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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Old Man Winter must be asleep at the wheel in northern Japan.

Usually blanketed with deep powder by now, the northern Tohoku mountains have seen such scant snowfall to date that most ski and snowboard resorts in the area are not yet open.

For the first time in four years, Misawa’s Outdoor Recreation has had to postpone its ski and snowboard instructor program run by the Amateur Ski Instructors Association. The five-day class, which was to start Saturday, has been rescheduled for Jan. 24 to 28, said Ron Stark, director of Outdoor Recreation and Weasel’s Den.

“There are no resorts that are open,” he said Friday. “Appi was due to open today, but they changed that on their Web site to the 27th (of December) because they have no snow.”

Outdoor Recreation’s amateur instructor class was full with 20 students, including a few who were to drive up from Yokota Air Base and Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo. Stark expects a few slots for the January class to open since duty requirements may force some people to drop out, he said.

“We’re still waiting on enrollment confirmation,” he said. If there’s availability,“we’ll probably for a very brief time in the beginning of January open it up for enrollment.”

It may be hard to think about winter sports, though, since the base is also dry and snow blowers and shovels remain idle. The only snowfall to accumulate was an overnight half-inch dusting last week that melted the same day, according to Misawa’s 35th Operations Support Squadron weather flight.

Stark said it’s not unusual for the base to be bare this time of year. “What is unusual is the higher elevations are not getting the snow,” he said. “The snow fronts are just not coming in.”

Stark said five ski and snowboard resorts within 1 to 3 hours driving distance of Misawa — Appi, Shimokura-hachimantai, Shizukuishi, Makado and Okunakayama — have little to no snow. Misawa residents would have to go to Sapporo on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido to ski or snowboard, he said.

“This is very unusual right now,” Stark said. “The resorts should be open. We had good snow conditions this time last year.”

A Sendai District Meteorological Observatory spokesman said many places in Tohoku have yet to record snowfall because the cold air needed has not moved south.

The observatory, however, predicts snowfall this winter to be average. Misawa’s average snowfall is about 128 inches a year; last year, 78 inches was the total.

Capt. Stephen Barlow, commander of 35th OSS weather flight, said it’s too early to predict another dry winter.

Many years “snow doesn’t really start kicking in until” mid- to late December. That’s entirely possible, considering some of the correlations that Barlow and other Air Force meteorologists found by reviewing weather records dating to 1955. In 15 cases where less than 100 inches fell in a winter, about 90 percent of the time there was a sharp increase in snowfall the following winter, Barlow said. Also, though there were only a few instances of this, warm summers tend to precede heavy snows, Barlow said. Misawa residents sweated through unusually hot and muggy temperatures last summer and people were predicting this fall that snow would be plentiful.

So far, Barlow said, warm temperatures have kept snow at bay. The mean temperature in Misawa for December so far is 49 degrees, well above the average of 42.

“I can almost guarantee that will drop,” Barlow said. “We’re probably getting ready to turn that corner.” As for Stark, he’s shying away from predictions. “We’re hoping it comes soon,” he said. “We have people who want to get out and enjoy winter sports.”

For more information on Japan’s ski and snowboard resorts, go to www.snowjapan.com.

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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