Higashiyama opens its gates
Not to the Mizuno no Sawa (yet), but to the media. On February 29, Higashiyama resort hosted a demonstration to the press about the steps it has been taking to allow access into Mizuno no Sawa (the closed bowl under the Niseko Gondola). For the past 2 years, the resort has been practicing bombing avalanche-prone areas in the bowl to encourage a slope to slide before the resort is open, when no people are in danger. Bombing is commonplace in North American and European resorts but Higashiyama is the first to implement this strategy in Japan. Many locals and holiday-makers have been somewhat perplexed as the terrain in the closed bowls does not appear to be too extreme, but three people have died in there. Higashiyama resort public relations head Luke Hurford said “Perhaps the previous Japanese management did not see the potential in opening the bowls”. Current management has recruited Canadian avalanche expert Chris Steffen and Hakuba avalanche chief Motomura-san to assist with their research and planning. Higashiyama will be presenting its case to the Shiribetsu government over the summer and expectations are high they will receive the approval to open them. They are considering how to control access to the bowl with compulsory beacons, sign in/sign out, compulsory attendance of a safety lecture or the gate system used by the other three resorts all being considered. Yu no sawa (the bowl between Higashiyama and Annupuri) and Haru no Taki (between Higashiyama and Hirafu) are believed to be up for consideration, but they may be some time off.