At last! Autumn is here, and temperatures have dropped. We can now even say that a handful of ski resorts will be opening ‘next month’. There might even be a bit of snowfall on the mountains in Hokkaido tonight.

Look towards the end of the month for some big names to open.

As the ski resorts around Japan busily prepare for the 2018-2019 season, I have two main things to introduce to you this time round.

Brand new hybrid lift at Ishiuchi

There are some very interesting new developments happening at the Ishiuchi Maruyama ski resort Minamiuonuma, Niigata Prefecture. Ishiuchi Maruyama is about 10 minutes from the main station of the perhaps more well-known Yuzawa town, which is less than 90 minutes from central Tokyo making it a favourite for day trips from the capital.

In a flurry of major developments that caught many by surprise, Ishiuchi Maruyama are currently very busy installing a hybrid 10-person gondola and 6-person ski lift, both of those operating simultaneously on the same cables. This new facility, being provided by Nippon Cable, is said to be a new technology that will make the lift particularly quiet and smooth. Not content with just that one headline, the same resort is also installing a new triple lift and a brand-new Resort Centre building by the base. No half measures there, then!

Over the last 20 years or so there haven’t been many exciting stories of new facilities in Japan. Indeed, more existing ski lifts have been taken down than new ones have been installed! So, it is really encouraging to see developments such as this. And it will be fun to see how the new equipment shapes up when it opens in December.

Nature!

Ski resorts in Japan most often refer to the off-season as ‘the green season’. This year, our green season has brought more than its fair share of nature-driven drama.

You might recall last time I was talking about some serious overheating and flooding in July. Since then, Japan has endured a few powerful typhoons tracking across the country and bringing some more flooding and wind-related damage to some regions.

And then on Thursday 6th September, a strong earthquake shook the northern island of Hokkaido and beyond. Hokkaido is of course home to some of the most popular ski resorts for visiting foreign skiers and boarders including big names such as Niseko, Rusutsu, Kiroro and Furano.


Seismic activity on 6th September 2018. X marks the epicenter

First up… there is no need to worry, the ski resorts are just fine. More on that below.

Earthquakes are a part of life in Japan. Japanese grow up expecting them and trying to be as prepared as they can be. There are earthquakes happening every day of the year somewhere in Japan, but most of them are barely noticeable. Even moderately strong tremors are reported on, but they are often quickly forgotten. Some regions are much more prone to earthquakes than others due to being on plate borders or known active fault lines, but they literally can happen without warning anywhere in the country.

During this latest event in Hokkaido, the strongest shaking was recorded in Atsuma town which is about 80km to the south east of Sapporo city. In the immediate aftermath of the initial quake, electricity throughout Hokkaido was cut due to damage at the major power plant in Atsuma and public transport was shut down with hospitals needing to rely on backup power. TV reports started showing various dramatic landslides that had consumed roads and houses, as well as various cases of soil liquefaction where the ground just seems to collapse due to the shaking of saturated or partially saturated soil. The heavy rainfall just before the earthquake surely did not help.

Shin Chitose Airport, located not too far to the north-west of Atsuma town – and the main gateway to Hokkaido – suffered some damage, but is now getting back to normal).

The ski resorts are fine!

The popular Niseko, Rusutsu and Furano regions all experienced fairly strong shaking, there was no infrastructure damage. Gas and water remained available, but the island-wide blackout and initial disruption meant that supermarket and convenience store shelves were bare for a while. But these were all minor issues, and apart from the inconveniences and short-term disruptions things are now pretty much back to normal in all but the worst affected regions in that region to the south-east of Sapporo city.

Japan and its people are very resilient and for those of you who might be potentially worried about your winter trip to Hokkaido… don’t be! There really is no reason why this event should affect a planned holiday on Hokkaido this coming winter.

The best advice is to be aware that earthquakes can happen… but don’t dwell on it.

Rather, best to dwell on the prospect of the huge amounts of beautiful snow that will soon by dumping on the island!

In the meantime, best wishes to everyone in Hokkaido.

See you next month when hopefully we’ll be close to getting some first tracks.