Kamui Ski Links Hokkaido’s original powder legend

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We love Kamui Ski Links, one of Hokkaido’s best smaller ski resorts. Kamui’s founder Maeda Mitsu is one of the true pioneers of ‘Japowder’. He established Kamui from day one as 80% powder courses /20% groomed runs. Back in the 1980’s that was truly visionary. That makes him, and Kamui, original Hokkaido powder legends.
When Hokkaido got on the radar of Aussies and a few others in the late 1990s, then started to explode in popularity shortly thereafter, it wasn’t too long before some of us started discovering Kamui too.
The resort offers a decent two thousand vertical feet of nice pitch tree runs and (at least back then) untracked powder courses, accessed mainly by the distinctive top-to-bottom yellow gondola. That makes for fast repeat powder laps.

You would often share the whole place with just a handful of fellow skiers or riders, and you can still get plenty on good days.

Maeda Mitsu skiing at Kamui Ski Links
Maeda Mitsu having a rare carving day at Kamui © Owain Price

Maeda Mitsu, Hokkaido’s original powder fiend

When Kamui was founded off-piste skiing was generally still not allowed at nearly all the Hokkaido resorts, including nearby Furano, where Maeda used to work before leaving to set up his own ski area.

So Kamui was a real surprise and an early stand out with its pro-powder attitude from inception.

Maeada Mitsu skiing Kamui in 2012
Our first run with Maeda Mitsu was a charge under the Kamui Gondola line © Owain Price

We first met the then 71 year old Maeda-san back in winter 2012, and he was a no-brainer to be our Snow Action Japan Ski Boss of the Year then.
Our first run with him showed us his attitude to skiing and life. Skiing under lift lines is still a no-no in most of Japan. But Maeda dropped straight in for out first line there, pointing his custom built, concave prowed, Hokkaido made Field Earth powder skis straight down the fall line under the gondola at a very respectable pace in the knee deep plus snow.

We weren’t the first in there though, so after a couple of hundred metres to pick up some speed he cut sharp right into the trees. We followed the rooster tail ahead as he found untracked snow poppeding in and out of the trees back across the marked runs. These are mostly left as ‘powder courses’ on that side of the hill.

Powder skiing Kamui
Following Maeda was a lot of fun © Owain Price

Following him around it was easy to forget he was 71. He was, and is, super fit (he confessed his summer recreation, apart from surreptitious glading expeditions in the tree courses, is running up from the carpark to the summit three times a week). He has great powder technique, and he gets that big kid grin on as soon as he gets into the fresh stuff.
“It’s my powder and I’ll ski it when I want to!” could be his motto.

He charged hard, having a yard sale diving into a steep sided gully where the snow was even deeper. But he emerged unscathed, pow day grin intact.

He’s enjoyed skiing the trees for 50 years, starting out on 205cm skinny skis back in the day. So when it came to building his own area he started with a concept to separate the powder/tree courses from the groomed ones. The ratio he set sounds pretty right to us too, 80% powder/trees, 20% groomed!

He also let snowboarders in from day one, and the only other crew we bumped into that day back in 2012 were a carload of Aussie riders up from Furano for the day like us.
This central Hokkaido gem gets hammered with regular dumps all season, and with a pow fanatic boss the emphasis is always on expanding the off-piste options, not limiting them.

It’s been that way since day one 38 years ago, when the then Head Coach at the old Furano Prince ski resort designed the original Kamui Ski Links layout.

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Since it’s public land, tree clearing requires permits and approval, but he explained with a laugh in the gondola that he’s got a log cabin with a big log burning fire, where his friends like to come and drink wine while enjoying the warmth of their glading endeavours. He proudly showed off the new tree course he was cutting for the following season.

Maeda Mitsu was our unanimous choice for Japan Ski Boss of the Year in 2012; we were both still looking OK in 2018 © Carmen Price

Kamui today

After a few year’s absence we got back to Kamui in 2018, caught up with Maeda for another ski, and a closer look at the new developments.

We scored a sunny day, with hardly any powder stashes left. Which Maeda confesses he didn’t mind, at 78 he is finally slowing down a little..

He also let slip the reason he got into powder skiing so much all those decades ago. A serious accident left him with one leg a couple of centimetres shorter than the other, so carving became both harder work and more painful versus powder skiing. His misfortune was every powder skier’s gain.

Years ago there was almost nothing at Kamui, the facilities were tired (as is so typical of most smaller, and indeed many larger Japanese ski resorts thanks to the oversupply of ski areas and lack of clientele). There was almost no one at Kamui the first few times we went.

So we were really happy to see the improvements. The highlight is the upgraded gondola, with shiny new yellow cabins that have room for fat skis and boards. A lot better than squeezing them through the air vent as you used to have to do in the original ones.

The little base complex has sparked up with a new shop and decent rental offering new generation ski and boards in sizes to cater for big westerners. Local school groups were busy on the groomed slopes, which are excellent for all levels and ideal if your partner or friends/family don’t want to ski powder – they will find enough to keep busy on while you go chase your fill.

The intermediate and beginner level groomers at Kamui are wide open and empty, so it’s actually an excellent all round mountain. If your partner, friends or family prefer groomers leave them to it while you go smash the powder. It’s not hard to meet up again here.

It’s low altitude though, so the prime pow season is short – best from mid-December through to mid-February. Don’t miss it either from Furano or staying in Asahikawa.

Not bad for 200 yen! © Carmen Price

Kamui is part of the Hokkaido Powder Belt, check their site for more info in English

It’s a short bus or taxi trip out from Asahikawa City or an easy day trip from Furano with free shuttles some days – check with the tourist office at the mountain base in Furano Kitanomine for details and bookings.

Since Furano has been booming again the past few seasons, after they finally worked out how to open up their powder terrain, there has been an obvious knock on effect in the increased daytripper traffic to Kamui. So while the days of lapping for hours might be gone you can still find plenty of great lines, especially if you get here early.
Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s 2nd city, and a fun place to stay with some great restaurants, funky bars, good shopping and excellent value hotels, so staying there for a few nights is a good way to be first at Kamui.

From Asahikawa it’s easy to access another couple of our favourites like Kurodake and Asahidake.

The Hokkaido Travel site is also good
Hokkaido Ski Promotional Council have info on the local areas

Where is Kamui Ski Links?

skis at Kamui Ski Links rental
They have some great ski in the rental nowadays and ski boots up to 343mm size © Carmen Price