We love Kamui Ski Links, one of Hokkaido’s best smaller ski resorts and one of Snow Action’s favourites. 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.
When Hokkaido got on the radar of Aussies and a few others in the 1990s, and then started to explode in popularity thereafter, it naturally wasn’t long before some of us started discovering Kamui.
The resort offers a reasonable 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, which made for fast repeat powder laps. You would often share the whole place with just a handful of fellow skiers.
At the time skiing off-piste was generally still not allowed at nearly all the Hokkaido resorts, especially at nearby Furano, where Maeda used to work before leaving to set up his own ski area. So Kamui was a real surprise and stand out with its pro-powder attitude.
We met the then 71 year old Maeda-san for the first time back in 2012, and he was a no-brainer to be our Snow Action Japan Ski Boss of the Year.
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 he dropped straight in for out first line there, pointing his custom built concave prowed powder Hokkaido made Field Earth skis straight down under the gondola at a very respectable pace in knee deep plus snow. We weren’t the first in there though, so soon he cut sharp right into the trees and found some untracked snow, popping in and out of the trees back across the marked runs, which are mostly left as ‘powder course’ anyway on that side of the hill.
Following him around it was easy to forget he was 71. He 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 deep gully where the snow was even deeper, but he emerged unscathed, 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 boarders 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 36 years ago, when the then Head Coach at the old Furano Prince ski resort designed the original Kamui Ski Links layout.
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.
After a few year’s absence we got back to Kamui early this year, and caught up with Maeda for another ski, and a 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 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 painful versus powder skiing. His misfortune was every powder skiers gain.
Years ago there was almost nothing at Kamui, the facilities were tired (as so typical of most smaller, and indeed many larger Japanese ski resorts) and there were almost no people 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, unlike squeezing them through the air vent as you used to have to do in the original ones. But the little base complex has sparked up with a new shop and decent rental offering new generation ski and baords 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.
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 good way to be first at Kamui.