Shimukappu is at a turning point. Or that’s Yoshiharu Hoshino’s belief, anyway. He is the CEO of Hoshino Resorts, the hotel brand that has four 36-story hotels in the town’s local ski resort. When COVID halted global travel, Hoshino predicted in a 2021 essay in the book “Ride the Earth: Hokkaido Powder Belt” that on the other side of the pandemic, “the world is about to enter a era of grand tourism”.
I couldn’t agree more. Admittedly, I have the added benefit of seeing restrictions ease and reading reports of overwhelmed European airports last month. It seems inevitable that tourism will explode in central Hokkaido and Japan when the border fully opens – imagine Aspen in the 1950s.
I think Aspen has some instructive lessons as Shimukappu enters this new era, and vice versa. From where I stand, the story of the creation of Aspen’s modern economy and culture is inspiring and hopeful. The dramatic change Aspen has experienced over the past 70 years is a testament to the creative and generative power of community. No matter how much you enjoy Aspen, I believe we can all take advice from those who have contributed, like the members of the 10th Mountain Division who made it their home after WWII or the catalysts behind the festivals ideas and music. The resounding message I take away from their actions is that we are responsible for shaping the culture where we live.
I wonder, what might it look like to more actively create cross-pollination opportunities between Aspen and Shimukappu? Is this an annual ski patrol exchange or a mountain bike trail building exchange? Maybe it’s hosting a long-distance ski event like the Grand Traverse, or a spring whitewater hike, or an adventure triathlon that welcomes participants from Aspen. I’d love collaborators and other brainstormers if these ideas pique your interest, or if you have a completely different idea that you think Shimukappu might be perfectly positioned for.
The cold weather zone called the “Powder Belt” – known for its incredibly dry and fluffy powder – includes the ski mountain of Skimukappu, Tomamu, at the southern end. (The northern boundary is marked by Mount Asahi, Hokkaido’s tallest mountain, which is 45 miles north as the crow flies.) Hoshino Resorts runs Tomamu, and the company’s CEO gets more specific in his test when considering the future of gunpowder. Belt as an “advanced tourist region”.
He imagines that “people will be rushing” to experience the best quality powder snow in the world. Hoshino calls for a visitor-based economy that sets prices based on dynamic parameters like snow quality. He writes that his dream is to effectively manage the masses of visitors to achieve a “sustainable state” that also benefits the locals who currently enjoy the quiet splendour.
I understand if you are skeptical when you see words like “sustainable” and “advanced” associated with tourism. You might be wondering how is this different from the Aspen model or ecotourism in Costa Rica? I don’t have any details about Hoshino’s dreams. However, I have first-hand experience of the benefits his 108-year-old family business currently offers.
I was struck as a newcomer by the $11 lift tickets for locals and the $185 season passes. It reminds me of Skico’s focus on supporting local fitness and the bottom-up culture that has thrived in Aspen. Many of my Shimukappu students and their families enjoy themselves in Tomamu all winter long and don’t feel the need to buy a season pass because the daily rate is very affordable.
If international travel goes smoothly, there will be a group of 15 Aspen eighth-grade students at homestays in Shimukappu in October. I can’t wait to find out what they notice on their journey halfway around the world. And then January is when about 10 Japanese students are expected to come to Colorado.
I look forward to asking all these students: where do they see opportunities to improve cultural exchange between cities? What does it look like to actively build culture and community despite the risks and unknowns? Maybe they will be inspired to dream and also contribute to the next generation of exchanges.
Timbah Bell is an English teacher in Shimukappu, Japan, where he works in a long-standing partnership with Aspen Sister Cities. You can find this read-aloud column and photos of her journey so far on Instagram @beauty_noted; write to him at [email protected].