For 15 years SnowAction has been delivering the best independent Japowder coverage, finding new options so you can stay ahead of the game.
Aomori spring resort, in Honshu’s most northerly prefecture, Aomori, gets so much snow no one really measures it. Our New Zealand Editor (whose mum is Japanese) Kenji Boekholt checked it out.
We arrived at dark into Aomori, stoke levels high, petrol questionably low, and Nirvana blasting from the K-car stereo as we drove inland through the darkness to Hotel Jogakura, a luxurious, ski in/ski out hotel situated at the base of Hakkoda. The traditional wooden exterior seamlessly blends into the surrounding forest. The interior is a beautiful composed combination of traditional Japanese design and chateau in the French Alps.
After a warm greeting we were shown round the extensive facilities provided by Jogakura, including tuning and drying rooms, relaxation rooms, indoor/outdoor onsens, bouldering wall and gym. The gym included a mechanical bull workout machine, which of course I spent hours mastering in preparation for what Hakkoda had in store for us.
Hakkoda is still one of Japan’s best kept secrets, supplying a raw experience with a single gondola running at 20 minute intervals, no patrol and no groomers off it. It’s undoubtedly the mecca of backcountry skiing and snowboarding in Japan, similar to the likes of Revelstoke in Canada and Mount Olympus New Zealand. A good guide is essential, and ours, Hasegawa-san, is one of the best. Book guides at the ski school office next to the little double chair near the gondola, which is actually a separate area requiring single ride passes. They groom a couple of slopes there, but usually overnight snowfall buries the grooming so it’s no place for the corduroy cruiser.
Every run we found ourselves searching for each breath, submerged with every turn. Each day finished with a spectacular seasonal Kaiseki (traditional multi course dinner), consisting of an array of locally sourced ingredients, an explosion of flavors erupting with every mouthful, the highlight most definitely being the basil baked scallop.
As our time at Hotel Jogakura and Hakkoda came to a close, we ventured north, the terrain rapidly changing as we moved towards the coast. Mountains and fast flowing rivers turned to apple orchids and city scapes stretching far across the plains. We stopped briefly at a famous soba restaurant, a great chance to fill up the tanks, stretch our legs on the tatami, and enjoy some of the finest soba noodles on offer, made traditionally from scratch in front of our very eyes.
We continued to wind through the country side, as our next destination, 1625m Iwaki-san, towered in front of us.
Aomori Springs resort lies at its base. The 5 lifts access beginner through to expert terrain and 545m vertical, with another 700m vert on top if you hike the Iwaki-san peak.
The Rockwood hotel sits at the base of the resort, a mere 500m away from the gondola. The Rockwood has quite a western influence, with hints of Japanese flavor and warm and welcoming staff with extensive knowledge of the area.
Aomori springs Marketing Director NJ (Jonghoon Na) met us as we arrived at the Rockwood hotel. NJ is an ideas man, and was quickly giving us a personal mountain tour of their plans for the future, cruising around the resort as the sun set into the sea of Japan. With an Olympic depth pipe already in the works, and an X-Games format slopestyle course planned, they have plans to build the biggest terrain park in Japan, with training facilities for international teams, so Aomori Springs is set to be the future home of Japanese slopestyle and halfpipe skiing and snowboarding. After calling it a day it was time to settle into the onsen, enjoy some cold beers, and dig into the buffet dinner.
The following day we met with local guide Kohei Tamukai. Tamukai-san is somewhat of a local snowboarding legend, crafting and riding his own boards from scratch with a strong affinity to the surrounding environment.
The plan was to skin off the back of the gondola up to the peak of Iwaki-san, but weather and fatigue prevented us from reaching our target, and we resorted to playing around the many faces and bowls around the main face of Iwaki-san.
The terrain in the surrounding area is diverse in itself, wild Alaskan style spines line distant faces, forests filled with deep pockets of fresh powder and wild exposed faces littered with snow ghosts. As clouds cleared, the view of the coast opened up providing for some amazing sunset skiing as we made our way back to the resort.
Traveling and riding in Aomori was a truly surreal experience for me, not only because of the skiing but because of the people and the respect that each and everyone shared not only to us, but to the mountains. The pure excitement of being out doing what they are so passionate about and being able to show you their playground was a humbling experience. Thanks to all those I was fortunate to meet during my time there, I’m sure I’ll be back next year for some deep turns!
Aomori Spring Resort info www.aomorispringski.com/en/
Hakkoda Ski Resort info (English) http://hakkoda-ski.com
Hakkoda Hotel www.hakkodahotel.co.jp
Aomori Prefecture Tourism info (English) www.en-aomori.com