Treasureland Tohoku: Japanese traditions and powder snow galore
mountain watch | Words and photos Isabel Salzmann
When skiers and snowboarders dream of the world famous powder that Japan is famous for, the first region that comes to mind is probably Hokkaido. It must come as a surprise to many that the city with the heaviest snowfall in Japan – indeed in the world – is the city of Aomori in Aomori Prefecture in the Tohoku region.
Tohoku is not only rich in snowfall, but also rich in Japanese traditions, festivals and culinary hotspots, and still carries the Japanese fairy tale enchantment that one might miss in other ski resorts in Japan. .
Tohoku is the northernmost region of Japan’s main island, Honshu, and has six prefectures – Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima – which contain many of Japan’s lesser-known ski areas.
With an average of 24 days of rainfall in January, bluebird days in the Tohoku Mountains may be rare, but good snow conditions are guaranteed for powder hunters thanks to cold, wet storms rolling in from the sea. from Japan. The storms hit Japan’s longest Ōu mountain range, creating heavy snowfall for most of the winter, making Tohoku a great destination for snow lovers. Locals in Tohoku call it “aspirin snow,” the dry, delicate snow that falls when temperatures are cold, making it the perfect place for winter sports.
Aomori City, located in the far north of Tohoku, is the capital of Aomori Prefecture and the gateway to skiing and snowboarding in Tohoku. Aomori means “blue forest”, named after a small forest on a hill near the town. It may be the northernmost city in Honshu, but access via the Shinkansen is quick and easy, with the trip from Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station taking around three and a half hours from the station. from Tokyo.
If you want to play in the snow as soon as you arrive in Aomori, the Snow Sports Park Aomori offers fun activities for everyone. The snowmobile tour takes you to the 84.7 hectare area, twice the size of Disneyland Tokyo, and on a clear day you can admire magnificent ocean views over Mutsu Bay from the top of the hill. The tour guides are very friendly, experienced and adrenaline junkies themselves, so it can get fast on these machines.
Aomori Prefecture is a relatively untouched part of Japan, and besides great snow conditions and delicious seafood, it offers a variety of options to create unforgettable memories. From admiring the view from the Tsugaru Stove winter train that crosses the winter landscape of the Tsugara Peninsula to the performance of Shamisen in Hirosaki, there is much to explore in this unique region.
Of course, winter in Tohoku is all about the snow and with 22 resorts of all sizes to choose from, skiers and snowboarders have plenty of options. Whether you’re looking for secret spots to carve new trails in the side and backcountry terrain or want to carve smooth turns on perfectly groomed trails or blast off the terrain park, Tohoku resorts are for everyone.
A multi-resort trip is the way to go, and we were lucky enough to experience three of the best:
Hakkoda (Aomori Prefecture)
Hakkoda is located 80 minutes from Aomori Station and offers excellent powder conditions and off-piste terrain. Hakkoda offers a variety of terrains. Backcountry beginners and intermediates don’t have to worry about getting caught in tight tree runs and experienced climbers can carve out fast, wide turns in the open faces of the top of the mountain. the mountain. Take the gondola and enjoy this spectacular terrain – for just 3800 JPY (46 Australian dollars) per day pass.
Hakkoda is also famous for its Juhyo Forests, the wind-laden trees called snow monsters that are a must-see when visiting Tohoku. Accessing the terrain with a local guide is strongly recommended, as this will not only allow you to find the best snow, but winds can pick up and visibility deteriorates quickly, and you are likely to lose your orientation in the event of an accident. of white veil.
If you’re skiing in Hakkoda and on your way with a rental car, visit the famous Oirase River. The Oirase River is 70 km long and formed from a massive flood followed by a volcanic eruption in Lake Towada 15,000 years ago. Along the river you can find beautiful ryokans (Japanese inns) and hotels with epic views of the onsen (hot springs) on the Oirase River. There’s no better way to unwind after a long day of powder snow than in an outdoor hot tub overlooking a sugar-coated Japanese river.
If you’re still genki (energetic in Japanese) at night, take a stroll through the illumination event at Lake Towada. Starting at 5 p.m., “Lake Towada Winter Stories of Light” features spectacular light shows, fireworks, and lake views.
Appi Kogen (Iwate Prefecture)
Appi Kogen is one of Japan’s largest ski resorts. The longest route is 5.5 kilometers and the ski resort offers a wide variety of runs for all levels of skiing. With its wide and long runs, accessible side country and fantastic terrain park, Appi Kogen offers a wide variety of mountain activities to suit all preferences.
It also offers stunning views from the top, including the iconic Mount Iwate, the highest mountain in Iwate Prefecture. The 2,038-meter-tall volcano is often referred to as Nambu Katafuji, or “the half-inclined Mount Fuji of the Nambu region”, because the gently sloping side of the mountain resembles Mount Fuji.
If your legs get tired after running the longest 5.5km track in one go or after stepping through the gates to explore the Appi hinterland with a local guide, you can relax in the large onsen outside the Appi Kogen Onsen-Hotel. If you want to experience true luxury, book the Maisonette room which has its own private balcony on the balcony. Additionally, ANA Intercontinental opened a new 38-room luxury hotel in Appi, with mountain views.
Tazawako Ski Resort (Akita Prefecture)
Tazawako Ski Resort is not only popular for its wide slopes, but skiers and snowboarders can also enjoy the beautiful view of Lake Tazawa, Japan’s deepest lake. The on-piste runs meet all standards, including large beginner areas, while the resort is well suited to the freestyle scene with a FIS Moguls World Cup course, excellent practice facilities for the ski and snowboard cross, as well as a terrain park and a halfpipe.
If you’re in pursuit of powder, you’ve come to the right place with dedicated treetop courses and an accessible backcountry. Starting from the top of the ski resort, you can earn your turns by hiking Mount Akita Komagatake (1637m), an active stratovolcano and the highest mountain in Akita Prefecture with plenty of options, but you will need a guide to safely access the best snow. You can also find a CAT tour operator in town.
The resort is very close to the hot spring resorts of Mizusawa, Tazawako Kogen and Nyuto Onsen – a truly Japanese experience, with excellent Japanese cuisine and traditional onsen baths, scenically built into birch forests.
Like a spine running from north to south in western Honshu, the stratovolcanic Ōu mountain range runs through the Tohoku region, inviting skiers and snowboarders to plenty of on- and off-piste adventures. Nevertheless, take your time to also immerse yourself in the traditions and customs of the region, an experience that will make your trip unforgettable. If you want to know more about the skiing offer in the Tohoku region, click on here.
Isabel traveled as a guest of Tohoku Tourism