Hakuba’s Karamatsu Valley is an all time ski favourite of local legend guide Dave Enright.
It’s still a worthy #1 for our 10 classic Japan ski lines series from back in 2010. Unlike some of the others to follow, that have gone from ‘secret stashes’ to tracked out, Mt Karamatsu requires a skill and fitness level to tackle it that will forever keep numbers down.
The Hakuba Valley offers so many options it’s hard to know where to start. Often even harder to know where to finish too; terrain traps and avalanche dangers abound. Getting in touch with the team at Enright’s Evergreen Tours is the smart way to get as much capital-A alpine terrain as you can handle.
So you want to explore outside the resorts and you think you’re ready for some big mountains? Hakuba has some of the biggest, steepest and most beautifully aesthetic peaks in all of Japan with snow that will blow your mind. One of those hidden steep and deep powder stashes is the Karamatsu Valley and the multiple chutes accessing it.
Those looking for deep powder well into March and even April can still find that up top in the Karamatsu chutes where the overnight temperatures continue to drop below -10 C. Don’t forget your crampons and pick however, as the last few hundred metres before the hut is very narrow and more often than not wind blown and icy at ridge top.
Once you reach the hut, which is only open July through mid-October, it’s only a short walk to the top of two north facing, 45° chutes with a straight vertical drop of 500m before the shaded kilometre of slopes all the way down the Karamatsu Zawa that are very often full of dry alpine powder.
On a trip in mid March I and Mic Baker, another long time Hakuba resident and experienced rider, decided to pass on these beautiful chutes that friend and Hakuba regular Nathan jumped into, as we spotted him slicing down through what looked like the goods, before we continued to the summit of Mt. Karamatsu Dake to ride the very steep and narrow North East chute from it’s peak. A chute I had eyed many a time before but passed on, opting for those first chutes instead.
After taking in the amazing views across at Kairazu One, the ‘Ridge of No Return’, another amazing alpine feature, it was time to descend.
Expecting some wind packed snow part way down, I dropped in tentatively and made 6 or 7 jump turns before hitting, at pace, not the hard wind pack that I was expecting, but wind scoured rain ice.
Yikes! I was not slowing down any time soon with my untuned fat powder skis and touring bindings skidding sideways pre trying to cut up slope as the chute widened in a frantic attempt to slow down. Trying to dump speed would prove futile and the vibrations with the speed across the ice only resulted in my down hill ski ejecting and my up hill edge with no chance of holding me up.
I went down, and with the second ski ejecting my only option was to try and self arrest with my poles that only preceded to flip me head down as I picked up speed on the 50 degree ice to what I presumed would be a fairly unfriendly outcome. I went cascading over a small rock outcrop, into a double back flip, only to come to a 10 point landing in waist deep fluffy powder. The air was still, the mountains were silent and I was very thankfully alive and standing, albeit with a fairly sore knee and a very surreal yard sale of my gear just above me.
Mic rode down cautiously on his single tuned edge before we carved through the waist deep dry velvet pow that felt like we were riding in heaven after my previous ride.
In Hakuba, it might just come down to how much you’re willing to put on the line.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned in the mountains but mitigating risk is key. There are endless hazards out in these mountains, ice, avalanches, weather and cliffs to mention a few but the rewards are great and the memories forever.
— Dave Enright
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The Evergreen Team also run highly recommended Avalanche training – Enright has been a leader in improving avalanche awareness, education, control and terrain management in Japan for 20 years. Check out their Avalanche Canada AST 1 & 2 courses, and CRS (Companion Rescue Skills). Starting a Japow mission with these courses is great idea.
For some more great Hakuba Valley lines try these:
For more on skiing with Dave Enright: