Note: this bulletin is published in the pm and effective for the following day. Be alert to differences in the forecast and actual snowfall amounts and weather activity overnight.
Backcountry Avalanche Danger Rating
Upper (>1000m): MODERATE
Mid (800-1000m): LOW
Lower (<800m): LOW
Current Avalanche Problems
Wind Slab | Likelihood: Possible | Size: small-medium
Today was a beauty of a day to wrap up 2018. About as close to bluebird as we can ask for around here! I know I wasn’t the only one who got sucker punched into skiing off the top of something today. I observed quite a few parties skiing the South facing bowls off of Iwaonupuri. I saw at least one other party on the summit of Annupuri as well. However, up high, the weather deteriorated quickyl mid-day. Winds were not too bad and I did not observe too much snow transport, but visibility went down to pretty much nothing. Lines were pushed into more aggressive terrain today, and no avalanche activity was observed (as far as I could tell around Goshiki at least). To be clear, I’m not going to say whether or not I think that was a good idea. My goal with this bulletin is to provide information and keep it as free from bias and judgement as I can. I will say that just below loaded ridgelines, I observed signs of definite wind slab formation, but (with a very limited sample set), I saw no reactivity with slope cuts and travel by several skiers. The snowpack structure near those exposed ridgelines is not excellent, but it is also not as good as it could be. Testing seems to indicate that is is a strong snowpack nonetheless. I’m dropping my hazard level forecast for tomorrow down to LOW for lower and mid elevations. The highest elevations remain at a MODERATE level of avalanche hazard. The main concern will be windslabs up high.
If you also read the Niseko Avalanche Information report, you may be alerted to the possibility of persistent slab problems on lower elevation, solar aspects. I have not personally found evidence of this problem. We did have some weather events a week or so back that may have created a nice sliding surface for the recent storm accumulation. Where I suspect this may be most relevant is the ‘Forbidden Areas.’ There aren’t many other wild steep, south facing slopes to be skied at that elevation in the area. I respect the ‘Niseko Rules’ and encourage you all to as well. As such, I have no observations on that terrain. My main goal with this bulletin is to disseminate unbiased information to help you all make you own decisions out there in the backcountry. A ‘December 30th depth hoar layer’ is a bit misleading. There may have been some surface hoar formation, but the approach to managing that problem should be very different from a depth hoar problem. I read the Niseko Avalanche Information every day and recognize that today’s report calls avalanche danger as HIGH on 900m, South facing slopes. That’s likely confusing for some as I peg it at MODERATE, trending toward LOW. I just want to acknowledge that there is a difference in assessment of the hazard and I take all available information into account in formulating my forecast.
Word is upper gates at Niseko United resorts may be opening as soon as tomorrow. Please remember, if you plan to travel out the resort gates, you are entering uncontrolled avalanche terrain. Low danger does not mean no danger. For the sake of this discussion (rather, lecture) there is no such thing as no avalanche danger when traveling through snow covered mountains. NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER go out the gates without the appropriate safety gear AND knowledge of how to use it… or more importantly how to avoid having to use it.
If there are terms and concepts in this discussion that don’t make sense to you… please sign up for a formal avalanche safety course! While I instruct these back home in the U.S., I do not currently teach them here. So this is not a shameless plug. I genuinely want to see a safer and more educated backcountry community here. If you don’t have the interest or desire to seek that education, then I advise you to stay out of the backcountry, and that includes any terrain accessed through resort gates!! Or… hire a qualified guide to give you a fun and safe experience out there. That might very well be a shameless plug ;)
On that upbeat note, Happy New Years everyone! Let’s make 2019 the best season yet.
As a local guide and avalanche professional, I have chosen to share this hazard assessment in the interest of encouraging better information sharing within the local community. This avalanche bulletin is to be used at your own risk and is based on very limited data gathered by myself and other guides working for Japan Powder Connection. Please use this information in addition to other resources and take responsibility for your own actions in the backcountry. Also, please respect and abide by all Niseko Area Rules. This information applies only to backcountry areas accessed externally from area resorts. This information is published the evening before and in effect for the following day.
As always, remember that making good decisions in the backcountry takes years of practice and experience. Having the gear is a small part of the equation. Take an avalanche safety course and hire a properly trained guide so you don’t learn the hard way!
Japan Powder Connection - Professional Backcountry Guides and Instructors
Niseko Avalanche Information - Niseko’s avalanche information page. Not a ‘bulletin’ by Western standards, but Shinyasan has been doing this for 20+ years and knows these mountains far better than myself.
Snow-Forecast - Niseko Area Weather Forecast
Niseko Now - Local Weather and Conditions Summary