Resort Write Up: Asahidake

Asahidake ropeway is only an hour or so from Hokkaido’s second biggest city, but it feels a very long way from anywhere. As you drive up, the mountains fold in around you and the ever-rising snowbanks on the roadside make it clear that this place gets serious snow. The ski area is sheltered and calm, collecting deep, dry powder while up above the big winter storms buffet the peak of Mt Asahidake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido.

The peak on one of those rare bluebird days.    
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The peak on one of those rare bluebird days. © The Powder Project Pty Ltd

Asahidake has one cable car, and like Kurodake, this was set up for hikers and tourists visiting the hot springs in summer. But over a long winter, Asahidake gets hammered by metres of the driest snow in Hokkaido. This area is for those who love riding through trees and enjoy a little exploring in search of the perfect run. Around the base of the gondola are a handful of hotels and ryokans that mostly cater to summer tourists. In winter they’re quiet, welcoming the few guests they receive with warm hospitality, amazing traditional Japanese meals and outdoor hot springs on the edge of the forest.

The skiing:

Asahidake is serviced by one cable car that takes you from the village at 1,100m to the edge of a plateau just above the tree line at 1,600m. It's great for a few days of riding or longer if the weather clears and allows for some ski touring.

This is essentially a backcountry resort. There are two narrow groomed runs which serve as collection tracks to take you back to the gondola base station after you finish your off-piste run. Skiers’ right of the gondola has more mellow terrain that’s perfect for a warm-up lap or intermediate powder skiers. There are a few flat spots out there, so you need to be careful to link up with the groomer at the right time or you can end up with a bit of a hike.

Directly below the lift there are steeper open pitches near the top that drop into the trees. The skiers’ left of the cable car has a huge range of terrain, with steep trees, open bowls, and some awesome ridge and gully lines. The terrain and snow in here can be phenomenal if you know where to look and when to make your exit. It’s an area where a bit of local knowledge makes a big difference.

Fresh tracks after lunch on a bluebird powder day? Check. © The Powder Project Pty Ltd

Fresh tracks after lunch on a bluebird powder day? Check. © The Powder Project Pty Ltd

This place gets an awful lot of snow. We’ve never seen such consistently deep conditions anywhere else in the world. Asahidake has featured in a bunch of recent ski movies, with plenty of shots of riders gliding through glades so deep in the driest powder that all you see of them is an occasional glove or beanie.

This is all backcountry riding, and you need to take care. There are avalanche zones, hidden drop-offs and flat areas that can make your run a very long one, but if you know where you're going, you'll find perfectly spaced glades, long runs down nicely pitched ridges, narrow gullies between trees, steep open faces and large and small drop offs with soft, easy landings

At the end of your run you'll hit one of the two groomers that whisk you back like a roller coaster through pine forest to the bottom of the cable car. There's a small restaurant/cafe here serving udon and ramen noodles and Katsu-don.

Sheltered pow on a windy day - the back bowls deliver yet again. © The Powder Project Pty Ltd

Sheltered pow on a windy day - the back bowls deliver yet again. © The Powder Project Pty Ltd

Asahidake really opens up if you’re willing to hike a little. Above the cable car is the peak itself, which has a huge volcanic bowl with steam vents. There are a range of good lines on the flanks of the peak, and heading into the volcanic bowl itself, but it’s alpine terrain so you need good weather. The real advantage of hiking is that it opens up longer and more sustained lines to the skiers’ left of the cable car. A short (20 minutes or less) flat hike along the edge of the plateau takes you to some amazing sheltered side country with enough trees to ski well in all conditions. There are a series of gullies and bowls that collect huge amounts of snow and will absolutely guarantee to get you whooping. It snows so much here that it pays to have good options for poor visibility, and this area delivers. We’ve skied some of our best lines here.

The evenings:

The village at Asahidake sits at the base of the cable car within the national park and is small and quiet. There's not much nightlife here, no public bars or restaurants, just a few hotels and cosy ryokans.

© The Powder Project Pty Ltd

© The Powder Project Pty Ltd

Our favourite accommodation in the village has traditional Japanese rooms with tatami mats and comfortable futons, a little reading room to sit with your favourite ski mag, amazing home cooked Japanese food, including traditional breakfasts and dinners, and the finest Japanese beer available in a can from a vending machine. It has fantastic hot spring baths fed by the local stream, including an outdoor hot spring surrounded by snow on the edge of the forest.

If you need a day off from skiing powder, we can show you some trails for snow shoeing and cross country skiing that take you through forests and past natural hot spring seeps.