This is probably one of my more memorable experiences in Japan during winter. Apart from learning to snowboard in the Japanese alps, and playing with the Snow Monkeys I think going to Iiyama with my work colleague to go snow shoeing was awesome. My colleague from work invited me to this annual snow shoe festival that happens in the region. The hike is about 15km, nothing really tiring, but still takes the entire day.

Iiyama is located in the Nagano prefecture, just a bit north of Nagano city, and more or less in the centre of the Japanese alps. Iiyama literally stands for ‘Nice Mountain’, so you imagine the number of puns the group leader used. Apparently, that year was rather mild for the region. There was only about 2m of snow at the peak of the mountain. The previous year, there was much more; the walls of snow surrounding the roads would tower the cars driving through them. Nonetheless, since this was my first time snowshoeing, it didn’t really make a difference how much or little snow there was. What really did made this experience for me was the awesome weather, and we were in the lead group; so we had all the fresh snow to plough through! It is amazing to have the sun shining on you while you plough a trail through fresh powdered snow. I think it feels very different from following someone else’s trail, and making your own. The crunching of the fresh snow under your snowshoe gives you a very satisfying time. The snow storm from the previous night also gave the trees an interesting coat of ice. Because of the strong directional wind, instead of a coat of ice around the branches, sheets of ice were formed.

The route our group leader took, took us up a small mountain about 1500m in height, through forests, valleys and rice paddies. The view from the former was phenomenal; especially on that day, we could see all the way into the Sea of Japan (or whatever that body of water is called nowadays. I hear there is some controversies regarding the name). The valley routes also gave us a beautiful view of the mountain ranges. Our group leader also made it more exciting by having snowshoe races along the field, and jumping off the ledges of paddy fields. It was so much fun, and I wish I could do it again.

INTO THE VALLEY – Making a route through the valley and into the mountains

MAKING A TRAIL – The lead group making a route in the fresh snow

SNOW TREE – The snow storm from the previous night gave the trees a thick coat of snow.

SNOW PADDIES – Each snow paddy has a small ledge which our group leader encouraged us to run and jump off; the snow provided some lovely padding =)

SEA OF TREES – It helps to always look up from time to time to see the interesting designs nature can devise

ANIMAL TRAIL – Forgot which animal this was, but our leader kept an eye out for any wild life; unfortunately we never saw any

SNOW RIDGE – Add some wind and a lot of snow fall, and you get some interesting snow formation

ALONG THE RIDGE – The leader slowly picking the route to make the way to the next peak along the mountain ridge

SNOW – This picture doesn’t really do the scene justice. The entire area was covered in an expanse of snow. Everywhere you looked it was crisp white.

LAST VALLEY – The group is making our way back towards the base camp. THe mountain range in front of us, if I remember correctly, belongs to the Shiga Kogen, the larges snow resort in Japan


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