A GROUP of six foreign Niseko locals is spending a cold night outdoors on remote Mt Kurodake in central Hokkaido after failing to return to the base of the mountain by nightfall.
They were part of a larger group of 11 that hiked to the peak of 1984m Mt Kurodake, one of the highest peaks of the Daisetsuzan Mountain Range, and became separated from other members on the descent.
A helicopter search late this afternoon sighted two groups of three people were on the mountain with lights, but it was too late to perform a rescue.
A 50-person search and rescue group will set off up the mountain early Wednesday morning local time.
At least one of the groups is believed to be just 1km from the top of the ropeway and there were still hopes they may make it down by themselves tonight.
The weather is calm with a small amount of snowfall possible overnight, and temperatures are mild for the area – at the altitude the group was sighted, weather websites are forecasting a relatively mild night with temperatures between -5C and -12C.
The missing group includes one each from Australia, Holland, Britain and America and two New Zealanders. All live and work during the winter snow season in Niseko – Hokkaido’s most popular international ski resort.
They were on an end of season road trip visiting snow resorts around Hokkaido.
Those who made it back to the base were expecting a positive outcome from the scenario.
"They (police) said they’re in a safe spot," one of the group told Powderlife by phone from Kurodake.
"It’s not too cold, it’s not windy, there’s no snow forecast. They’ve got enough gear – they’ve got shovels, probes, beacons, so if they all look after each other they’ll be fine."
Mt Kurodake is one of Hokkaido’s most rugged ski destinations.
A local mountain guide who knows Mt Kurodake well says of the peak: "This isn’t a resort, it’s a mountain, and as such it needs to be respected… There are no ski patrol to either help you or yell at you, so you need to be prepared… this is a resort that is best done with a mountain guide."
One of the group had hiked and skied the mountain many times and others had at least been there previously. They were well prepared with backcountry hiking and avalanche equipment.
According to one of the group at the base, the weather was fine when they were hiking up but cloud moved across when they started to descend.
The party broke in to two groups shortly after starting the descent and the rear group strayed off course because of lack of vision.
Anyone contemplating spring backcountry hiking trips should be thoroughly prepared and know the dangers of backcountry hiking and skiing.