It is probably not a surprise to hear a lifelong Myoko resident say things have changed over the years. Having recently celebrated his forty-seventh orbit of the sun, Moriyuki-san reckons the first foreigners to catch wind of Myoko’s treasures began appearing a few decades ago. “There were almost no foreigners in Myoko twenty years ago,” he recalls. “From about ten years ago onwards, more foreigners have started to come”.
His observations contrast those of the habits of the Japanese ski crowd. Moriyuki-san talks of the “bubble” of the late 1980s and early 1990s and how it affected the mountain and economy of Myoko. “By 1990, there were too many people coming to Myoko. Now it has resulted in lots of empty lodges,” he asserts. “During the bubble, lodges would always be overflowing, with not enough space to accommodate everyone who wanted to come. People would pay to sleep in the bathroom of lodges because there’d be nowhere else to stay. Some lodge owners had rooms that weren’t necessarily built according to regulations. That’s why foreigners might buy an old lodge to renovate these days and find a secret room”.
Cut to the present day and things have changed quite drastically where the domestic ski industry is concerned. “The (Japanese) people who come to ski now are only the ones who really love skiing or the people who can still afford it. There are far fewer students and families coming to Myoko now”.
It’s the students that are of most concern to this passionate local. Training stars of note such as Beijing Olympian, Satoshi Furuno, Moriyuki-san began Myoko Regional Sports Club to encourage the current and next generations of skiers. Unlike during his childhood, he says that now kids have a lot of other distractions. He clearly believes in a connection to snow, skiing and Myoko that children may miss if they see brighter lights in other pursuits. Perhaps even more importantly, he wanted to provide a place in Myoko where local up-and-coming skiers could train all year round.
“There is nowhere else that they can train locally,” he says. “They can train at Myoko Regional Sports Club the whole year”. After the lifts have shut to the public, the club organises access to the very last bit of snow well into May. From there, they’ll travel to different parts of Japan such as Gassan in Yamagata Prefecture, a small resort that is only open from late April to early July. Following that, the snow hunt usually continues overseas.
Returning from a late August and early September trip to Australia, Moriyuki-san compares the pros and cons of the two places quite succinctly. “There is a little bit more to do at night after skiing in Australia but Myoko has a lot more snow,” he affirms. He also insists that the same may be said of most places to varying degrees, having skied almost everywhere there is to ski on planet Earth. If forced to live anywhere in the world outside of Japan he chooses the alps of Italy, Switzerland or Austria but says that no matter where he goes, there’s no place like home in terms of sheer amounts of snow. Interesting then is the contention that there was more snow when he was younger.
Having lived in Myoko his entire life, Moriyuki-san started skiing as a three-year-old. He swears things have changed. “When I was a child, it seemed like there was a metre of snowfall every day during January,” he recalls. “The 2021/22 season was about two-thirds of what we used to get and a typical season these days is about half”.
It should be pointed out that there have been a few other Myokoites who claim the 2021/22 season to be the most snow they’ve ever seen. But whether winters past are being romanticised or not, Moriyuki-san points to the off-season as a firmer example of climate change. “We never needed air-conditioners when I was younger. We used fans a bit, but it feels a few degrees warmer now. A couple of degrees might only seem like a little, but it can have a large impact”.
“When I was a child, it seemed like there was a metre of snowfall every day during January”
Moriyuki-san recalls being a boy and having little to do but ski. Not that he was complaining. “Forty years ago, the snow clearers weren’t as good as they are now. There were a lot of days when they couldn’t come because there was too much snow. No cars or buses could get in or out. In fact, it happened so regularly that people only had to pay their car tax for half the year because there was no point in having a car during the other half. So, we just went skiing every day”.
Over the course of four decades, a bloke gets to know a mountain pretty well. The forty-seven-year-old has a few favourite spots, citing the tree run at the top of Akakura Kanko as great bang-for-buck when stacking fun next to ease of lift access. Moriyuki-san is also a big fan of Lotte Arai in general and reckons it’s the most similar terrain to European resorts that Myoko has to offer.
Suginohara and Akakura Kanko both have great access to side and backcountry, he says, noting that foreigners who come to visit are far more interested in venturing off-piste than Japanese people seem to be.
Interestingly, he offers the observation that it’s among foreigners that Myoko’s reputation continues to grow. “These days, I think foreigners know more about Myoko than Japanese people do. Having said that, Myoko still feels more local than other areas with growing foreign investment. Places like Niseko, Hakuba and Nozawa,” he says.
“I think Myoko is now becoming more popular because we get so much snow”. At the new Myoko Kogen Visitor Centre near Imori Pond, information on yearly snowfall elaborates on Moriyuki-san’s understated point, informing that Myoko is “one of the snowiest places on Earth” receiving an average of 14 metres per winter (much more during season 21/22).
Ahead of another predicted La Niña 22/23 season, his advice for foreigners coming to Myoko? “Bring a snorkel”.
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