An unusually warm winter in Japan with record low snowfall has forced many ski resorts to close, disrupting businesses during peak season.
Japan is home to more than 500 ski resorts and has a blossoming reputation as a world-class ski and snowboarding destination. Its maritime climate has blessed it with some of the finest and softest powder in the world, dropping an average of between 30 to 50 feet of snowfall each winter. This year, however, has been different. According to the meteorological agency, the snowfall figures for December are the lowest on record. Local media reports that more than a third of ski resorts across Japan have stayed closed since the beginning of the year.
"There are various factors behind the small amount of snow this season but climate change is among them," Motoaki Takekawa, an official from the agency's global environment section, told AFP.
Northern Japan, which is home to the popular ski resort of Niesko in Hokkaidō - the country’s second-largest island - is generally considered to have some of the best powder in the country. With more snowfall than any other resort in the world (an average of 50 feet per season), the resort has quietly become the stuff of legend with international powderhounds. But this winter the region got just 38% of its average snowfall in December.
To make up for the lack of snowfall, cannons have been turned to pump artificial powder into resorts like Daisen White Resort in Tottori but, according to The Japan Times, January's higher-than-average temperatures has melted even the fake snow on the slopes.
Japan's ski resorts can be found everywhere from the southernmost island of Kyūshū right up to Hokkaidō in the north. Big resorts like Niesko, Zaō Onsen and Nagano (host of the 1998 Winter Olympics) are popular with tourists and are known for their gravity-defying jumps. But many resorts are small, micro-resorts, run by families with affordable accommodation on site and onsen (hot springs) for a cosy, après-ski soak. There are concerns that this year's disappointing snowfall could put many of those businesses at risk.