Tateyama Preview

So with leave confirmed, flights booked, guiding fees payed, and travel insurance including rescue secured, I thought I’d do an update on my Japan backcountry trip I’m planning.

I have a suspicion I might actually be really good at travelling, despite (or because of) being really anxious about it. Like how Britta in Community is an excellent wedding planner despite hating marriage. I do huge amounts of research and reading online with an elevated heart rate while biting my lip.

Tateyama turns out to be “more obscure” as far as ski destinations in Japan go. The “-yama” postfix means “mount” so it’s also called, coincidentally, Mount Tate. However it’s pronounced differently to Australia’s Mount Tate in that the e is not silent. The area surrounds the highest point on the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, a historic pass between Japan’s west and east coast. The Murodo Sanso lodge is actually on the oldest mountain hut site in Japan. Mount Tate is one of Japan’s three sacred mountains (along with Mount Fuji and Mount Haku) and does have an active volcanic cone in the range, which last erupted in 1839. It and neighbouring Tsurugi-dake are the northermost of Japan’s highest 25 mountains and also the closest to the west coast – hello, orthographic lift. Surveys recently showed the existance of small permanent sections of downhill-flowing ice under the firm in some of the gullies – technically glaciers, the only such features in Japan.

It’s most famous for the “snow corridor” which they make when they clear the route in spring. It’s closed in winter (too much snow!) so the options are early season skiing in November, and spring skiing when they finally clear the route.

The famous “snow canyon”

It starts snowing at the end of October, so the early season looks like this.

Actually last year, they had so much snow at the end of November there was a size 3 avalanche with a 2m meter crown wall that killed 7 people.

On that note, as a dumbfuck Aussie travelling solo, I’m going with a guide. Damian from moutainlife.jp has a no-nonsense reputation as one of the most knowledgeable guides in Hakuba. (I’ve stolen some of his promotional pics here as you can see by the watermark, not sure if hotlinking is included as part of the trip fee)

Last year was above average though. Obviously early season is a big risk – but hey, if it gets cancelled, I’ve probably managed enough one-upping at the bar already to make the travel insurance excess a little less painful. To be blunt I’m almost certainly not getting chest deep mega pow. But terrain and location are underrated, it looks like an amazing place to tour.

Japan is a bit crazy in that it snows so hard in winter, and then melts almost complete as it gets super hot in summer (hence the lack of real glaciers). The reason for the snow is a huge lake-effect snowfall pattern that happens when very cold winds come off Siberia and cross the relatively warm Sea of Japan. Low pressure systems are actually bad news – you just want a steady onshore wind to produce constant snow, and you predict which resort will get the most snow based solely on the wind direction.

It’s a kind of winter monsoon. Pure orthographic snow porn.

Here is the best video I found.

MightyJamming.tv_2.1 from MightyJamming on Vimeo.

Well there’s still a bit of skiing to be done in Aus, but it the meantime I’ll have to start finding some new favourite ramen dishes.


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