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Backcountry Skiing Japan

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February 214 minute read

A snow-covered landscape can be bleak and intimidating, it can be misleading and uninviting, but snow covered plains, hills and mountains are always beautiful. That tiny ice crystals, each and every one unique in shape, can fall from the sky in such quantity as to blanket the ground so perfectly as to smooth out all the imperfections in uniform velvety whiteness, will always be wondrous.

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This wonder can soon turn to dismay as the uninitiated attempt to explore this deep snow, but with the right equipment and technique, another world of exploration through a magical world opens. Arguably the most versatile and exhilarating way of exploring this world is on skis. Mastery at first is tricky, but it’s well worth persevering as every new level of mastery brings new levels of the gigglingly enjoyable thrill of flying down slopes at ground level.

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As your skills progress you’ll begin to realise that previous tracks spoil the smoothness by making the ride bumpy and that skiing down snow compacted by the slope groomers at ski resorts is noisy and hard – great for speed and easy control but nothing like untrammelled powder.

To ski down an untracked slope blanketed in fresh dry snow is the ultimate. The ride is silky smooth and silent, and spraying plumes of powder at every turn is unforgettable.

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So, the search begins for areas away from the packed piste of the resorts. The first option can be found by traversing away from the top of the lifts to the unmarked tracks, if these areas are open and deemed safe by the resort ski patrol, however, this ‘side-country’ is often quickly tracked out by early birds vying frantically for fresh tracks.

A safer bet is to eschew the lifts and go touring into the ‘back-country’. Of course, this means climbing every hill you ski down but that investment of hard graft is richly repaid, least of all in getting an untracked run but mostly and paradoxically in the fact that a backcountry run is so much more memorable than a run at a resort – you remember each turn, be it weaving through the trees, getting air over bumps, defying gravity in half-pipe gullies or carving long arced turns through the glistening surface of a powder bowl above the tree line. As you stop breathless half-way down to take a photo and regain your breath the surrounding silence brings a hush to your brain instilling a heady mix of calmness and exhilaration.

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Then there’s always promise in what lies beyond the next fold of the mountain’s flank, a promise that makes the chore of fixing climbing skins to your skis and the exertion of climbing out simply part of the fun of being out and feeling 100% alive.

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In 1984 Tim Macartney-Snape, along with Greg Mortimer, was the first Australian to summit Everest. In 1990 he summited again, this time human-powered from the Bay of Bengal! Tim has a passion for storytelling and for instilling his love of the environment. He is the Chairman for Leave No Trace Australia, assists with staff training and the pioneering of new routes for World Expeditions and co-founded the outdoor brand Sea to Summit.


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