White Horse Mountain
The downhill skiing events at the Nagano Olympics were held in the foothills of White
Horse Mountain in Nagano Prefecture. The ski slopes end at around an elevation of
one mile, which is about where the climb up Big Snow Valley begins. The valley is a
snow drift shaded by the surrounding mountains that never completely melts. The five
mile climb up the valley goes up one more mile in elevation and takes about five
grueling hours if you don't stop to rest.
Because of the year-round snow, the hike is especially popular in the summer when
people want to escape the sweltering heat in Tokyo. A large number of those climbing
the mountain bring along their skis or snowboards for a spectacular five-mile downhill
run. There is no need to buy a lift ticket -- there are no lifts. The slope is open year-
round, twenty-four hours a day. The only problem is that you have to climb for five
hours to get a twenty-five minute slide. It is a safe hike. There is no way you could fall
off the side of the mountain as you are always in a valley. You can't get lost as there
is only one path up. But the climb is not without danger. Three college students went
up the first week in January and got caught in a snow storm. They haven't been found
yet, five months later.
The view is spectacular, one of the best in Japan, and it gets better every step you take.
The Mountain Hut
The mountain hut at the top looks like the Potala Palace in Tibet. It is one of the largest
in Japan and can accommodate up to 1500 people, packed in like sardines. But after a
five hour climb, it is a beautiful sight.
When I was there the first week of June there were only ten people in the whole place.
The accommodations were Spartan, but the view was fantastic.
The sunset was spectacular.
The Old Days
The hut was celebrating one hundred years of operation. This picture shows climbing
fashion in the 1930's.
I got up at 3:30 am to climb the last fifteen minutes to the top and see the sunrise.
The clock on my camera records this picture as being taken at 4:22 am, two minutes
It was worth the climb.
I took the ridge route down the mountain.
The Ridge Line
After about two hours the elevation was low enough that the snow had melted off on
The Ski Slopes
It was an easy five hour downhill hike from the peak to a gondola that goes over the
ski slopes to the village below.