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Hello Hokuriku! Walking through Snow Walls at the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Hello Hokuriku! Walking through Snow Walls at the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Nestled in Japan's Northern Alps, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート) offers an unparalleled experience of nature’s grandeur. The route traverses through the majestic Tateyama mountain range (立山連峰 Tateyama Renpо̄) located on the border of Nagano Prefecture (長野県) and Toyama Prefecture (富山県), and visitors will need to ride six different modes of transportation to traverse the entire route between О̄gizawa (扇沢) and Tateyama Station (立山駅).

 

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in non-snow wall seasons. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

There’s something different to experience at the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route every season, but due to heavy snowfall, the route is closed between November and mid-April. After a long and cold winter, when the route opens in mid-April, the first thing you must go see is the massive, towering snow walls (雪の大谷 Yuki no Ōtani), also known as "Snow Corridor", at Murodo (室堂). 

 

Whiteout in 2015. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

I have been to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route five times, but the one time I went to see the snow walls, there was a snowstorm, so I knew I would be back again one day to revisit. In April 2024, I did just that! No matter how many times I visit the route, it never ceases to amaze me to see how innovative engineering marvels meet the sublime beauty of untouched landscapes. 

 

The start of an alpine adventure

With the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension to Toyama in 2015, access became even easier, and many people make their way to see the snow walls starting on the Toyama side. This time however, I started from the Nagano side, which is also easily accessible from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen. 

 

Buying tickets from the machine was a breeze. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

From Shinano-Omachi Station (信濃大町駅), I took a bus to Ogizawa, and bought same-day tickets after arriving. If you’re using a credit card, you can purchase tickets from the machine (English language options available), instead of having to queue at the counter.

 

First of the different transportation modes: the Kanden Tunnel Electric Bus. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The first leg of the trip up to Murodo involved a 16-minute ride on the Kanden Tunnel Electric Bus from Ogizawa to Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム). This dam, a monumental feat of engineering, is Japan's tallest dam at 186m. 

 

Crossing the mighty Kurobe Dam

Kurobe Dam. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

At Kurobe Dam, travellers disembark to walk across this colossal structure. Completed in 1963, the dam is not only a source of hydroelectric power, but also a stunning tourist attraction. The sheer drop of water from the dam creates a misty aura, and between June and October, the discharge of water from the dam is a spectacular sight. 

 

Lake Kurobe. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

It takes around 10-15 minutes to walk across the dam to reach Kurobeko (黒部湖). Lake Kurobe, which Kurobe Dam dams up, freezes in winter, and the snow-covered scenery was stunning.

 

Ascent to Murodo

The Kurobe Cable Car is the only underground cable car in Japan. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

From Kurobeko, the journey continues with a 5-minute ride on the Kurobe Cable Car, the only underground cable car in Japan. This cable car ascends steeply through a tunnel carved into the mountain, offering a unique experience. The next stop is Kurobedaira (黒部平), where travellers transfer to the Tateyama Ropeway to go to Daikando (大観峰).

 

Views from the ropeway window, I snagged a window spot. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

If you can, try to get a spot by the window. The Tateyama Ropeway provides a breathtaking aerial view along its 7-minute journey. Suspended high above the rugged terrain, you will be afforded vistas that are both awe-inspiring and humbling. As the ropeway glides towards Daikanbo (大観峰), look in the direction of the lake, the snow-covered peaks of Mount Akazawa-dake and the frozen Lake Kurobe are fantastic frosty sights to behold!

 

View from the observation deck at Daikanbo. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

If you weren’t able to get a window spot in the ropeway, fret not, upon reaching Daikanbo, head up to the observation deck to command a panoramic view.

 

From Daikando, continue on to take a 10-minute ride on the Tateyama Tunnel Trolley Bus, the final leg of the ascent to Murodo. This electric bus travels through a 3.7km-long tunnel, one of the highest-altitude vehicle tunnels in Japan. 

 

The snow walls of Murodo

Highest point of the snow walls. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Murodo, situated at an elevation of 2,450m, is the highest point along the Alpine Route and is where the highlight of this journey was. The snow walls, known as “Yuki no Ōtani” in Japanese, are a frosty wonder that attracts visitors from around the globe. 

 

Lots of signs to take commemorative photos with. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Mount Tateyama receives heavy snowfall every year. Before the route opens each year, machines plough through the accumulated snow to make a path for buses to drive along, leaving massive snow walls lining the sides of the road. 

 

This year’s highest point was 14m. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The highest parts of the snow wall can reach a soaring 20m, and is truly an amazing sight to behold. This year, the maximum height was 14m, still an impressive height. Walking through the snow walls, visitors are dwarfed by the sheer scale of these frozen giants. The path through the snow walls is open from mid-April to late June, depending on weather conditions. 

 

Panoramic walking trail. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

In addition to the snow walls, there is a panoramic walking trail, Panorama Road, where visitors can hike on a snow path and witness the majestic scenery at the high elevation. Unfortunately, it was cloudy when I visited, so much of the scenery was obscured.

 

When to visit the Snow Walls of Tateyama Kurobe

The snow walls are visible from mid-April to late June, but mid-May to June is the period where there is the highest chance of good weather for viewing the snow walls. 

 

  • April:

Although the highest walls are usually seen in April, the weather is still unstable during this month, so whiteouts, cloudy weather, and snowfall are still common.

 

  • May:

In May, there are many more sunny days compared to April, and the snow walls are still high. However, it is also the most crowded time, especially during the Golden Week holidays in early May. 

 

  • June:

In June, as the weather heats up, the snow melts, and the walls do not appear as high compared to May, but can still reach considerable heights of 10m. There are fewer visitors in June, so come during this time if you want to avoid the crowds.

 

To summit all up

A trip to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is sure to be unforgettable. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route offers an experience that is both majestic and humbling, and the massive snow walls that greet visitors at the beginning of each season are a marvellous feat and unforgettable experience. Combined with the panoramic snow-covered vistas on the way up, Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route a must-visit during the snow wall season, and with the Hokuriku Shinkansen, access has never been better!

 

Header image credit: photoAC

 

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