Articles by Simon Bernard    

Hakkoda: Ride smart, ride safe!

There was an incident last Friday 3/18/05, at Hakkoda where two Misawa air base snowboarders went off-course and got lost on the mountain in very bad weather. Thankfully, this potential life threatening situation was averted when the patrol and local guides were able to find them at about 6 p.m. This was the second time this year that someone from Misawa got lost at Hakkoda.

Already many of the ski resorts have closed or will soon close. But because Aomori has had the most snow this year that it has had in about 20 years, Hakkoda will be the only place open to enjoy spring snow until sometime in June. What most people need to realize is that although Hakkoda is the ultimate location for ski and snowboarding, it is a mountain, not a ski resort, and needs to be respected as such!

First, the top of Hakkoda is not a place to go for beginners. You do not need to be an expert to enjoy it, but it is not a place to learn. A gondola, known as the ropeway, can take 100 people at a time to the top of Mt. Tamoyachi (1324m). There are no groomed slopes from there, only orange poles set about 10 meters apart to guide you down the two official courses (the Direct and Forest courses), with orange fencing to try to keep you from going out of bounds.

Even if you are planning to stay on course, the weather at the top of the mountain can make even the runs on the marked trails a challenge. So a minimum of wearing a backpack with food and liquid is a must. Better yet, carrying snowshoes and extendable poles will ensure that if you get stuck in the powder or inadvertently wander off-course, you will be able to walk out. Even walking through a foot of fresh powder can be exhausting without snowshoes.

If you are doing some backcountry trekking, you should bring an emergency snow blanket, extra warm layers, hot thermos, whistle, compass, map, radio transceiver, cell phone (beware: they donít work in all parts of the mountain). An avalanche beacon, probe and shovel should be seriously considered as well.

Going alone, as the first missing snowboarder found out about a month ago, is a definite no-no. Although he ascended in blue-sky weather, he ended up stumbling off the mountain at 9 p.m. A few years ago, some Misawa boarders lost digits to frost bite after spending the night lost on the mountain.

Going out of bounds without a guide is just foolish. Trails that may be good some parts of the year can be outright dangerous on other days. Snow and weather conditions can change minute to minute.

As someone who has skied and snowboarded Hakkoda for over 10 years, it really pains me to have to paint the picture so black at a place that offers the absolute best area in all Japan for scenic beauty and winter/spring snow. If you want to enjoy all that Hakkoda has to offer, the best way is to get yourself a guide who can take you to the best snow area of the day and get you out safely while having a ball!