The far north of Japan has a hidden gem for ski lovers. Many people talk about Hakuba or Niseko, but very few venture all the way up to Rishiri. Aubrey and Marie, Canadians from Quebec that were travelling for 5 months surfing and skiing around Asia, heard by chance about it once they arrived to Japan, and couldn’t take the idea out of their heads since then. So they contacted Toshiya, local JMGA mountain guide, and managed to organize in a few days a program that ended up being a big highlight in their whole trip. Read their testimony, and be amazed with them by the magic of Rishiri!
While surfing in the south of Japan, talking with locals of our upcoming ski trip in Hokkaido, one of them, just before dropping on a wave, mentioned the Island of Rishiri as a place not to be missed.
Right after removing our wetsuits we searched the internet for more details about this destination we had never heard of before. Immediately Explore-Share provided enough information that convinced us to add the place on our itinerary. We contacted Toshiya, a true local JMGA mountain guide, that even with basic English, and with the support of the Explore-Share team, provided the key details to help us organize the backcountry ski trip on Rishiri Island.
Rishiri is a small island just 20 km away from the northern tip of Hokkaido, in the north of Japan. It is a circular island, just 60 km of circumference, and its landscape is dominated by the figure of Mt. Rishiri, an extinct volcano. But the mountain has so many bowls and ridges that it feels more as if it was a small mountain range with various peaks, rather than just one big volcano.
So after skiing for a couple of weeks in Hokkaido, we set sail in direction of Wakkanai to take the ferry. During the hour and a half crossing, the clouds gradually let place to the sun and Mt. Rishiri appeared to us in all its majesty. Toshiya, with his contagious smile, was waiting for us and brought us to the great guesthouse that he manages with his family, just at the edge of the town and with a superb view of Mt. Rishiri.
Toshiya was born and lives in the island, and is the only guide based and guiding there. He knows like no one else each corner of the terrain, and has been to the top of Mt. Rishiri more than 500 times!
The kick off was a quick informative meeting about general safety and planning in the fully glassed dining room, where we met the team. A group of four charming Japanese girls from Tokyo and Fukuoka would join us. Toshiya explained why and how we would attempt to ski in a certain face of the volcano. Due to the strong wind, it was going to be the East face. We rapidly realized that the language barrier wasn’t an obstacle for the mountain enthusiasts.
The cuisine was a real treat. We ate mostly the dinner of local: fish. 80% of Rishiri’s population are fishermen. The generous staff and the keg of thirst quencher Sapporo classic (the local beer) brought the authentic ambiance you dream of when planning a trip. The pension’s private onsen (thermal baths) was the perfect night cap.
The next day we purchased some things for breakfast, coffee and lunch in the town’s convenience store, located 20 minutes driving on the way to the entrance of the trail. We approached the mountain by sled towing, and we were there in a blink, at the base of a superb, snow filled, immense gully with more skiing possibilities than we could cover in a week.
Toshiya led efficiently the team up and shared his experiences in the mountain. This is the kind of guide with whom you have so much fun that at the end of the day you feel like if you spent it with a group of good old friends. The view was insane: Hokkaido Island on the horizon, the ocean, and the idea that Russia was right after it. This made us realize how cool it is to be able to share the passion for the mountain wherever you are!
The terrain in Rishiri can satisfy the whole specter of riders. The options go from loaded snow fields to steep chutes: this place is the ultimate playground. The size of the mountain with its 360° accessibility provide flexibility and different options according to the weather.
After a great day of skiing, the continuous slope brought us down right to the van. Back at the guesthouse, the good people, excellent food, the warm onsen and a Sapporo Classic beer made the night as they should always be.
The following morning we woke up happy, knowing that the terrain we had seen the day before from the road would be a feast, and was waiting for us. A Japanese version of the American breakfast kickstarted the team. When we arrived to the mountain, the fog that rolled in made us wonder if the poor visibility would limit our progression in altitude, making us forget about yesterday’s view. I thought ‘ok, we can’t ask always for perfect conditions’. But at 1200 meters the sun pierced the thick clouds, and slowly revealed the white faces. From a sensation of solitude to the feel of immensity, the mountain showed its character and generosity.
One slope after the other, all first tracks, never the same path, we covered well and incredibly another whole area of Mt. Rishiri. A good approach strategy from Toshiya allowed the team to continue with energy until the deadline of the ferry departure called us back.
Saluting Toshiya and his family, that manage the precious pension, made us feel again the true spirit of an authentic mountain experience. Back on the ferry, talking about the good times we had spent, and already thinking of someday going back to Rishiri, the mountain bade us farewell with a warm sunset. And we couldn’t help but think: ‘Wow, these places still exist’.
So, if you enjoyed reading about Aubrey and Marie’s experience, why not going for a trip like this one!? You’ll find plenty of options for ski trips in Japan with mountain guides like Toshiya, who will not only take you to best skiing spots, but also introduce you to their culture and traditions.
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