Katie Tsuyuki is a Canadian Snowboard Halfpipe Olympian with strong connections to Japan. Not only does she love the powder snow  and Japanese culture, her father is Japanese, so this country is in her blood! In winter 2016 Katie made a trip to Aomori Spring to train in the 22ft halfpipe and ride the backcountry powder.  This is about her backcountry adventure up Mt Iwaki.

Backcountry adventures on Mt Iwaki

Backcountry adventures on Mt Iwaki

As the chill sets in the air in the Northern Hemisphere and the snow starts to fall, I can’t help but get excited. There is nothing like riding pristine powder and I love the adventure of backcountry excursions. One of my favourite experiences was when I visited Aomori Spring Resort, in northern Honshu, Japan.

I was in Japan last February and arriving in Aomori was a nice relief from the crowded, touristy Niseko area. The pick up from the airport was easy and it was about an hour drive to the resort through the picturesque prefecture.

The Hotel

The Rockwood Hotel & Spa was of modern Japanese style with employees who upheld Japan’s amazing hospitality standard. There were many great food choices around the resort including a delicious ramen bar at the bottom of the freestyle park. Did I mention there was a huge buffet in the hotel where you dined slope side?

Ascent through the powder

The hotel and food were great, but the best part was the powder. I was booked in to snowshoe the four hour trek up to Mt. Iwaki to ride the white stuff, however due to avalanche warnings the guides changed the route to a lower elevation. The new route meant less vertical, but probably the best call. The guides were professional and made sure we had all the right gear and knew how to use it.

My group rode the gondola to the top where we continued our ascent via snowshoes. The time passed quickly as I was taking in the beautiful mountainous surroundings of Japan blanketed in snow. One of the guides pointed out that a certain tree was normally buried in the winter, indicating that the snow was well below the regular seasonal levels. He could have fooled me as we were walking through a good twenty centimetres deep in powder, in snowshoes.

With our guides breaking trail on their skis we made our way up to the lower summit in a matter of hours. We ate a packed lunch with warm tea and before I knew it we had switched our snowshoes for snowboards.

The first descent

The first descent was bottomless, full of face shots and it felt so smooth. There were nothing but high fives and smiles all around at the bottom. I hiked up a few more times hitting different lines, getting fresh tracks every time.

After playing in that basin we hiked a little higher to access another bowl with a slightly longer decent. Again, expectations were met and I frolicked my turns down the mountain.  The end of the run was sounded with some whooping! We put the snowshoes on for the last hike over the ridge and back onto the resort.

Winding down in the onsen

When I finally got back to my room and sat down I was pretty exhausted but elated over the day. My legs hurt from shredding and my face hurt from grinning. There was only one thing left to do, get into my robe and head to soak in the beautiful onsen. It was the best ending to a massive backcountry adventure.

Wow, recapping that day gives me chills. February can’t come fast enough; I can’t wait to be in Aomori Spring again.

Watch Katie’s backcountry video edit

Take your own backcountry adventure!

Katie will be back at Aomori Spring in winter 2017. She or one of our trained backcountry guides can take you on your very own powder mission up Mt Iwaki this coming winter. Please contact us for more information.

More about Katie Tsuyuki

Not only is Katie and outstanding snowboard athlete, she is also a coach, mentor, motivational speaker, and marketing consultant. Read more about her at KTathletics.com.