Group training for Niseko area mountain rescue team

Mountain rescue team mambers being pulled by the snow mobile unit. February 19, Mt. Yotei (Makkari)

Maybe it’s because of the deep powder snow known as ‘Japow’, but the voices carrying out safety checks on the mountain do not echo but instead are absorbed by the pure white surface of the snow. “Loosen the rope”. “Yes, it’s loosened”. Yotei Fire Department Mountain Rescue Team carried out its first group training session of the year on February 3.
 The mountain rescue team was established in the fire department, which constitutes the 7 municipalities located in the vicinity of Mt. Yotei (1,898 m), in July 2016. Until then, they had no mountain rescue equipment or knowhow and often relied on the police and Self Defense Force. Training was carried out with the cooperation of the Hokkaido Prefectural Police and, from April 2018, mountain rescue activities began in earnest with a 16-member team.

 The Fire Department’s jurisdiction includes the international mountain resort area of Niseko (Kutchan and Niseko towns). Mt. Yotei is one of Japan’s ‘top 100 peaks’. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there were few overseas tourists in the region this winter, but in recent years it has been a bustling destination. One of the popular attractions is backcountry skiing in which ‘Japow’ can be experienced. However, off-piste skiing poses the risk of avalanches and the like.

The mountain rescue team was created “from the responsibility of Niseko as a tourist region”. The fire chief when the team was formed, Kawamura Junji (62) and Kutchan Fire Station chief Aso Hiroyuki (62) look back to the time in question. The Hokkaido Shinkansen Kutchan Station is scheduled to open in spring of 2031, and there is a possibility of Sapporo hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2030. The team was formed looking ahead at the possibility of further development in the region in future.

 According to Matsumoto Takashi, a supervisor in the Hokkaido Prefectural Police Headquarters Regional Planning Division, which instructs the Hokkaido Police Mountain Accident and Rescue Unit, “When carrying out rescues, it’s really helpful to get the cooperation of local firefighters.”

 Yotei Fire Department Mountain Rescue Team was dispatched to 16 incidents last year, and have been dispatched to six as of March 15 this year. Team leader Makino Manabu emphasizes “The most important thing is getting everyone – the person or people who require help and also the team members – down the mountain safely. Accidents can happen to anyone if they’re off guard. We believe we have to be prepared in case something happens.”

Team leader Makino instructs team members. February 3, Kutchan
Young team members learn the ‘Hokkaido Police-style hypothermia wrapping’ process. February 10 (Kutchan)


Yotei Fire Department