Snowboarding Mission to Japan's Very Own "Alaska"
Although today is going to reach high temperatures close to 90 degrees in New York, we thought you could cool down with this awesome story by Dan Ocker who brought us this feature on his recent snowboard trip to the Kurodake Mountain in Hokkaido, Japan:
Kurodake is a a secret mountain. It’s not unlikely for a handful of riders to have the mountain for themselves all day or at times all week. The thing about the mountain is that it’s mainly a scenic point for autumn and summer sightseeing, taking in the crazy evil looking volcanic peaks and gorges of Daisetsuzan national park. The place looks like vermont in autumn, but in winter it’s more like Mordor. There are deer, natural hot springs and almost nothing else. No ski town, no real anything its just badass black craggy mountains in the middle of Hokkaido, Japan’s little Alaska.
There is a cable car which goes halfway up the mountain and after a quick walk a small two seater lift which will give you a short sweet run, but 99 percent of the mountain is just wild and untracked. It’s a blank page and with a bit of effort you can reach the peak and take runs all the way down to the empty parking lot at the base. It’s a truly raw yet accessible experience that balances somewhere between heaven and sketchy as fuck. Many a narrow icy chute open up to beautiful deep powder and just about the same number open up to sheer cliffs.
People have had epic experiences and others had helicopter rescues, some have even spent the night in snow caves after easily made wrong turns. Curiosity can kill cats and some rolls of the dice equal long hikes out of bad choices. Overall it’s a real riders mountain, a place that once you give it the respect it demands pays you back one hundred fold.
The hike itself is not rough at all depending on the weather. The cable car for the sightseeing tourists really makes it a walk in the park, still it’s pretty damn cold. On that day it was plastic cracking cold, our tripod just gave up and became three monopods. We all got strapped up with our snow shoes poles and Avy beacons, everything feels sweet until the wind hits and you can feel the side of your skull crystalize. Your eyes get ice cream headaches. At the same time your body is sweating like a jungle beast from climbing with your board and pack on your back. I felt like like one one of those worms that live in the bottom of the sea with their bodies half under freezing water and half over a volcanic vent.
Once we reached the top the wind was just straight evil. The peaks in Japan are pretty cool because they all have a mini Shinto shrines up there just to make things feel super cinematic. It’s hard to appreciate however when all of the aforementioned sweat under your jacket is now turning to ice from just standing around and unstrapping your gear. The sweat instantly turns into an ice water bath and my hands turn into crab claws. It really is super pretty though and out there you have nothing but mountains for days. There really is no civilization any where. All of this was spit out by volcanoes and now we get to ride down on it.
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We strapped in on the rocky icy peak and and just dove in. On the way down a thousand beautiful lines just fan out in front of you and it’s almost hard to choose a perfect path because right next you there are twenty more. The top is just open, steep and deep, this mountain gets all the snow all the time. It’s all fresh, incredibly fast and I almost feel guilty for riding something so pretty. It’s one of those places where you can’t really find fault in anything. Things are just right and I instantly forget I was freezing a minute ago.
Halfway down things get a bit more gnarly. The trees are super tight, but there are mushrooms to pop of of and hips and cornices to shred. You just gotta watch your landings cause things tend to come out of nowhere. Sometimes there is ice and sometimes it’s pretty damn hairy, but it’s always what you make of it and it’s always changing and new. There are so many ways down to the river at the bottom and each line can make you grin from ear to ear while making your heart skip from the close calls of rocks and trees. As I hit the run out by the river it takes me trough the gates of another Shinto shrine at the base of the mountain and out to the parking lot.
The mountain feels like a hidden piece of Japan, the best snow and in the middle of nowhere. A place only really used for people taking pictures of the changing leaves or senior citizens taking the occasional nature hike. As all the other places in Hokkaido get tracked out and blown up Kurodake just sits there sleeping. It’s the little secret of the locals.
Text: Dan Ockers
Photo: Hayden Buck