With winter well underway in Japan, its about time to talk about the ins and outs of backcountry safety here in Hakuba. There is no avalanche forecast or bulletin for Hakuba. So, you are essentially responsible for making your own assessment of the snowpack. There are, however, a few resources that can help you get an idea whats going on with stability. Backcountry Safety in Hakuba, Japan | Unofficial Networks

Backcountry Safety in Hakuba, Japan

Crown from the slide featured above

Backcountry Safety in Hakuba, Japan

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Backcountry Safety in Hakuba, Japan

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With winter well underway in Japan, its about time to talk about the ins and outs of backcountry safety here in Hakuba.

Avalanche crossing the river in the Happo-One backcountry.

An avalanche with the powder blast crossing the river, near Happo-One.

There is no avalanche forecast or bulletin for Hakuba. So, you are essentially responsible for making your own assessment of the snowpack. There are, however, a few resources that can help you get an idea whats going on with stability.

The first and easiest for English speakers is Steep Deep Japan; which is a blog maintained by local guide and backcountry skier Damian Banwell. Damian’s blog provides information from a weather station every morning, and he writes a mountain diary with snowpack observations and touring notes every evening. It is worth stating that this is in no way meant to be an avalanche  forecast, it is simply observations from one guy who spends a lot of time touring our local backcountry.

A second useful resource are the local reports on Japan Avalanche Network. In this section of the Japan Avalanche Network website, individuals give reports of their snowpack observations for the day. Unfortunately, most of the information is written in Kanji (Japanese alphabet), but there are a few people who post useful information in English. Also, a lot of the snow pit observations and numerical data is still understandable.

Crown from the slide featured above

Up close on the crown of the slide posted above.

Another important topic for backcountry skiers in Hakuba is rescue and evacuation. In our local resorts, ski patrol will help you if you are on pistes / courses, or in limited controlled “off-piste” areas. If you hurt yourself outside of ski resort boundaries or in any closed off-piste or tree areas, you and your partners are responsible for your own rescue. Patrol will not assist you. There is no Search and Rescue organization here. You should not expect helicopter evacuation. Just as you consider the consequences of an avalanche before every run, you should also assess the consequences of an injury, and the reality of trying to evacuate an injured skier before every run.

Another slide at Happo-One

Another slide in the Happo-One backcountry.

If you are looking to get into the backcountry around Hakuba, consider hiring a guide or taking an avalanche course. When looking for a guide, be sure they are trained and have experience. A good organization to look at is the Evergreen Outdoor Center. For avalanche courses, The Avalanche School is an excellent option. Damian offers CRS, AST1, and occasional AST2 courses, all certified by the Canadian Avalanche Center.

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