another group of half a dozen European skiers. There was plenty of room and they stacked out on skiers left of us along the ridge. They also appeared to be finding the ‘worst snow season ever in Japan’ to be remarkably tolerable under-foot. We were able to really make the most of reusing the skin track and so our laps were super efficient.
For our last downhill run we moved from the trees out into a more open (and more gentle) bowl on lookers left from the car park. While this was lower angle it made for some classic ‘Japow’ faceshots to send back to family and workmates at home in humble-braggadocio.
Being on an ‘exploratory’ trip we retired to the onsen to relax and compare notes for the rest of the weekend. The Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉) was also amazing. It offered a mixed gender bath that was a very traditional wooden style bath. For those worried about their modesty be reassured that in winter months the bathhouse is so dark and steamy that you can barely make-out the white onsen towels on top of other’s heads. For the really shy there is women’s only time 0800-0900 and 2000-2100.
The onsen was ¥1,000 for the day visit but we think we’d really try and stay the night here if we come again.