Japan hammered with snow

Non stop storms have hit Japan’s ski regions during January, bringing in the famous Japow. Since the end of January, the country has been hit by a once-in-a-decade cold spell, with extreme low pressure systems dropping exceptional, light-textured (heavy-falling) snow in ski resorts, but causing havoc across the rest of the country and through Asia.

Season snowfall totals are actually coming out as ‘average’ in Japan’s resorts after a warm, slow start, with 5.7 metres in Hakuba’s Cortina ski area (Honshu) and 6.85m in north island’s Niseko (with 3.3m in January alone).

Yudonosan mountain in the northwestern region of Yamagata Prefecture peaks out at just 700m in altitude, and is reporting a snow base of 5.6 metres – the deepest in Japan, coming in second world-wide after California’s Mammoth Mountain (5.91m).

This weather cycle gripping Asia is a polar vortex, an arctic system that normally circulates around the Earth’s poles but can, on occasion, extend further. Snowfall records (up to a metre falling over 24 hours) and ultimate temperature lows are being seen.

But with this snow comes extreme avalanche risk, and a human-triggered snowslide has rocked the Hakuba ski area in Nagano state, taking the life of US freeskier Kyle Smaine and fellow skier Christoph Schöfegger. Five international skiers were caught in the avalanche under Kamijo in the Hakuba valley.

Snowboarder Adam U who was with the group and caught in the avalanche, buried 1.5m deep for 25 minutes, ‘miraculously’ escaped unscathed. Both he and ski photographer Grant Gunderson, who skipped out on the last, fatal ski run, post about the accident:

‘Ski pow, eat ramen, smile more, it’s not that serious. Skiing is fun as shit’ are the words of Kyle Smaine, recorded on his last run (see Adam U’s Instagram post above).

Check back in for more information on Japan’s avalanche control systems and rescue operations practices, as we hear from Japan-mountain-local Mike Richards, shedding light on the comments of Grant Gunderson in his Instagram post.