Back country Bandits - a creative short story through Japan's Alps

We knew there was a moderate level of risk we were about to get ourselves into, regardless, we were calculated, we checked the conditions, we knew a safe decent was imminent...

Tourists flock to the base of the mountain dead on opening time every morning, but today would be different, whilst we would summit with the tourists, we sure as hell wouldn't be descending back down with them. As they say, it's the journey that makes the destination worth it, and we knew the back country was where we needed to be, we’d heard of its renowned, we needed to see it for ourselves. We'd heard the powder was deep, chest deep, untouched and ready to be groomed in all its glory - that's where we were headed.

As the gondola crawled up Iwitake Mountain we could see the first run of die-hard boarders carving their way down the freshly powered slopes.  Still higher we climbed, over the first ridge came a layer of fine mist, shrouding the green pines lining the tracks to the bottom – today we wouldn’t follow those tracks, today we would make our own. Pressing through the mist the gondola began to reach the summit of the mountain, our fellow skiers began to gather their gear and the energy was electric with anticipation of disembarking at the top.

Finally the gondola doors open, we were greeted with a stiff, icy gust of winter air, immediately my lungs caught for a second, partly from inhaling the freezing air and partly in nervous excitement for our adventure that lie ahead. Crunching across the top of the slopes, we passed the boarders and skiers strapping into their gear, ready to race each other to the bottom again.

We reached a black sign at the boundary of the summit, the language we knew was Japanese, but the message we couldn’t understand. We’d like to think it was an encouragement for only those experienced boarders, thrill seekers and adventurists to see a side of the mountain so few had witnessed – yeah, let’s say that’s what it said. We paused for a second to contemplate, and with a fleeting glance at each other, we jumped rail side and begun our glide down the freshly puked powder.

The snow was deep, the terrain looked like it had never before been discovered by humans. We pressed on, careful to keep our board high, senses on alert for unseen and unexpected dangers, a trail of fine snow dust seemingly chasing us down the mountain.

And then, finally, as though it had been part of the mountain seconds before, the Kamoshika leapt ahead of us, it’s dark grey wolf like fur unmistakable against its white background. We were in awe of the creature, the rare and timid animal we had been told about, but were assured we would be unlikely to find. This was the bottom of our rainbow, the pot of gold, this was the local Japanese we had long sought to encounter with every descent through backcountry we had made and finally, we had found him.  

Alexis ZahnerComment