NIIGATA – Three snowboarders who went missing doing backcountry runs were rescued Sunday in Niigata Prefecture after spending two nights on a mountain, police said.
The two women and one man had climbed the peak to use ungroomed routes away from the recognized runs at the Kagura skiing resort in Yuzawa.
Increasing numbers of people have gone missing outside the marked runs at the resort. The police warned skiers and snowboarders to be better prepared and to register their plans to climb the mountain if they intend to leave the prepared zone.
The three snowboarders, identified as designer Koju Neriko, 45, his wife Manami, 44, and Aki Yamamoto, 40, were rescued near the summit of 2,029-meter Mount Kaguragamine. They reportedly suffered frostbite to their hands and toes but were otherwise uninjured.
The area around the Niigata’s Kagura resort is popular for backcountry snowboarding and skiing. Of the 2,000 people using the slopes on Friday, the day the three went missing, about 30 went off-piste.
Last year, six people ran into serious problems in similar circumstances. Two were found dead.
To prevent further accidents, the ski resort this winter installed an additional mailbox for people who plan to climb the mountain to report their plan to police, so that they can be found easily in the event that they get stranded. Also, staffers ask skiers at the gate whether they submitted a registration form and check their equipment.
However, registering is not mandatory. Individual skiers and snowboarders can decide for themselves whether to report their plans and level of skills and experience.
Furthermore, when approached by a staffer, Neriko’s team members falsely said they had submitted a climbing plan.
When they found themselves stranded without sleeping bags, they dug a cave in the snow for protection. They tried to keep hunger away with chocolate and candy before a police helicopter spotted them near the summit on Sunday morning.
A tearful Neriko apologized for causing trouble. “We finally realized how scary a mountain in winter is,” he said.