The Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture gets a huge amount of snowfall every year, making it a great region for skiiers, snowboarders, and anyone who enjoys winter sports!
Last week I tried out snowshoe trekking in Urabandai. In areas with deep snow, walking in normal footwear becomes extremely difficult, so for hundreds of years Japanese people have been using “snowshoes” to solve this problem. In the past, these items were made of bamboo, but now they are made from stronger, longer-lasting materials.
Snowshoes look like huge flipflops that you attach around the base of your boot. This works best with large, snow boots.
In contrast to a normal boot, snow shoes have a large surface area, meaning that they allow you to walk through snow without sinking right to the bottom with each step.
There are a number of different organisations that offer snowshoe trekking tours around Fukushima. This time, I was shown around by Ikeda san, and we started our tour at Urabandai Lake Resort Hotel.
We were able to borrow all of the equipment that we needed, including ski poles, snow boots, snowshoes, waterproof outer wear and gloves designed to fit over normal-sized gloves.This equipment was all available from a shop inside the hotel. Urabandai is also a popular area for outdoor activities and sports in the summertime, such as canoeing, rafting, hiking and fishing.
After we changed, we left our belongings inside the shop, and Ikeda san talked us through the route that we were to follow. There are a number of different options for snowshoe trekking routes – most of which are open between December and the end of March – and all have been designed so that they can be enjoyed no matter the level of fitness of the participant. Ikeda san explained how even children and older visitors can complete any of the routes.
The routes take place at set times each week, but private tours are available for those who have a tighter schedule. As long as bookings are made in advance, interpreters can be arranged for visitors who can’t speak Japanese.
The route we took part in is called the “Blue Falls Course”, which involves walking to a large waterfall which is surrounded by ice that freezes a blue colour. The colour becomes brighter and brighter as the weather gets colder.
Ikeda san promised us some snacks upon arrival at the waterfall, so we hurried into his bus and set off on our trek.
It was my third time trying snowshoe trekking, but I was a little out of practice! It gives you a good workout because of the depth of the snow!As Ikeda san showed us around, he told us little-known facts and tips about the woods, such as…
- Rabbits spread out their paws into the shape of a human hand so that they can run across snow without falling in! (Their version of a snowshoe)
- Trees will only have one side covered in snow due to the direction of the wind, so you can use this to help you orientate yourself if you get lost in the wood.
- Animals are very good at working out the safest route across the snow, so if you are in doubt about your footing, you should follow animal tracks if there are any!
- Not only is it possible to walk in snowshoes, but you can also run in them!
Ikeda san demonstrated how to run down slopes in the snow snowshoes – as pictured below. He dared me to try doing it. I’m a bit of a wimp at heart, but I tried to be brave and got ready to run. You can see the results of said attempt below…
So even after practising snowshoe trekking before, I still have a lot to learn, it seems! The snow was so thick and soft that it wasn’t painful to fall down at all. I quite enjoyed my comfy snow seat.
As we got closer to the waterfall, I spotted some interesting looking structures. Ikeda san explained that there was a shinto shrine next to the waterfall. We had got very close!
The waterfall was absolutely huge. The water had not frozen over, so I took a few minutes to catch my breath while listening to the water pouring over the edge. Although it is yet to turn a bright blue colour this year, it was still beautiful, and I am glad that I got the chance to visit it.
Next, Ikeda san brought out his snack for us.
I was a little shocked to discover it was just a bottle of maple syrup. However, Ikeda explained to us how eating snow mixed with maple syrup tasted really nice! I was pretty doubtful about this, but we thought we would give it a go nonetheless. He gave each of us a spoon and poured syrup into it. Then we dipped it into the snow, and tucked in!
I went back for seconds, and thirds! Embarrassingly, for fourths as well.
In Japan, there is a popular dessert called kakigori (かき氷). You make it by grinding up ice and pouring a syrupy topping on top, and the taste was quite similar to that!
Before heading back to the hotel, I had a little sit down in the snow and took in the breathtaking scenery and the fresh air! It was a really lovely way to spend the morning.
Information about Snowshoe Trekking
All in all, the course took about 2 hours to walk, but we did walk at quite a quick pace!
There are a number of companies and organisations that hold similar tours, many of which have their starting point at a local hotel, so it’s worth out checking out the different options!
Where is Urabandai?
Access: Approximately 20 minutes by car from the Inawashiro-Bandai Kogen interchange that comes off of the Ban-estsu Expressway.
Guests staying at the hotel can access Urabandai Lake Resort by a free shuttle bus from Inawashiro Station.