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Predictions 2024: Collapsible Chopsticks, Less Snow, and the Rise of Luxury Camping

Climate change is reshaping how we enjoy winter sports. In 2024, more people will opt for a luxury camping experience rather than racing down snowy slopes.



Happy New Year to JAPAN Forward readers. We are pleased to bring you "Predictions 2024," a special New Year's series sharing the foresight and expectations of selected contributors for the coming year, continuing with Agnes Tandler, a German foreign correspondent based in Asia and regular contributor to JAPAN Forward.

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"Since the beginning of December, it has been difficult to get a good amount of snow," writes Kamui Ski Links, a winter sports resort near Asahikawa in Hokkaido. Due to rainfall and warm weather, the opening for the 2024 season had to be postponed. 

More than 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) south is the Hakuba Happo-one resort in Nagano prefecture. The course along its "Alpen" quad lift was still showing brown patches in mid-December instead of the pristine, deep snow that many powderhounds crave in Japan. 

The later start of winter is no real surprise. After all, the year 2023 was the warmest year on record, with temperatures clearly above normal. On Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, mild summers of around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) used to be the norm. However, 2023 saw a new heat record of 39.5°C (103.1°F). 

For weeks, Hokkaido's prefectural capital Sapporo was only marginally cooler than the national capital Tokyo, where summer is generally regarded as a good time to flee the city for cooler places. 

(©Agnes Tandler)

Less Snow and Fewer Skiers

Skiers are already wondering if 2024 will be a rerun of 2020 when snow failed to fall in Sapporo for much of December. Ski competitions had to be canceled, and the city of Sapporo was forced to truck in snow for its annual snow festival from other parts of the island. Japan has a reputation for delivering champagne powder snow every season, which attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world. 

Thanks to its location, Japan is usually blessed with abundant snowfall. When the cold air coming from Siberia in winter collides with the water vapor from the warmer Sea of Japan, it produces clouds that unload a lot of snow in the mountains. 


In contrast to Europe where resorts are already relying heavily on snow cannons and artificial snow, Japan still has a lot of natural snowfall for powder-seeking skiers and snowboarders. Niseko gets an average of about nine meters (29.5 feet) of snow every winter. Even with rising temperatures, some places in Japan will continue to get enough snow for a while. However, even in Japan, the total snowfall is decreasing as a result of global warming.  

Shifting Demographics

A warmer climate, which means less snow, is not the only negative trend impacting winter sports. The number of skiers is decreasing, and they are also getting older. In Japan, the industry peaked in 1993, when some 18.6 million Japanese hit the slopes for leisure. By 2020, that number had dropped to just 2.7 million — a meager 15 percent of the peak value. 

While many young people are still drawn to snowboarding, it is often the costs that discourage newcomers. Almost all winter sports require a lot of gear: special boots, special clothes, helmets, goggles, gloves, and backpacks. Storage for skis and boards during the off-season and regular maintenance add to the costs. 

Going skiing also requires a lift pass. Ski resorts are seldom in one's neighborhood, which means travel expenses need to be accounted for.

Lately, some ski resorts have started to give discounts to people under 25 to encourage a new generation of guests to take up the activity and support their business. The decline in skiing's popularity and an aging population have already reduced the number of ski resorts in Japan from over 600 in the 1990s to around 440 at present.   

For the rich and adventurous, skiing is here to stay despite the declining snowfall and rising temperatures. Whoever can afford helicopter skiing will still be able to find glaciers to ski on. For example, the Karakorum range, with 18 summits higher than 7,500 meters (24606 feet) and vast glaciated areas. Antarctica will also continue to offer snowy expanses for ice-climbing and back-country skiing enthusiasts.

But for the majority with lesser means or ambition, new ways to enjoy nature in winter are already available. 

(©Agnes Tandler)

Changing Trends in Winter Recreation

Several outdoor companies in Japan and elsewhere have been observing social trends, and they have come up with new ideas on how to enjoy the outdoors with less snow. Crucially, their ideas are geared toward people who like to stay active but not too active.

Their pitch: Luxury camping gear that is a far cry away from roughing it in smelly clothes and damp tents. Take Snow Peak, for example, a Japanese company based in Niigata prefecture. It sells everything one needs for the comforts of home while being away in the outdoors. 

Luxury in the Wild

LED lanterns that mimic the flickering of candles in the wind create a soothing light for the campsite. Titanium sake and wine cups help campers enjoy the finer things in life, all while sitting around a crackling campfire set alight with a compactable stainless steel fire blowpipe. Rounding up the experience are collapsible chopsticks and a barista set for coffee aficionados that wouldn't look out of place in an upmarket apartment kitchen. 


Despite its urban flair, the company likes to remind people of the soothing qualities of nature itself. "I started a camping brand because I enjoyed camping with my friends, but along the way, I realized we were healing humanity," says Tohru Yamai, who leads the company.  

(©Agnes Tandler)

Snow Peak isn't the only brand catering to the new breed of elegant campers. Meet Helinox. To make sure you don't get lost in the green of the great outdoors, the South Korean firm sells lightweight outdoor chairs and cots in playful colors and patterns along with matching carry cases and blankets.

While luxury camping brands have die-hard followers who adore their trendy and sometimes whimsical designs, not everyone is convinced. "It is a bit much," says Natsumi, a ski instructor from Sapporo. Her idea of outdoor winter pleasure is still a season lift pass and a pair of new racing skis. But for how much longer?


Author: Agnes Tandler

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