Where better to experience our first taste of the backcountry than Japan; home of the rising sun and more importantly home to deepest powder I have ever seen in my life.
We’d been interested in giving backcountry touring a go for a while and decided a sensible starting point would be with our Avalanche safety course. The two day course run by Evergreen Outdoor Centre is a great introduction to the world of skiing beyond the confines of the piste and the dangers associated with it.
The first day was spent in the classroom and learning to use the beacons, day two we headed to the backcountry…
I had heard of splitboards before but couldn’t quite get my head around the logistics of a snowboard that literally splits in half to become a pair of skis – turns out it is just that simple! The one I rented from Evergreen was a Prior splitboard and had incredibly simple bindings that just slotted in and out of position and were held in place with a metal pin.
We headed to an area of Hakuba Valley called Tsugaike which is renowned for its powder and backcountry terrain. We took the gondola to the top, where we prepared for the hike by splitting our splitboards and skinning up (a challenge in itself when it was dumping snow at 5cm per hour!)
We hiked up between the trees with Dave breaking trail at the front and Bill following behind, stopping every now and then to analyse the snow and share their vast knowledge of avalanche terrain in Japan. The hike up was actually far more enjoyable than I could have imagined! The skins on the base of the “skis” make it really efficient to walk up pretty steep tracks without exerting too much energy and the scenery was stunning; a real winter wonderland. We walked for about 2 hours, zig zagging through the trees and it was great.
When we reached the top we spent some time cutting through the snow pack and learning how to identify unstable snow layers before reassembling the boards for the journey down. I really struggled to get the board back together with freezing cold hands and constant heavy snowfall but I guess it is one of those things that just gets easier with practise.
The ride down was epic. It was just bottomless powder! We took a line through the trees which was pretty steep and I spent the majority of the way down getting buried in snow and being dug out by Dave… I still have a lot to learn about riding powder it seems!
All in all I would definitely recommend the Avalanche safety training with Evergreen – the guides are incredibly knowledgeable and it is a really informative and fun way to get out in to the backcountry for the first time.