Freeride Japan first caught our eye over the 2021/22 season, when we started noticing photos of epic ski touring journeys on Tateyama (Mount Tate) posted across their social feeds. For the uninitiated, Tateyama is an imposing 3000+ metre peak in Japan’s Toyama prefecture, and forms part of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route – famous for the 20 metre snow walls that line sections of the route.
We were immediately keen to find out who was behind these adventures, which led us to a back-and-forth with Freeride Japan founders Camille Logeay (Swiss) & Trent Maxwell (Australian), a duo who met doing guide work and discovered a shared vision to offer certified guiding, training and outdoor education at the highest level.
The rest is history, and the company – which is backed by Avalanche Canada – now offers its services all over Japan, from resorts like Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen in Nagano prefecture, all the way up to places like APPI Kogen and Hachimantai in the country’s Tohoku region.
We had plenty of questions about the team’s history, their inspirations, their plans for the future and, of course, their incredible Tateyama tours, which Trent has kindly answered for us below.
What makes you different from other backcountry tour guides in Japan?
We use only certified and experienced guides, with detailed trip plans, including emergency/rescue.
Offering across multiple locations, speciality tours, focus on passing safety and knowledge to guests. Our team is also experienced in mountaineering/alpinism/climbing which bring a solid range of skills to the backcountry.
You’re based in Hakuba but appear to have travelled quite a bit over the last season. Can you tell us where you went and what the highlights were?
Indeed – our focus is to be mobile and not just Hakuba focused, but to spread experience and education across Japan.
We are invested in developing networks from Tohoku/Aomori in the North through to the Minami Alps in the South.
Building our northern connections has been a blast. We’ve developed new relationships with places like Clubman Lodge Hachimantai and enjoyed a SnowCat ski tour with owner Junya – an amazing Telemark skier! (Credit to Outdoor Japan for an amazing itinerary.)
Tateyama snow camping (and lodge) ski and mountaineering multi-day tours never get old, and the amount of snow last season just made it even better!
It might sound bit of cliché marketing pitch – but as a business, our key goal for ourselves is ‘fulfilment’. Through all the training we do, to be able to pass our knowledge on to every individual who comes out with us is by far the most fulfilling and rewarding part.
We’re particularly interested in your Tateyama tours, which looked fantastic. Can you tell us what it is that makes this area so appealing?
Tateyama itself is an entirely different way to view skiing/snowboarding/mountain climbing. We travel up a ropeway system from Nagano Kurobe dam side or the bus ‘snow walls’ route from Toyama. Both arrive at Murodo terminal amidst 3000m+ giants and and an alpine haven playground – a rare experience only found in a few places in Japan.
Heading onto the snow, you are immediately dwarfed by the alpine ridge of Tateyama and the distant TsuguriDake. It is truly a place of mystic vistas. It is also a place where the fun should be taken seriously. From rockfalls, steep terrain, avalanches and alpine weather which changes dramatically and quickly – training and experience is essential.
We like to think wishfully that everyone heading to Tateyama to enjoy snowsports are also well equipped and experienced. But we understand not everyone can be, or simply prefer to be able to hire people who have local knowledge. So we are always excited to bring guests there for tours and training, and to share in our delight of the alpine region.
“It is truly a place of mystic vistas. It is also a place where the fun should be taken seriously. From rockfalls, steep terrain, avalanches and alpine weather which changes dramatically…”
How would you spend a typical day on a Tateyama multi-day tour?
We find that two nights and three days is a great balance, as it is a good half-day travel up and back. After dropping luggage at the local sanso (typically tidy shared Japanese tatami rooms) and having observed conditions and weather, we have a trip briefing over lunch and gear up to head the slopes (which involves ski-touring/skinning approaches – no lifts here! #EarnYourTurns)
I’d also note that for those who are not used to typical backcountry procedures we always run a short skills training to make sure everyone knows how to use their gear and best practices on the mountain.
After a fun afternoon skiing, we return before dark for an onsen. The source of the onsen is right beside the two main lodges with constant plumes of steam rising into the air. After the onsen and a refresh it’s time for a book and a cup of tea/coffee/beer by the fireplace looking out across the Alpine plateau to Toyama.
The food at the lodge is outstanding, and are some of the best ryokan and buffet dinners and breakfasts we’ve had in Japan. Normally by the second day if there is a crew camping they make the trek up the hill to also partake for a nominal fee of ¥1000–2000.
It’s then an early night and a good sleep, thought you do get a blood moon eclipse on one tour – which is pretty special in itself.
Day two is a full day of touring, review, trip planning and choosing the best possible routes for the conditions – a discussion we have over breakfast. For this day we may pack a lunch, snacks and hot drinks to bring with us, allowing us to go deeper into the mountain and have more time on the snow searching out fresh powder lines that the usual skiers won’t find or access.
We then return to lodge, step and repeat – maybe with a few more beers later to celebrate.
On the last morning we pack everything up to drop at the terminal for later that day, so that we can still head out to get some tasty turns before heading off!
Outside of a usual guided ski trip, we also run alpine rescue training, avalanche safety training and options for mountaineering.
This year we also are offering overnight hut experiences at Mt Myoko and open up access and training in the Central alps at Komagatake, Senjojiki Circus Ropeway, which has a similar setup to Tateyama.
Who is this tour suitable for? Do you need a certain level of expertise or backcountry experience?
For any of our backcountry introduction tours and safety training, people will need to be comfortable skiing off-piste and ideally in one foot of deep powder.
For alpine multi-day tours, it can be tiring, intimidating and cause anxiety in the uninitiated. As such we recommend that people have a good level of fitness, intermediate experience and have toured side country and ideally backcountry before multiple times. For those without touring gear and avalanche safety equipment (transceiver, probe, shovel), we do offer rentals.
What are Freeride Japan’s plans for 22/23?
We’re continuing to establish our presence and grow within the community – proving that we’re not here as a short term, cash grab foreign business. We want to be recognised as a high quality provider, with long term plans in Japan. We want to continue to expand and raise standards of safety and, of course, provide, real, enjoyable experiences.
We’ll also continue to expand our safety training and locations, whilst continuing to grow in the areas of education including Wilderness First Aid & Rescue (WMA), facilitating Wilderness Wellness and Education programmes for kids and expanding our instructor trainings to offer CASI Snowboard and CSIA ski instructor trainings.
Best skis for Japan [advice from a Hakuba ski instructor]
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