Rumors of this dangerous mountain float around Aomori Ken with an evil air. A JET getting lost on it a few years ago probably being the source of these terrifying rumors. Described by some as the ‘Holy Grail’ of powder skiing for its perfect powder and unbelievably tiny crowds, it is hard not to wonder about this gem that lies within viewing distance of Aomori city. It generally appeals to the hardcore who are intrigued by the infamous “danger” Hakkoda is remembered and feared amongst japanese for the ill fated training march around 100 years ago when over 200 soldiers perished while caught in a severe storm.
Talking about going here sparks worry in people’s eyes and you without a doubt are guaranteed a few gasps, teachers look and hope you are joking when you say your heading there for the weekend. But the Japanese do tend to get worked up fairly easily so its good to bear that in mind.
Yet I still agree to the fact that Hakkoda is not really a mountain well suited to inexperienced riders.
Myself and Allie were ready, we were prepared for the worst, with a wise head on each of our shoulders we decided to attempt the challenge with caution. We arrived up on Saturday morning to meet the first gondola leaving at 9am, our palms where already sweaty from the horrendously icy drive. The excitement was too much for us, the fear we had long forgotten. We rented out gear from a tiny wooden hut and caught the 9.40am lift to the top. Quite an experience, the 10minute (maybe its even 20mins) gondola ride was, as we travelled higher and higher, ears popping, trees going from green with frosty white tops to un-recognisable chunks of white, our eyes were glued to the mist that lay ahead and our hearts began to race. Not one inch of visibility.
We arrived into what resembled a scene from the Titanic, the gondola station was so incrusted with snow and ice it looked like a coral reef. I felt like I was miles under the sea as opposed to 1584 metres above it.
The annual snowfall statistic for Hakkoda is unknown, but a guesstimate would put the snowfall in the realm of 14-20 metres per season. This place is intense.
Hakkoda is well known for its frequent foul weather and blizzards, particularly in January and February. The harsh weather conditions and high precipitation also form the spectacular juhyo (snow monsters aka snow ghosts). Which myself and Allie where swallowed into as we exited the station. But with this foul weather falls some of the most perfect snow on this planet, and if you catch it on a rare non-blizzardy day you really cannot get much better luck. We were lucky enough in that snow was not falling, but unlucky like many others in that you couldn’t see a damn thing up the top. You are met by a bizarre piste map; you can take two routs, the ‘direct route’ or the ‘forest route’. Once you choose your route you then have to find the actual area of starting, being careful not to make any drastic turns which would result in death, most probably. It was 100%white out on Saturday morning, luckily we were wearing the most vivid colors on the mountain so it was easy for us to stick close together. Two peas in a pod.
Looking around and checking out the competition we classed ourselves as a little nervous but able skiers/snowboarders. Once you pass the very top section the mist lifts (unexpectedly) and the view is magically…breathtaking. We realized pretty quick that the Japanese skiers that surrounded us didn’t have much confidents, despite the incredibly slick kit they sported (very deceiving to look way better at a sport than you are!) and that confidence really is the main ingredient for Hakkoda, you need to know your ability or you will be guaranteed to perish in its doom. So we found our feet within 10minutes and the rest of the day we were in heaven. The piste is near impossible to follow, there are huge holes surrounding massive trees pretty much every 5feet. The occasional skinny orange pole you are supposed to follow, loose the pole and you are truly screwed.
So after a shot at each the forest route and the direct route we concluded they were equally as epic yet equally forested. The forest route is lovely and long, it starts extremely steep but ends on an odd uphill climb (poor Allie and her snowboard had a tough time on it), the in between though, is truly glorious. The direct route is more consistent but shorter. Both are the two most amazing slopes I have ever set myself to, the combination of the scenery and the powder had us crying with joy.
After a big bowl of warm ramen for lunch we headed back up for a few more goes, to our great surprise the mist had lifted almost completely. We stood in awe at the view and also the slopes we had been blind skiing all morning. We patted each other on the shoulders before heading off again for more joys.
During the week we had thought 4900yen (50euro) for 5 gondola rides was pretty steep but they have it sussed it all out well. From 9.30am till 3pm with under an hour for lunch we were more than satisfied from each and every run. Legs aching and faces burning we retired.
On our return to the city it took hours to come down from the Hakkoda buzz, we popped into a second hand shop and picked up some serious deals. I got blades and boots in great condition for 6000yen (60euro) while Allie bagged herself a snowboard and boots for 4000yen(40euro). We exited the shop and turned to smile across the distance at our new best friend. We promise to visit her again soon. Hakkoda San.