Well, that's it for this season folks... for the resorts anyway, as the ski lifts are all resting now after a long season.
After a short rest and time for checking though the Gondolas will be back moving again for the "Green Season" operations. Dates as follows:
14th May - 30th October
16th June - 30th October
20th May - 3rd November
16th July - 4th September
Hope you had a great season. A season wrap-up will be following soon....
Season wrap up:
Although the season in Hakuba got off to a slow start this last season, things really picked up quickly. Temperatures fell to those of the good ol' days and the snow just kept coming. From December 20th through the end of January there was hardly a day when you could not find powder in or just off the resorts. Temperatures didn't climb above 0C in the valley until mid February when the snows stopped the skies opened up and there before us in all her glory were the Hakuba peaks. It felt as though it was a lifetime that we hadn't seen the steep Alpine slopes that had been hiding behind the cloud and continuous snow falls. These were great days for perfect views and the stability was good which meant trips into the expansive Hakuba backcountry was where it was at.
Hakuba seemed to be in the spotlight this year for professional free riders all over the globe as we saw a new film crew each week from North and South America and Europe come in to explore Japan's Northern Alps. There was some serious lines being done by the likes of Lucas Debari and Xavier De La Rue who set the scene early in January and then the TGR crew set up shop in Hakuba for 3 weeks which allowed Jeremy Jones and Forrest Shearer ample time to savour some of Hakuba's steep and deep backcountry.
After the mid season dry spell we were pleasantly surprised when the end of February brought cold northerlies and great powder once again all through March. Unfortunately, however, the rapid temperature drop and healthy dumps of fresh snow brought with it some of the most dangerous avalanche conditions. There were incidents almost every day in the out of bounds side country areas at Goryu, Happo and Tsugaike, as well as one heli evac from the low elevation backcountry of a experienced american backcountry skier who was in critical condition on arrival to hospital but pulled through with multiple internal injuries. Unfortunately, I believe people became just a little too laissez faire with the great snow stability of the mid season pack and possibly a bit too amped up with all the pros doing sick lines everywhere around the valley.
One of the most tragic events of the season in Hakuba was the avalanche death of Hakuba guide, Tetsu Ishikawa, along with two of his clients on that very ominous March 11th, the day of the Tohoku magnitude 9 earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed. I was instructing an avalanche awareness course on that day and remember that the stability was poor and moved my group safely back down the mountain to a point close to Tsugaike resort where we dug pits, studied the snow pack and practised avalanche rescue drills when we felt the ground shake beneath us. It was not until we reached the valley bottom that we heard of the great tsunami and avalanche involvement. The search for Tetsu began early the next morning and lasted 3 days while the search up and down Japan's East Coast for those still missing amongst the rubble and destruction continues to this day so that family and friends might be able to say parting words.
In the wake of March 11 much of north eastern Japan was crippled and a greater concern became apparent, that of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. There was much panic created by mass media misinformation around the planet that unfortunately continues to this day. No one in Japan is taking this present crisis lightly of course and authorities work each and every day on cooling the reactors and reducing the radiation that is leaking from them. In saying this the radiation outside of a hundred km radius is negligible and most of the country, however solemn, has returned to life as usual. There is much work still to do to fix the Daiichi Plant and secure the safety of those within a hundred kms of the plant as well as get the areas affected along the east coast back on their feet and housed.
Great efforts directly after March 11th to assist those in need meant that the Japanese were not travelling and ski resorts were barren of guests from within the country and from overseas. The snow, however, in Hakuba continued to fall and those happy to be safe in the Japanese Alps continued to enjoy the good snow conditions. There was a feeling in Japan at the end of April that it would be best for all concerned if the people of Japan began to travel within the country and provide any boost to the economy that they could rather than just direct aid. It was at this time that Hakuba with it's still deep snow pack was enticing for those wanting to ski and ride and enjoy life again. Don't feel for a minute that the people in need have been forgotten, however, as there are more people now than before volunteering their time in areas worst affected and continuing to collect needed goods and donate to the relief efforts each and every day. It would also be a great assistance to the people of Japan and those along the east coast if overseas travellers returned to Japan, as it is safe to do so as long as you stay away from the Fukushima Power Plant.
The last lifts in the Hakuba valley closed yesterday for the 2010-2011 winter season and the Gondolas will reopen soon for spring and summer hiking (see previous report). For those keen enough, there will still be plenty of snow in the alpine for backcountry touring and riding those big bowls. But do keep in mind that until the snow has all melted off that there is still chance of avalanches and rock slides. This was driven home again only a week ago when 2 backcountry snowboarders died in an avalanche on the Hakuba Daiseke from slopes above.
This season will not be forgotten any time soon. We have had one of the best snow seasons that I can remember and yet we have also seen more death and destruction than any have seen in peace time. It is a season to give thanks for what we have and respect the great energy that is nature.
All here in Hakuba look forward to seeing you in these spectacular mountains again very soon.
Peace through powder.