Though many locals look in friendly bemusement at travellers who come to the island in the dead of winter, when there is little else but snow, for Toshiya and those who brave the journey, the draw lies in Rishiri’s pristine nature and promise of unbridled adventure. What Rishiri is missing in ski infrastructure, it more than makes up for in the freedom to paint your ski tracks on the mountain’s untouched canvas while basking in solitude and silence.
Toshiya is the only guide who lives on the island year-round, and since 2004, he has been offering nature tours in both the summer and, crucially, winter. In his first year as a Rishiri ski guide, Toyisha had just a handful of winter customers. Not many more came the next year. However, each person who visited went home with tales of a magical land of bottomless powder snow, guarded by stormy seas and icy winds from the encroachment of masses hungry for easy access ski adventures and the commodification of nature implicit in ski resorts.
By 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, Rera Mosir’s 25 beds were occupied for most of winter. “We now employ two extra guides to help bring clients, including professional skiers, out into the mountains and one person to help me with the guesthouse,” explained Maki, who moved here from Sapporo when she married Toshiya in 2020, and hasn’t looked back since.
I’d decided to travel here after hearing countless stories about descending Rishiri’s ridges with unimpeded ocean views. Quietly, I was hoping to be able to complete one of my lifetime ski goals: skiing all the way to the sea.
“Today’s wind is coming from the west, so we’ll ski on the east face,” Toshiya informed me when I made my way downstairs for my first day of skiing. It was just after dawn and the sunlight was gaining in intensity. I peered out the living room window to find a new layer of fresh snow on the ground and a staggering view of Mount Rishiri, its white crests and cornices standing out against the crisp blue sky.