Japan, as we know it has recently become the mecca of the powder skier. Dream lines in perfectly natural glades with the deepest powder of your life is simply waiting there, stacking up as the season continues. Although it is alluring, it does not mean that there is inherent risk- particularly in the backcountry.
On January 12th, a group of six Finnish males were skiing in Nagano at the Nozawa Onsen ski resort after they skied down a steep slope, away from posted runs, were unable to hike back up. Similarly, later that afternoon, authorities were notified of a group of six Australian men and women who were stranded in a similar situation. This group was located in the backcountry outside Urabandai Nekoma ski resort in Fukushima.
The Australian group was found later that same night; meanwhile the Finnish were extracted by helicopter the morning after.
It is incredibly uncanny that two groups of the same size and both tourists to Japan were stranded in the backcountry the same day- and even luckier that both groups were rescued unscathed. However, this also speaks to the spike in tourism in Japan’s mountains of skiers and snowboarders in search of the world-famous powder. With the increase of tourists skiing in Japan and the technological improvements in backcountry technology, more and more skiers and riders are going further than ever before. The lines that are skied on a regular basis push the envelope of what is possible and many seek the deepest snow of their life in Japan. This could be a fatal combination if these trends continue, but with the proper equipment and avalanche training backcountry skiing becomes safer.