Buffeted by wild winds and blanketed in deep powdery snow throughout winter, the remote island of Rishiri off Japan's north-western tip is a self-powered skier's paradise.
"It's pretty much always windy here," explained Toshiya Watanabe, sitting in the living room of his guesthouse after dinner. Skis, surfboards and fishing equipment of all kinds were neatly stacked in the entrance. The taste of local seafood hotpot and sake still on my lips, I peered through the large living room window and could just make out the dark contour of Mount Rishiri silhouetted in the moonlight, snow blowing off the ridgeline.
Toshiya is a native of Rishiri, the north-westernmost island of Hokkaido, which is in itself the northernmost of Japan's main islands. Together with his wife Maki Watanabe, he owns the guesthouse Rera Mosir, which in the language of the indigenous Ainu people, Rishiri's ancestral inhabitants, means "domain of the wind".
Mount Rishiri, a dormant volcano and the island's imposing lone peak, rises up at the island's centre. Toshiya started pulling out maps, photos and magazine cuttings, his thick weather-worn fingers pointing out countless skiable lines – all of which he says he has skied in more than 20 years exploring the island's backcountry.
"The true beauty of Rishiri is that it isn't perfectly tepee-shaped like Mount Fuji. The wind can't just wrap around it," he explained. "It is really many mountains wrapped into one and, if you know where to look, you can always find shelter and, of course, some of the best powder in the world."