• Kyodo

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Winter mountaineering practices and competitions involving high school students are being held in at least seven of the 47 prefectures despite a government ban that has many athletic organizations confused, according to a Kyodo News survey released over the weekend.

The survey of athletic bodies and education boards was conducted after an avalanche at a ski resort in Tochigi Prefecture last Monday killed seven high school students and a teacher during winter hiking practice and left dozens injured.

In November, the Japan Sports Agency notified boards of education across the country that the climbing of winter mountains by students of high school age or younger was banned in principle.

Most of the athletic organizations surveyed said they were aware of the notification sent by the government body, but some said the government’s definition of “winter mountains” was ambiguous.

Officials of these organizations said the areas where they conduct events are not for climbing winter mountains, with some saying the activities are conducted in March and others saying the students are practicing walking on hilly land.

The seven prefectures where winter climbing training is conducted are Yamagata, Niigata, Mie, Shiga, Hyogo, Tottori and Hiroshima.

In 14 other prefectures, students are trained in mountains with lingering snow in spring.

In such activities, the responsibility for changing the plans or calling them off lies with the teachers present on site.

Before the avalanche in Tochigi last Monday, the teachers altered their initial plan, which involved climbing a mountain, to practice for deep snow trekking.

Some of the officials said that banning winter training may deprive students from learning the about the dangers presented by winter climbing.

“We want students to learn about how to deal with danger,” said an official from the athletic body in Niigata Prefecture.

The education ministry said it will look into how schools practice mountaineering in winter and spring.

“We want to get a picture of the real situation and make a thorough plan to prevent such a reoccurrence,” education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said Friday.

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