Avalanche risk in Hakuba


Danger lurks in them there mountains

Two days after the above picture was taken there was a big avalanche in the exact same spot taking one person for the extreme ride of his life, “along with almost taking his life”.

On the day after this perfect bluebird powder day another storm blew in depositing 40 cm of snow however with it came the wind which loaded up some areas with up to 80 cm. It was certainly a high avi risk day and as I was heading out myself I passed some good friends and mentioned they should be very careful where they choose to go. They decided to go to their most familiar poaching ground which was on the South Face of Goryu. There are lots of ridge lines and well spaced trees so they thought this would keep them out of trouble. They realised not long after passing through the gates that this was not a good place to be. Because of the depth of snow they ended up a little too low on the traverse which meant they were on a convex wind loaded section and cutting it. Sure enough it slid with the ferocity of a level 3-4 slab with one of the guys perched precariously on the 80cm crown. This avi was almost certain death to anyone who was caught in it.  With the fear of god in them they were able to make their way to the trees where they thought they would be safe. I had known that this was not true as another friend had been buried in the same area a few years back and was luckily dug out albeit blue with broken bones but alive. The same guy who was stuck on the crown decided he would head down first however within 3 turns everything went from bad to worse as the snow started to slide all around him. He tried to stay above the snow but the force just kept taking him down. 200 meters of the ride “for” his life left him totally buried but facing up. A quick punch out and he was able to get his hand above the snow and make a life line to oxygen and a visual for his friends. One of the other crew was able to get down to him reasonable quickly and started digging him out however the snow demons were sending down slides all around them constantly dusting them both for the whole frantic 10 minutes. Finally they were able to tip toe their way out without any further near death experiences.

My friend came into the bar that afternoon as white as a ghost. We sat down with a beer as he told me about his misadventures of the day. I was talking with someone who looked death in the eye and he knew that for no reason other than luck or maybe a God, he was able to breathe another day. Collectively the crew that day had done the run 100 times. They knew it very well in lots of different conditions and felt safe with their experience and knowledge. None of them will ever be able to look at a fresh powder covered slope the same way again.

If you decide to visit this area you can see the perfect lined gullys with well spaced trees making it one of the best places for slackcountry in Hakuba.  It is also a death trap for the unsuspecting as those pristine gully runs have an evil side to them channelling down like a pinball machine potentially bouncing you off a hundred trees. I now have 2 very lucky friends who have escaped. Please take care in the mountains where ever you are, educate yourself, be prepared with an avi pack and beacon and talk with the locals to get an understanding of the area. We all love the snow and we all love to talk about it. Stay safe.


About Hakuba Blog

Living the dream and "Riding The White Horse". Come and stay with us in Hakuba and we'll show you the best of what Hakuba has to offer.
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