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Asia travel

In pictures: an off-the-radar, back-country snow adventure in Japan

It’s not unusual for 10 to 15 metres of snow to fall over the course of a season at the northern end of the Japanese Alps, making it the perfect spot for tree runs on soft powder

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 7:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 10:55am

The mornings start with a casual glance out of the window. Each day the falling snow transforms the landscape, concealing the town and revealing the mountains, which surround the hostel.

With coffee brewed the maps come out. Routes are discussed in detail and decisions are made. Bags are packed, search beacons tested and the day begins. A short walk up through the town of Akakura leads to the first lifts of the day, taken as high as they go.

READ MORE: Six must-have items if you’re going skiing or snowboarding this winter

Situated at the northern end of the Japanese Alps under the gaze of Mount Myoko ,it is not unusual for 10 to 15 metres of snow to fall over the course of a season here.

Resorts that surround the onsen (hot spring) town of Akakura offer up a little more than some of Japan’s other, more well-known locations. Not only do authorities allow side- and back-country skiing, the local community and the enthusiasts actively promote it. This opens up countless untracked lines through open terrain and tight tree runs on soft powder snow.

READ MORE: Six great places to visit on a Japan Rail pass this autumn or any time

The saying “you have to earn your turns” rings true as we begin our hike. Powder snow that fell the day before sometimes reaches over waist height, making it hard for even snow shoes and skins to work. A winding trail is cut up to the peak and, with thighs burning, some rest is taken with views of the expansive Alpine range.

Planning with a map is essential but only goes so far: it’s another skill altogether to be able to read the terrain that lies in front. Untracked lines are chosen over open ground and through trees that use the lie of the land to advantage.

Floating through powder away from the crowds is a privilege to be savoured. It is hard to imagine anything that beats it – that is, until the sunset view of the valley is taken in from the onsen as the day comes to a close. The snow falls, tracks are covered, and fresh powder awaits the next day.

Getting there:

From Tokyo take the shinkansen to Nagano. From here either buses or trains can get you to MyokoKogen, a short taxi ride from Akakura.

Staying there:

Myoko Powder Hostel offers dorm and private rooms

Rental and lessons:

Myoko Snowsports has a wide selection of rental equipment and experienced instructors to help you get out onto the slopes.