Higashikawa is a small rural town located at the gateway to the Daisetsuzan National Park. To find out more about this town and its people and how they interact with the environment, I went to visit it.

September 2014. The first snow had come to crown Asahidake a little earlier than usual, indicating that winter was not far away. Although the hardcore snow lovers rejoiced, the snowfall of 2014 turned out to be the lowest for decades. You could see Asahidake in full view from the town below and with all the enthusiasm of school students, we talked about our plans whilst soaking up the scenery. As a result of a long period of fine, sunny days, the mountain tops had had strong typhoon like winds that blew off all the soft snow. These weren't ideal conditions for us riders but the less snow there is, the further and faster you can ski and board. A season like this with little snow is a great opportunity for me to see the mountain in a different way.

According to the forecast, the sunny days would continue but there were only going to be two days without wind. Let’s go out on these days I thought. We had a plan. The first day we would walk to a mid point on the route and camp. In the morning, carrying only the minimum required, I would get up at sunrise and start walking. I could walk much faster without walking where there were thick layers of snow, I carefully climbed the mountain that until then I had only been looking at from afar to find the point I wanted to ski from. Then I would retrieve my gear from the camp back and walk back down to the town below. It’s not an easy task to go camping in the middle of the winter. Insulating clothes, food, fuel, not to mention crampons and picks, the bag easily weighed 20kg. And of course, it was freezing cold . Nothing was easy about it, but I couldn’t stop smiling. To be able to be in the mountains with my friends made me truly happy and the whole trip worthwhile. By coincidence, the night we camped was the day before a full moon, and the moon light shone through the night sky. The temperature had dropped to -25 degrees.

Unfortunately we couldn’t get to where we had planned to go that day. In order to tackle that mountain a little more time was needed. It was a tiring two days but it was definitely worthwhile. No need to worry though, the mountain is right in my backyard so I can go back again anytime. Where should I go next time?

For me, the reason why I started going to the mountains so frequently was snowboarding. And that’s why I keep going back year after year. However, in the summer months the mountains have their own set of appealing features too. You can follow the trails and head off to view the beautiful flora and fauna but during the winter, the paths have gone, covered over with thick snow and you can walk wherever you want. There is a different sense of freedom. Walk anywhere and ski or snowboard your way down again. The winter mountains are very generous in this regard but can also be harsh and unforgiving, if you’re not fit or strong enough, you could be taught a tough lesson. That aside, I love them.

Shinya Nakagawa Shinya Nakagawa owner of ’natures ’ guide company is a former JSBA officialy recognized pro Snowboarder & current JMGA stage 2 certified ski guide. Residing in Higashikawa-cho ’natures’ focuses on guiding people in the Daisetsuzan mountain range during the summer and winter months. www.outdoorlife-natures.com

Rider: Shinya Nakagawa Photo: Yukinori Otsuka Text Japanese:Takuro Hayashi Text English:Karl Wilcock Art Direction: Kazuki Murata